Monday, January 17, 2005

Muslim Hostility to America

Thomas Friedman is an unusually astute observer of international events, especially in the Islamic world, and his opinions are based on a lot of hard work in the field. His column in the New York Times on January 16 takes up the issue of Muslim attitudes toward America, what causes them to be so hostile, and the prospects for improvement:

In the wake of U.S. aid to help Muslim and other victims of the recent tsunami, Colin Powell suggested that maybe, now that the Muslim world had seen "American generosity" and "American values in action," it wouldn't be so hostile to America.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a thank-you card. If the fact that American soldiers have risked their lives to save the Muslims of Bosnia, the Muslims of Kuwait, the Muslims of Somalia, the Muslims of Afghanistan and the Muslims of Iraq has earned the U.S. only the false accusation of being "anti-Muslim," trust me, U.S. troops passing out bottled water and Pop-Tarts in Indonesia are not going to erase that lie. It is not an exaggeration to say that, if you throw in the Oslo peace process, U.S. foreign policy for the last 15 years has been dominated by an effort to save Muslims - not from tsunamis, but from tyrannies, mostly their own theocratic or autocratic regimes. ...

I believe the tensions between us and the Muslim world stem primarily from the conditions under which many Muslims live, not what we do. I believe free people, living under freely elected governments, with a free press and with economies and education systems that enable their young people to achieve their full potential, don't spend a lot of time thinking about who to hate, who to blame, and who to lash out at. Free countries don't have leaders who use their media and state-owned "intellectuals" to deflect all of their people's anger away from them and onto America. ...

The Bush team is certainly not fostering all this when it mismanages a war it launched to liberate the people of Iraq. Its performance has been pathetic, and I understand anyone on the right or the left who wants to wash his hands of the whole thing. Speaking personally, though, I am still hoping that these Iraqi elections come off - out of respect for the Iraqis who have been ready to risk their lives for a chance to vote, out of contempt for the insurgents who want to prevent that and out of a deep conviction that something very important is at stake.

I think Friedman's indictment of the Bush Administration's performance in Iraq is a bit severe, given the realities of trying to deal with the Arab Muslim world in any context. Perhaps some mismanagement, certainly shortfalls in anticipating the violence of the post-Saddam period, but pathetic? No.

I agree with Friedman that the upcoming election in Iraq presents an opportunity to achieve an acceptably democratic and representative government in a region where no such government exists. That can only be good, especially if it spawns a regional trend toward democracy, and, as a bonus, less irrational hatred of Americans in the Muslim world. If this happens, all the premature ideological criticisms of the Bush Administration will be forgotten.


Blogger RomanWanderer said...

Like always, I agree with Tom Friedman on his first few sentences, but then he spoils it.
True, we're not winning the Muslim sympathy anytime soon. False,the tensions don't stem only from the conditions in which they live. Yes, if they were more free things would be different, but I beleive that the mentality goes way beyond the borders of freedom or non-freedom.

'Scuse the English hiccups, I need sleep.

7:48 PM, January 17, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Tom, I agree with RW....these people are taught's not something your living conditions cause you to think. This is the first time in a while I could read something of Friedman's and not boil with anger at his constant self-loathing antics. While I disagreed with things, like RW mentioned, it didn't make me go apoplectic this time. He must be mellowing. Cause I don't think I am.

8:10 PM, January 17, 2005  
Blogger Junebugg said...

It seems we're "damned if we do and damned if we don't."
Attitudes don't change overnight and we may always be "The Great Satan". Ever culture needs a boogyman to be the bad guy, and we are theirs.

10:20 PM, January 17, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Well, I think Friedman may have a point that people who live in productive societies, have lives of hope and possibilities, and don't have governments whipping them up to hatred may feel less hostile in general. I'm not sure about the influence of Islam on the chances for democracy in Arab countries. Muslim leaders, many of whom preach and teach violence and hatred, will be the greatest opponents of democracy throughout the Arab world, and I don't know if they can be overcome.

2:16 AM, January 18, 2005  
Blogger Eric said...

Woodrow Wilson was an even more polarizing President than George W Bush. At least with W, we long ago reached an ideological consensus as a society on liberal 'internationalist' values, even if only as lip service for those who'll talk as liberals, but refuse to sacrifice as liberals. Woodrow Wilson was panned for World War I - a truly elective war - and his seminal globalist liberal agenda. He died shortly after his Presidency as one of the most unpopular Presidents in American history. Now, schools of government are named after him.

The moral of Wilson's story? Transcend politics. Succeed in a just cause, whether it takes a year, a decade or the better part of a century. Whether it happens in our lifetime.

3:44 PM, January 18, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks, Eric. I think your reference to Wilson is exactly right. Many liberal intellectuals and journalists are so blindly anti-Bush that their knee-jerk response is to strongly oppose anything he does, or even thinks of doing. The concept of waiting to see if he may be right is simply beyond them.

5:45 PM, January 18, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

"I believe the tensions between us and the Muslim world stem primarily from the conditions under which many Muslims live, not what we do."

It seems to me his article can be boiled down to one telling sentence.

11:57 AM, January 19, 2005  

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