ARE ARABS ANTI-AMERICAN?
By AMIR TAHERI
President Bush's "image queen," Karen Hughes, is on a tour of Arab countries, where conventional wisdom claims that anti-Americanism is second nature. Hughes, now in charge of public diplomacy at the State Department, plainly she shares that analysis â€” why else choose the Arab region for her maiden voyage?
But how true is that claim? Are Arabs the most anti-American people on earth? READ MORE
Start with the tangibles. America is by far the largest pole of attraction for Arab foreign investment at all levels, from public-sector funds to small private savings accounts. The most conservative estimates put the value of Arab assets in the United States at over $4.5 trillion, which puts the Arab countries just behind Britain, Japan and Holland as the biggest investors in the U.S. economy.
The United States is also one of the top three trading partners of virtually all Arab states. In fact, many U.S.-made goods (cars, for example) that don't sell anywhere else still enjoy robust markets in Arab countries.
Then, too, America has been the No. 1 foreign tourist destination for Arabs since the 1980s, and has remained so despite restrictions imposed on Arab visitors after 9/11. Arabs from all walks of life and of all political sensibilities also love to send their children to study in America. And when it comes to seeking medical treatment, no country competes with the United States in attracting well-heeled Arabs.
If she takes time to stroll in Arab capitals, Hughes would be struck by the ubiquitous presence of things American. It is possible to spend a holiday in most Arab capitals without moving out of the orbit of American-franchised hotels, restaurants, tourist services and banks. A stroll in modern shopping malls would reveal a population wearing American-style clothing, including baseball caps, with Motorola mobile phones pressed to ears, as New Orleans jazz plays in the background. She could sip one of those coffees the choice of which requires a PhD at a Starbucks, or indulge herself in a Hagen-Dazs of her choice.
More than 70 percent of what's broadcast on Arab TV stations (including those regarded as "obsessively anti-American") is U.S.-made; 80 percent of the films shown in Arab cinemas are made in Hollywood. There are more than two dozen English dailies, all using the American version of the language. Go through them, and you see that much of the content comes from U.S. agencies and syndication services.
Even Arabic-language newspapers serve as outlets for American journalism. More than half of all major articles in the two main pan-Arab daily newspapers come from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and Time magazines and other U.S. publications. Some American columnists have become household names in most Arab countries.
Hughes is also bound to be struck by the number of Arab decision-makers with American educational or business backgrounds and/or connections.
Only God and the U.S. immigration service would know how many Arabs hold green cards or even dual Arab-U.S. citizenship. With the possible exception of Libya, which has a weird regime, and Syria, whose leaders fear they may be targeted for "regime change," almost all Arab regimes are well-disposed toward the United States. Sixteen of the 21 member states of the Arab League host some U.S. military presence. The FBI maintains offices in at least 12 Arab capitals.
So, where did the impression that the Arabs are seething with anti-Americanism come from? Isn't it possible that the Arabs may be sharing the anti-American craze produced in the West, including the United States? Aren't the Arabs, as with so many other products, importing anti-Americanism?
In Arab newspapers, the bulk of the material that could be classified as anti-Bush and/or anti-American is translated from U.S. sources. Stroll in the streets where books and video and audio tapes are on sale at the curbsides and you will see that 90 percent of the items vilifying America come from American, French and British authors.
No Arab anti-American has produced anything like the conspiracy theories that American intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Scott Ritter, Seymour Hersh and Edward Said, to name a few, have put on the markets everywhere, including the Arab world.
At any given time, one can find a horde of American activists visiting the region to urge the natives to hate America:
* Two years ago, a group of Americans appeared in Arab capitals to stop people in the bazaars to "apologize for the Crusades," although the United States didn't even exist when those wars were fought between Europe and the Middle East.
* Before the liberation of Iraq, scores of Americans came to Baghdad to offer themselves as "human shields" for Saddam Hussein. No Arab was so foolish.
* This month, a group of 30 American professors turned up in Tehran and Damascus to describe the United States as "a rogue state on the rampage".
* Bianca Jagger, presented as ambassador for UNICEF and "a leading thinker," has been in the region telling astonished audiences that the United States is the source of all evil in the world. (By the way, isn't UNICEF supposed to be apolitical?)
* One American professor recently published an op-ed in The New York Times relating his trip to Iran, where he was "disappointed" to see that students not only did not hate George W. Bush but, horror of horrors, also craved for an American-style democracy instead of an Islamist utopia.
* The anti-Bush demonstrations that Arabs watch on TV take place in Washington, San Francisco and Seattle, not in any Arab city.
* A friend, who happens to be a minister in an Arab state, was saddened this summer when, spending holidays with his family in the United States as he had always done since student days, he had to quarrel with an old American schoolmate. The point of the dispute was that the American insisted that the United States was an "evil empire," while the Arab believed that it could be a force for reform in the Middle East.
* Last month, an Iraqi journalist gave up his American scholarship and returned home because faculty members in the U.S. university he attended made him feel "guilty for having been liberated from Saddam Hussein."
* A Kuwaiti friend withdrew his son from an American university to "protect him from [being] brainwashed into hating the United States."
Many polls have been conducted to show that the Arabs are anti-American. A more interesting poll would aim at finding out how many Americans are so afflicted by self-loathing as to devote their energies to a systematic vilification of their nation.
The best that Karen Hughes could do is to help make available to the Arabs the other side of the American debate; to show that not all Americans share Chomsky's belief that the United States planned to kill 6 million Afghans solely to build a pipeline from Central Asia. Her aim should be to help Arabs understand America in all its contradictions, not necessarily to adore it.
There are many issues on which the Arabs disagree with the United States. But most Arabs don't see that as a sign of anti-Arabism on the part of America. Hughes should not regard it as a sign of anti-Americanism on the part of Arabs.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.