You are on page 1of 11

An Overview on the Political and Social Relations of Muslim and Westerners In Scholarly Essay Format (Including a Narrative Introduction)

By Christina Springer Ventura, California June 23, 2013

Why Do They Hate Us? On September 11, 2001, my mother came early to pick me up from my first grade class. She was obviously distressed as she gently tried to explain to her six year old daughter why she had to take me home. I was obviously distressed as I tried to understand; at the time, my world was no bigger than home, my brightly colored classroom, play-dates, grocery shopping with Mom. Still learning to read and write, I did not yet understand the heavy concepts of death, hatred, or suicide. So I asked questions: Why would those men crash planes into buildings to hurt people, Mom? Are they going to try to hurt us, too? Why do they hate us? Little did I know, I had asked a question that even the most educated political and religious analysts could not answer. Nearly twelve years later, debate still rages over the topic and no definitive answer has been found. But the conflict has not been solved: deep-rooted mutual hatred continues to exist between Arabs and Westerners, as evidenced by recent terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombings, Muslim fury over the disrespectful cartoon depictions of Muhammed and other Islamic symbols frequently released by Westerners, and continued American military presence in the Middle East. Opinions on why the conflict exists and has resulted in war and terrorism differ greatly, but I personally believe the long history of

war between the two cultures along with careless United States foreign policy, failed rulers and ideas in the Arab world, the impact of the media, and radical Islam are largely responsible for the tense relationship. A 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center found that an average of 66% of Muslims believe Westerners in countries such as the U.S. and Europe to be selfish, immoral, and greedy, while 54% of Westerners claim Muslims are violent and fanatical. Furthermore, Westerners overwhelmingly cite Islam as the most violent religion (Muslims who disagree believe Judaism is the worst offender). These unnecessarily bitter stereotypes are an incredible barrier to global peace and have resulted in worldwide aggression. Peace is possible. However, the Muslim-Westerner conflicts deeply rooted historical background has made mitigating this tension difficult. The Historical Origins of Conflict between Muslims and Westerners There is little dispute over the historical origins of the conflict between Muslims and Westerners. In the 7th century, Christianity and its many different forms held immense power as a primary religion of the developed world. But In 610 AD, the Muslim prophet Muhammed declared that he had begun to receive revelations from the god Allah, beginning the competing Muslim faith. Muhammed quickly attracted religious followers and was invited by the leaders of the city Medina to act as an arbitrator of their urban squabbles, converting the city to Islam. Here, he became head of state and quickly grew powerful, especially in military operations.

Muhammeds success resulted in an astonishing expanse of Arab power, creating an enormous Muslim empire. However, this expansion of territory came at the expense of the orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. The sudden loss of Byzantine territory and rapid conversion of Christian souls brewed confusion and unrest in the Christian community, who believed that since the success of Christianity resulted from the grace of God, the success of the Arab Empire must have come at the hands of Satan (Gottschalk 16). In his military domination of the Middle East, Muhammed took control of the city of Jerusalem in Israel, which was at the time a revered center of Christian worship. Muslim control of Christianitys most holy city sparked European fury and eventually inspired the Crusades, a serious of religious and political wars between the Roman Catholic Church and Muslims between 1095 and 1291, in which Christians attempted to regain access to Jerusalem and the holy places near it. Notable of the Crusades was the Christian churchs use of religious propaganda to unite its people in hatred against Muslims. In Pope Urban IIs call to the Crusade in 1095, he referred to the Muslim people as a vile race, barbarians, and demonworshippers, contrasting with his referral to Christians as the faithful of God. The Crusaders violent antagonism towards Muslims inspired Middle Eastern generals to also use Islam to promote a united defense, turning the Crusades into a war between two religious peoples and massively strengthening feelings of hatred between them (Rooney 1). Despite the Crusaders initial success, the Muslims soon re-took Jerusalem, though the region would continue to host further Crusading efforts over the next two centuries. Overall, the Crusades had little physical impact on the Middle East, but drastically increased mutual hostilities between Muslims and Westerners (Gottschalk 24).

Beginning in the 15th century, global European imperialism and hegemony resulted in the rising success of Europeans economically, militarily, and scientifically, forcing the rest of the world to rely on Western methods of living. Those who resisted and strove to define their cultures apart from the Europeans were painted as regressive, traditional, and backward. For many Europeans, Islam no longer represented only a simple competitor in theology, but a barrier to national development. One enlightened British official remarked that Islam was the only undisguised and formidable antagonist of Christianity an active and powerful enemy (Gottschalk 30). European imperialism also inspired a period of global exploration, marked most notably by Columbus 1492 expedition to the Americas and the settling of European colonists in the New World. These groups carried their religious intolerance against Muslims with them as a social memory perpetuated through popular narratives and religious instruction (Gottschalk 27). These stereotypes flourished throughout the stages of European colonization in North America and later, the American Revolution, and remained well integrated in the minds of the newly independent American people. Americans also frequently used the religion of Islam as a source of sensual entertainment. According to Gottschalk, nineteenth-century American depictions of the courts of Muslim rulers rarely missed an opportunity to depict both the tyrants spear- and sword-armed soldiers and his sensually and scantily clad harem [meaning forbidden woman]. Advertisers capitalized on this American association of sensuality with Muslims and used images of Arab associated objects to market their products. This is best illustrated by Camel Cigarettes, whose early advertisements featured a camel standing in front of pyramids and played to this exotic

sense of Arab romance. These advertisements effectively sold products, but at the cost of reinforcing aggressive feelings between the cultures. However, Arab identity drew much more American attention after World War II, when the primary foreign policy interest of the United States became containing the Communist threat. In 1947, President Harry Truman declared the nations willingness to back free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures in a speech to Congress calling for the creation of the Truman Doctrine, which would give $400 million dollars in aid to Greece and Turkey, a country whose population is 99.8% Muslim, according to the CIA website. Americans also became concerned with the Middle East for its wealth of oil, the liquid success of economies and militaries. These concerns heightened in the 1970s when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instigated an oil embargo against countries in support of Israel. Because the region was so critical to American economic interests, the United States firmly continued sending aid to the country, an action that infuriated the Arab population in the area. It is important to understand the historical roots of the conflict between Arabs and Europeans, as they are largely responsible for creating the intense stereotypes still held between the cultures today. However, present-day technologies, foreign policies, governments, and terrorists have thoroughly complicated the issue. The Present Day Arab-Westerner Conflict The tragic disaster of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon brought the conflict between Muslims and Americans into global focus, shocking the world with its unexpectedness and devastation. The attack, which killed nearly 3,000 people,

left Americans feeling vulnerable and terrified of an Islamic threat and made terrorism one of the defining issues of United States foreign policy. This previously unseen and incredibly violent attack left citizens struggling to understand why the attackers seemed to hate America and how to combat terrorism of mass destruction. In the Middle East, the historical mood of resentment towards America was bound to cultivate hostility and violence. Peter Ford, a staff writer of the Christian Scientist Monitor, argues that to many people in the Middle East and beyond, where US policy has bred widespread anti-Americanism, the carnage of September 11 was retribution [for] the injustice done to Palestinians, the cruelty of continued sanctions against Iraq, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and the repressive and corrupt nature of US-backed gulf governments (Ford 1). Because the United States gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel each year, the small country has been able to continuously win wars against its Middle Eastern adversaries, who have become deeply resentful of the US-Israel alliance. In fact, many would argue that US support is the only reason Israel has not been defeated. These weapons have become the visible face of American policy in the Middle East, where military might has held the balance of power for 50 years (Ford 4). Perpetuating the issue, Middle Eastern media often air images of Israeli or American military brutalizing and killing citizens and innocents, footage which is often obtained or created for the purpose of fostering aggression towards Israel and America. Many Arabs believe the United States has no place in directing Middle Eastern affairs and are therefore angered by its hegemonic and arrogant display of power. Furthermore, millions of these Arabs live in the war zones and have lost family members, homes, and even whole communities to the violence, brewing resentment on a personal level as well.

Fareed Zakaria, Editor-at-Large of Time Magazine, claims that Arab resentment also stems from the Middle Easts history of failed rulers and regimes, to whom the United States often extends support. Egypt, for example, attempted independent rule in the 1970s under Gamal Abdel Nasser, who advocated socialism and Arab unity and inspired other Middle Eastern countries to do the same. However, socialism produced bureaucracy and stagnation and the republics calcified into dictatorships. The government is efficient in only one area: squashing dissent and strangling civil society (Zakaria 3). The once great country of Egypt now has an unemployment rate of 25% and has experienced a serious intellectual decline. When compared to the success of Israel at the hands of the United States, the Egyptian failure and the similar failures of other Middle Eastern countries seem astoundingly humiliating. Though they once promised freedom and economic prosperity at the hands of the people, many Middle Eastern governments have melted into corrupt disasters with aging dictators and greedy kings. Obviously, the United States support of many of these oppressive dictatorships has not been well received by the people who suffer under their rule. Because of widely-held stereotypes denouncing Americanism in Arab countries, it is often argued achieving modernity has become difficult. However, Western economic and political strategies have historically been the ones that actually work and foster development in the real world. Zakaria states that this disillusionment with the West is at the heart of the Arab problem. It makes economic advancement possible and political progress fraught with difficulty this fear has paralyzed Arab civilization (Zakaria 4). Returning to the example of

Egypt, the independent ruler Gamel Nassar advocated his political theory as modern and Western in the 1970s, when the country turned to socialism in an attempt to develop their culture with the rest of the world. Therefore, when the government failed and began to oppress its people, Arab nations began to fear Western ideals. For the Arab world, according to Zakaria, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed socialism, secularism, nationalism has turned into a dead end (Zakaria 5). Middle Eastern governments have instead attempted to buy modernization by importing foreign goods, airing Western television and promoting a culture of consumers. Imagine the American reality television show Jersey Shore airing in the Middle East! This off-brand strategy of modernization has confused and disrupted the conservative Arab world, causing its people to associate the West with greed, sexuality, and arrogance and capitalism with gluttony. Zakaria also points out that currently, Arab societies are going through a massive youth bulge, with more than half of most countries populations under the age of 25. A huge influx of restless young men in any country usually produces a new politics of protest. Enter radical Islam, which has provided a cause for which to rally, an answer to cultural confusion, and a strategy intended to solve the Middle Easts problems in a very anti-American way. Where their state governments have failed them, many Arabs have turned to religion for social services like medical care, housing, and counseling (Zakaria 6). Furthermore, joining radical Islamist groups has given Arab citizens the political power their oppressive governments have kept from them and appealed to a tradition world view after modernization proved futile. Shari Berman, a Princeton scholar, relates Islamic fundamentalism with the rise of fascist parties in Europe: When the state or political parties fail to provide a sense of legitimacy or purpose or

basic services, other organizations have often been able to step into the void. Islamic fundamentalism is specific to the region, but the basic dynamic is similar to the rise of Nazism, fascism, and even populism in the United States. These above factors combined have resulted in a violent resurgence of twenty-first century terrorism. However, it is wise to keep in mind that Muslim terrorists are almost always part of a poisonous minority of radicals, whose policies are not advocated for by the grand majority of the religious population. In fact, the murder of innocent American civilians is strongly denounced by non-radicals and clearly does not find justification in the Quran. The United States clearly must strive to find a solution to combating Muslim terrorism. So far, its solution has included waging war against and isolating Iraq and Afghanistan, imposing deadly sanctions that have ultimately done little but starve innocent civilians, and sponsoring oppressive minority rulers in several states. These violent strategies have done nothing but promote aggression and unrest- the correct strategy must be a peaceful one. Pankaj Mishra, an acclaimed author and op-ed contributer for the New York Times, argues that retreating from the Middle East and adopting a more isolationist strategy is the best way to go. He states, the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling as growing energy independence reduces Americas burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon. All will not be lost if America scales back its politically volatile presence in the Muslim world. It could one day return, as it has with its former enemy, Vietnam, to a relationship of mutually assured dignity (Mishra 2). However, disagree and personally believe completely retreating from the Middle East would be careless at such an unstable time as

the Arab Spring, when continuing civil war in Syria has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, Arab relationships with Israel are on a downward spiral, and American sanctions have caused incredible harm to innocent civilians. Instead, the United States should pursue energy independence and realize that our foreign policy actions must consider the needs and opinions of Middle Eastern citizens, because it is the restless and confused citizens who turn to radical Islam and become the terrorists that threaten Americans. By aiding the interests of the majority instead of supporting corrupt puppet governments, the United States could begin to undo the careless problems it has caused in the region and create a stronger foundation on which to begin retreating. Simply listening to the voices of the Arab public and detangling American moral interests from its foreign policy investments before brashly deciding on strategy would begin to alleviate tensions between the two warring cultures. I strongly believe peace between Arabs and Americans is possible, despite the long history of war, deeply rooted cultural stereotypes, and current chaotic state of the Middle East. With resolve, dedication, and unselfishness, United States policy changes that primarily consider the Arab people and not its own interests could result in serious change, and eventually, mutual respect.


Works Cited Ford, Peter. "Why Do They Hate Us?" The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 27 Sept. 2001. Web. 13 May 2013. Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Print. "Harry Truman and the Truman Doctrine." Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Web. 10 May 2013. Mishra, Pankaj. "America's Inevitable Retreat From the Middle East." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 13 May 2013. "Muslim-Western Tensions Persist." Pew Global Attitudes Project. Pew Research Center, 21 July 2011. Web. 06 May 2013. "OPEC States Declare Oil Embargo." A&E Television Networks. Web. 10 May 2013. Rooney, Rachel, and Andrew Miller. "Religion, Propaganda, and War: Motives Behind the Crusades." Religion, Propaganda, and War: Motives Behind the Crusades. The Newberry: Digital Collections for the Classroom, 22 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 May 2013. "The World Factbook." Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 10 May 2013. Zakaria, Fareed. "The Politics Of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?" The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 14 Oct. 2001. Web. 13 May 2013.