The Arabs' False View of the United States

News Abroad

Mr. Rabil is project manager of Iraq Research and Documentation Project, Washington. He is the author of Embattled Neighbors: Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

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During my daily routine in Washington of reading the Arab press, I never cease to be astonished by the pervasive anti-American feelings that blame the U.S. for the miserable conditions gripping the Arab world.

Although the charges are manifold, their common denominator is a belief that the U.S. does not understand or care about the Arab world. Monopolizing the Arabs' oil industry and making the region safe for Israel are held to be the driving forces behind American foreign policy in the Middle East. It follows from this policy that the U.S. seeks to colonize Iraq and allow Israel to impose its will on the Arab world.

A reflection of this pandemic rationale was emphasized by one commentator, who wrote that "the American president either does not understand, or does not care to understand, how the attitudes and policies of his administration have fueled unprecedented anti-American rage in the Arab and Islamic world."

This assertion followed a litany of charges, echoed in the Arab world, that ranged from accusing the president of devastating the civilian structure of Iraq to holding Muslims illegally at Guantanamo Bay, to treating Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the most brutal leader in Israel's history, with hand in glove.

Such assertions not only reinforce widespread anti-American attitudes, but also play into the hands of lay, religious and official figures who share the belief that U.S. efforts to democratize the Middle East are doomed to fail. These voices insist that democracy will bring extremists to power and is unlikely to happen before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settled.

Another way of saying all of this is that the U.S. does not understand or care about the Arab world, yet it seeks to bring democracy to the Arab world in order to colonize it.

The phoenix has to rise from the ashes of such circumlocutions and fossilized impulses. The challenge for the Arabs, especially Arab intellectuals, now is not to ask why the U.S. does not try to understand the Arab world but rather why the Arabs themselves do not try to understand the U.S.. Why for example don't they ask their oft-repeated questions in reverse? Do the Arabs understand or try to understand what has happened in the U.S. since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? The irony is that the only attempt at understanding what happened on Sept. 11 has generally generated ludicrous conspiracy theories faulting the U.S. itself.

Understanding the U.S. is the key to affecting its behavior and addressing its shortcomings. The U.S., as a democratic system, is indeed not perfect. Yet it is still a system that reflects the aspirations, fears, and needs of the American people, who are currently deeply concerned about Islamic radicals. The Sept. 11 attacks, and the trauma they brought upon the collective consciousness of the U.S., are the works of such radicals.

Consequently, Americans authorized President Bush to disabuse the radicals of the illusion that America is a paper tiger and to confront far away dangers. From an American perspective, killing innocent people for a cause is terrorism, and terrorists and nations that harbor them will face the wrath of U.S. justice. This forms the background against which the U.S. is pursuing a policy to promote democracy in the Arab world, beginning in Iraq. Hence, one needs to address some of the issues Arabs blame the U.S. for.

The U.S. did not devastate the civilian infrastructure of Iraq. The U.S. liberated Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant that built an infrastructure of killing fields. It was Saddam Hussein that collectively and individually killed, tortured and mutilated Iraqis. Reading thousands of Iraqi official documents has shown me how Saddam whimsically, arbitrarily punished Iraqis and atomized Iraq's civil society. He tried to brutally forge a symbiosis between tribal traditions, Baath ideology and his personality cult while at the same time aiming to turn as many Iraqis as possible into accomplices and executioners.

He, along with many in the region who kept silent, is responsible for the devastation of Iraqi civil society and, by extension, the country's civilian infrastructure. Can someone really assert that had it not been for the Americans, Iraqis would have been able to remove Saddam?

Innocent Muslims at Guantanamo Bay need to be released. In this respect, the U.S. is gripped by a raging debate about the anti-terrorism powers granted to Justice Department officials by the USA Patriot Act. Civil liberties groups and high-ranking U.S. politicians and officials have complained about the federal government's detention of defendants as material witnesses in connection with the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

On the other hand, a recent Justice Department report states "the government's success in preventing another catastrophic attack on the American homeland … would have been much more difficult, if not impossibly so, without the USA Patriot Act." The U.S. is beset by questions of legality and morality over how to provide security without trampling on civil liberties.

Regarding the Bush administration's bias in favor of Israel's Ariel Sharon government, questions do abound. But one crucial question that needs to be asked is: Who helped elect Sharon? Can someone deny the fact that Palestinians themselves helped elect Sharon by making Israelis more insecure?

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not serve as a pretext to forestall dealing with political and economic reforms. As I see it, sooner or later, the Palestinians and Israelis will find out that they are natural allies. But until that time, the intifada needs to be demilitarized. Let us not forget that in the late 1980s it was the intifada of children with stones that turned Israel's policy of "breaking bones" on its head.

The U.S. as a democratic system has its imperfections. But it is a versatile and flexible system that can be affected if properly engaged. Can Arabs rightly engage this system for their own benefit?

This article first appeared in the Daily Star and is reprinted with Mr. Rabil's permission.

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More Comments:

Oblivously Ignorant - 6/28/2003

Just what is I don't understand about bus bombings that would be cleared up if I studied bus bomblings in mid-Fifties Algeria? Are there nucances to blowing up civilians who are guilty of nothing more than leading their lives and traveling from work to home to recreation/shopping sites that are beyond the understanding of the common man? Enlighten me, please, oh great Guru! God, you are a fraud.

Chris Tucker - 6/21/2003

"On the other hand, a recent Justice Department report states "the government's success in preventing another catastrophic attack on the American homeland … would have been much more difficult, if not impossibly so, without the USA Patriot Act." The U.S. is beset by questions of legality and morality over how to provide security without trampling on civil liberties." - Quote from original article.

I had an aunt once. She kept a rock in her kitchen which she said kept hurricanes from destroying her house, and the town we lived in. If you tried to convince her that the rock couldn't keep hurricanes away she would state that no hurricane had come within a hundred miles of her rock.

Since we lived in land-locked Missouri a hurricane would have had a very hard time coming to within a hundred miles of her house. You couldn't argue her out of her belief in the powers of that rock, though.

The misnamed PATRIOT Act is like that rock. Since no catastrophic terrorist incident has arisen it must surely be keeping those nasty terrorists at bay. It matters little that the PATRIOT Act hasn't brought the Justice Department any closer to finding the Anthrax Mailer, didn't stop the Mailbox Bomber or even help in the case of the Beltway Snipers. It matters little that attacks on the United States from foriegn terrorists were rare before the Patriot Act. Like my aunt's rock it must be keeping the terrorists away. It's done damned little to combat the more frequent attacks by domestic terrorists and would not have hampered or caught the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber and didn't help at all with the Olympic Park bomber.

Since this law was proposed by the Justice Department it makes absolutely no sense to quote them on how well it works. It does make sense, though, to notice what harm the PATRIOT Act and the Pentagon's Office of Privacy Invasion (whatever they are trying to call it this week) are doing.

Well, my aunt was not killed by a hurricane. She slipped on some spilled dishwater one day in her kitchen and died of injuries caused when she hit her head on her anti-hurricane rock. The PATRIOT Act does not and can not protect us from terrorism, foreign or domestic, but it stands a very, very high probability of killing our country.

John Cuepublic - 6/21/2003

Good points, Don. What should loyal Americans do about these problems ?

Jim Wilson - 6/20/2003

Who's fault is it that the "Palestinians" have no power? Themselves. They're the ones who ran to their "brothers" around Palestine instead of trying to being friendly to the Jews. If they're weak it's the fault of their Arab "brothers" who kept them in concentration camps all these years and wouldn't let them become citizens, own property, or live decently. Israelis have been exceptionally nice to the Palestinians--historically what they deserve and what they would've gotten from anybody else is annihilation. Nobody has ever put up with this kind of crap before. If I were in charge over there I would've straffed the Hamas rally yesterday and would shoot the parents of every suicide assassin. The Israelis aren't being brutal. They're so restrained it's practically suicidal. And what are the Palestinians anyway? A made-up nationality designed for no other reason than to kill lots of Jews. Friends of the Nazis. All of their organizations were trained by the KGB. Arafat himself is an Egyptian pederast who suddenly turned Muslim when the USSR went down. If every member of Hamas, Al Aksa Martyrs and the various other PLO factions were gone tomorrow the world would only benefit. Seeing what they do without power we really don't want to see a world where they had any.

Don Williams - 6/20/2003

their bomb attacks are a sign of weakness and desperation--akin to the Warsaw Uprising in WWII.

Do you think Hamas et al could recruit suicide bombers if not for the intense hatred stirred by Sharon's brutal tactics?? If the Palestinians had a homeland and a decent future, Hamas could not last for a month --because the Palestinians would get on the pay phones and report them to the security forces.

It is Israel and the US who have all the power and who control this situation -- Sharon's attempt to deflect recognition of that fact shows his fondness for deceit. As I noted repeatedly above, Sharon sabotages every attempt to make peace --what did he think Hamas was going to do when he started trying to kill Hamas leaders and their families--including young children?

Corevan - 6/20/2003

J Simeon,

Your comments ramble and are hard to follow. How about this for a choice for the Palestinians,

Elect leaders who will negotiate in good faith and not use violence as a tool of those negotiations.

J Simeon Narins - 6/19/2003

And here are the choices of the Palestinians.

Being Overrun

Fighting Back and Being Overrun

No formal army CAN exist in this environment, for the Palestinians, that can stand a moment against the Israeli Defense Forces.

And yet, there is violence being committed by both sides, a violence that lacks the kind of discrimination one can respect.

Helicopter gunships using missiles to assassinate people?
Bus bombings?

Bus bombings aren't being understood by Americans.
You have to see how they were used in the Algerian anti-colonial war, circa 1956.

The power says "We are all one! Do not use violence!"
The bus gets bombed.
Everyone watches as the power doesn't treat us all as one, watches as violence as used.

Corevan - 6/19/2003

So you prefer that we partner with sell weapons to and trade with whom? These people?

Excerpts from the Hamas Charter...

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?"

"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

"Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question.......These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?"

"The Moslem woman has a role no less important than that of the moslem man in the battle of liberation. She is the maker of men....Woman in the home of the fighting family, whether she is a mother or a sister, plays the most important role in looking after the family, rearing the children and embuing them with moral values and thoughts derived from Islam...She has to be of sufficient knowledge and understanding where the performance of housekeeping matters are concerned, because economy and avoidance of waste of the family budget, is one of the requirements for the ability to continue moving forward in the difficult conditions surrounding us."

Beware Don, The words of Hamas are clear...

"The question of the liberation of Palestine is bound to three circles: the Palestinian circle, the Arab circle and the Islamic circle. Each of these circles has its role in the struggle against Zionism. Each has its duties, and it is a horrible mistake and a sign of deep ignorance to overlook any of these circles."

Don Williams - 6/18/2003


Don Williams - 6/18/2003

1) One of the more ignorant remarks by conservative pundits
supporting the Great Bush Suckup to the Likudites is the
cry "Why do they hate us" If you look at where Al Qaeda cells have
been reported, the answer's obvious.

2) The US government not only put Suharto in power in 1966, they give him the lists of PKI members-- supporting Suharto's massacre of at least 100,000 PKI members. In the decades since, Suharto's family stole everything not nailed down -- accounting for the peoples' deep poverty today. The US supported Suharto.

3) Similarly, the US supported Marcos in the Phillipines while he looted the country.

4) Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA officer who lead the coup that overthrew legally elected Minister Mossadagh and installed the Shah on the Throne, wrote in "Countercoup" that the operation was proposed by the British oil companies. The US oil companies got some nice concessions from the Shah as well -- in exchange for the US propping him up while his Savak police tortured and killed thousands. The US government evidently didn't care if the Shah kept the bulk of the royalties as long as he let Houston loot the birthright of the Iranian people.

Josh Narins - 6/18/2003

Syria, 1948
Iran, 1953
Saudi Arabia, since the minute they discovered Oil.

Arabs are right to think the bane of their existence is the commercial interests of America.

We prop up every anti-Democratic nation in the region. Democracy as a value? Savak is democracy? We stood up for the Apartheid South Africans every year until they fell. The ANC was listed as a Terrorist group, prominent US officials were happy to slander Nelson Mandela.

We arm their oppressors, you stupid peice of filth.

Don Williams - 6/18/2003

1) We bribe Egypt with $3 Billion/year to abandon the Palestinians and to leave Israel alone.

As an American, my loyalty is to the people and land of the United States , not to hypocrites who wrap their agendas in the flag and not to their whores in the US government. I am really getting fed up with liars who disguise the harm that the Lukidites have inflicted on the US.

2) Israel has kicked the crap out the Palestinians for decades because Israel is the most powerful nation in the Middle East. That , in turn, is because the US has given her roughly $91 Billions in aid over the past several decades and has given/sold Israel advanced weapons systems, like the Apache helicopters and F16s, while leaving the Palestinians to be slaughtered.

3) Bush has repeatedly shot off his mouth about Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" (a deceitful term in itself) while turning a blind eye to the 400 nuclear bombs built by Israel.

4) After Sept 11, the New York Times ran an article telling us that the Sept 11 had nothing to do the one-sided US government's one-sided support of Israel. Bill Kristol went on NBC's This Week and told us much the same.

In reality, both Israel's supporters and Bush were desperately lying to the American people -- to prevent them from noticing that Bush's pandering to Sharon had triggered the death of 3000+ citizens, $100 Billion in direct costs, and $1 Trillion in indirect costs.

5) The most casual Internet search will show that Bin Ladin gave a series of interviews to US TV networks in 1998 and that he repeatedly cited US support of Israel's attacks on the Palestinians as one of three main reasons for an Islamic Jihad against the US. See

6) In his speeches after Sept 11, Bush told America that that "we" (his administration) had "done nothing to deserve this". He stated that the attack occurred because "they hate our freedom" He also stated that he had been "secretly" working on a plan to create a Palestinian state in the weeks prior to Sept 11.

7)However, Bin Ladin indicated in an interview, published in a Pakistani newspaper called DAWN, why the Sept 11 attack occurred:

"The Sept 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children. The real targets were America's icons of military and economic power. .....The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government, they elect their president, their government manufactures arms and gives them to Israel and Israel uses them to massacre Palestinians. "
(See )

8) Recall that Clinton's attempt to pressure Israel into making peace with the Palestinians was disrupted when Monica Lewinsky exposed her affair with him. An Israeli legislator, Sharon, then sabotaged the talks by going into the third most holy Islamic mosque with several hundred policemen. Sharon used the ensuring riots that he triggered to win election as Prime Minister and then hit the Palestinians hard. In spring of 2001, he even used F16s fighters bought from the US to bomb Palestinians, arousing the anger and condemmation of the world.

Bush, however, halted State Department criticism and encouraged Sharon by selling Sharon 52 more F16s in June 2001, several months before the Sept 11 attack. (See ,,

9) For the June 20 , 2001 announcement of the F16 sale, go to here : , click on "Archives", select June 2001 from the list, and then search the resulting page for "Israel" or simply page down to the June 20 entries. )

10) The final approval on the sale was announced a few days before the Sept 11 attack. One reason why our intelligence received no warning of the attack was the seething anger in the Arab world over the F16 sale. See and
An excerpt from
dated September 8,2001:
" The timing the US chose to announce its decision to give Israel the dangerous F-16 jets is really strange. It seems as though the US is telling Israel "Go ahead Sharon! Carry on with the assassination of Palestinian children and the destruction of the houses of peaceful civilians! Proceed with the destruction of the Palestinian defenseless people's infrastructure and with desecrating Islamic sanctities in the holy land!"

The fact this information has been hidden from the American people-- that it has never appeared in the US news media -- shows the lengths to which Likud's supporters will go to mislead Americans.

11) Bush was pandering to Sharon because some of the largest campaign financiers of the Democratic Party are Supporters of Israel --Haim Saban , for example, alone gave the Democrats $10 million in the past two years.
See ,

Bush is trying to seduce those financiers away from the Democrats
and he is pandering to these donors at the expense of the national interest.

The problem is not American Jews as a group -- many of whom do not support Sharon and Likud's aggression against the Palestinians. The problem is a small group of arrogant wealthy men -- some of whom are not even Jewish --who let their egos,politics, and thirst for manipulation take priority over the loyalty they owe to the United States.

armand de laurell - 6/18/2003

Quite a seguay, R. Guiscard. According to you the over 60 million Egyptians who receive less US aid than the 5/6 million Israelis and for a lesser period of time than the 50 years or so for Israel should be as thankful as the Israelis are for the aid and therefore should change their views acccorddingly.

Such logic precludes any comparison of the equal treatment of Palestenians and Israelis. But then did not someone state that there is no such thing as a Palestenian. It seems that not only do the Arabs have a false view of the US but they just wont go away.

Robert Guiscard - 6/18/2003

Armand, you fail to realize that we do arm and support the arab world. We have been providing massive aid to Egypt for years.

For example, I believe that Egypt has the largest number of Abrahms tanks outside of the United States.

While the Arab World does see all the issues where they disagree with the US (existence of Israel and conditions in Palestine), they seem not ponder issues that we should be in agreement on.

R. Piper - 6/18/2003

So it's Palestinian's fault that they are being slaughtered by the war-criminal Sharon.

(Nice touch, HNN, to have an Israeli Patriot explain Arabs to us. With racist Pipes appearing here weekly, perhaps HNN should be renamed Pro-Israeli News Network.)

armand de laurell - 6/18/2003

Mr. Rabil's commentary verges on emanating from a "bizzaro" view of the world and the Arabs [false?] view of the US.

The following thesis should lay to rest the meanderings of Mr. Rabil. Would the Arabs along with most of their failings [and hey who does not have any?] have the kind of false views that Mr.Rabil and others accuse them of having IF the US armed the Palestenians to the same degree and financed them to the same level as it does Israel? Wonder what the Arabs views of the US would then be?