According to Thomas Friedman in today’s NY Times, a “narrative” of Anti-Americanism thrives as terrorist organizations proactively convince the Islamic world that our intent is to oppress Muslims everywhere. He explains the narrative is a:
“cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11 and posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down”
There’s truth to this. Fear of the United States is on the rise in certain Muslim countries like Pakistan. A Brookings poll shows that America is more feared than India by Pakistani’s and as Bruce Riedel puts it:“anytime you outpoll India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you are in deep trouble”. But there are flaws in Friedmans idea. He says Anti-American narrative comes despite the fact that:
“U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan.”
Well, U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to far more than this selection of achievements. Post earthquake Pakistan takes us back only 4 years and fear of U.S. policies does not come despite assistance. It comes as a direct consequence of our orchestrating the Soviet Afghan war, outsourcing that battle to Pakistan, and leaving them with the mess of radicalized Islamic militants and one of the worlds largest refugee problems. In the same way, Friedman fails to mention American foreign policy has consistently sidestepped mediation on the Kashmir issue. And Former secretary general to the Organization of Islamic Conference, in an exclusive interview recently explained to me that both Kashmir and the Israeli-Palestinian issue are of top priority to member states.
So though it’s correct for us to refrain from direct involvement on issues beyond our interests, it’s important that our projected image is one that mitigates rather than inflames anti-Americanism. But Friedman says it’s foreign media that proactively riles Anti-Americanism amongst Muslims, not U.S. policy:
“Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world”
True, but there’s no homogenous “Muslim world”, not even in terms of Anti-Americanism. Pakistan is vastly distinct from the Middle East and within the Middle East itself there are enormous societal, cultural and even deep religious variations from Iran to Egypt to Indonesia.There’s no consolidated agreement on U.S. policies in Muslim countries because policies have been different in each country!
So in the same way there isn’t a homogenous notion of Christians across the globe, there isn’t one on the United States from Muslims, and there shouldn’t be one from America to a supposed “Muslim world”.
Friedman makes an error with such a sweeping generalization. Also, he uses post 9/11 as a starting point of reference for Anti American narrative. Despite countless micro instances of good will and progress that American soldiers have brought to Iraq an Afghanistan, the macro fact is, we invaded two nations in the span of 9 years, one of which was done pre-emptively.
And with no weapons of mass destruction in sight, two very large Islamic populations are skeptical of U.S. foreign policy that may have been intended to bring a better life for Muslims, but since invasion, have seen decreased security.
In fact, since our invasion of Afghanistan, not only has the targeted state deteriorated, so has neighboring Pakistan. But Friedman maintains incomplete rationale for war:
“Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics”
And it’s that tangible “punch” that people remember, not a promise for political change. Plus this kind of rhetoric leaves Muslims skeptical because there’s no mention of practical American interests that drive our policies.
With even a fair number of Americans skeptical of Bush’s reasoning to invade Iraq, Muslims who suffer the tangible consequences of our wars aren’t going to buy the idea that we invaded for solely benevolent purposes, and it’s naive for Friedman to assert that expectation.
By leaving voids in our political narrative to Muslim countries, we open a gap that dangerous Islamist groups fill with Anti-Americanism. Our intention to the Muslim world must be clear and supplanted by security in the countries we invade. With hegemony comes great responsibility. The problem of Anti-American narratives in some Muslim countries might begin with a gap in ours. We have yet to convince Muslims that our war policies, from the Soviet Afghan war, to Iraq, or Afghanistan aren’t Anti-Islamic. It’s an uphill, but necessary battle, after all, the globe is round.
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