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“Anti-Americanism” in the Arab World Essay

This essay turns to history to answer the oft-asked question “Why do they (Arabs) hate us (America)?” True, you cannot generalize about 280 million Arabs each with its own tradition and history. However, there are certain historical and political contexts that can explain the rise of anti-American sentiment. The claim: Anti-Americanism is a recent phenomenon fueled by American foreign policy, NOT an epochal “clash of civilizations”. * At the time of WW1 the image of the US in the Arab provinces of the OE was generally positive: Arabs saw it as a great power that was not imperialist like Britain, France or Russia. Americans, who lived in the region, to a large extent the missionaries, were pioneers in the realm of higher education. American colleges and universities were established in many places in the ME and many Arabs experienced “Liberal America”.

* BUT the 20th century American policies in the region complicated the meaning of America for Arabs: Those anti-American feelings stem less from a blind hatred of the US or its values but from a profound ambivalence about America: on the one hand an object of admiration for its films, its technology (and for some its secularism, law, order) and on the other hand, a source of deep disappointment given the ongoing repressive US policy in ME. * In the aftermath of 9/11 anti-American sentiments are present more than ever thus it is important to understand their nature and origins.

Benevolent America

End 18th- Beginning 19th century – beginning of American involvement in the Arab world. American ships were captured in the Mediterranean and taken captive by Moroccans and Algerians. The negotiations and skirmishes are known as the Barbary wars. The most famous case: 1803 – the capture of the “Philadelphia” that was on the way to Tripoli and the ransom and release of the American captives in 1805. The image of Islam in the US during this period crystalized the existing negative Western images of the Muslim and Ottoman world such as: * “Mohammedanism” signified the antithesis of true religion, that is to say, Christianity.

The development of an American-genre orientalism: 19th century U.S. travelers’ discourses of the Orient – intensified such perspectives, specifically of Palestine: * a “Holy Land mania” – religious obsession with Palestine that gripped American travelers, artists and writers. * The Arab inhabitants of Palestine were described as dirty natives or impious Mohammedans. * the sacred landscape was often separated from its native Arab inhabitants.

The New England led Missionaries

* prejudiced, with feelings of superiority to the natives, they sought to reclaim the lands of the Bible from Muslim and Eastern Christian control. * They were the first Americans to seriously engage with the local population: they wanted to change the Ottoman world, not just to describe or experience it. * Proclaiming the urgent need to save the “perishing souls” of the East. * Religious achievements: almost none. There was some local interest in the evangelical message of the missionaries and in their new unmediated approach to the Scriptures, but usually it fell on deaf ears and was effectively countered by the native churches that warned their communities. * A Maronite Christian was the first Arab convert to Protestantism, but he was imprisoned by the Maronite Church.

* Their function as a bridge between cultures: except for introducing religious messages, they also brought with them American manners and customs, clothes, education, and medicine. Simultaneously, they sought to introduce Americans to actual inhabitants, societies, histories, and geographies that were excluded by the exotic discourse of American orientalism.

* Arabs were described as “promising objects of missionary endeavor” being a “very talented race” (praised their science, mathematics that were completely different but accurate, Algbra is Arabic, Astronomy, philosophy.. also their rich history, poetry and literature). * the development of modern Arabic printing fonts which set the standard for 19th-century Arabic printing was pioneered by a missionary in Beirut. * Educated elitist locals were impressed by the enthusiasm of the American missionaries and advocated a “modern” nation and to educate their otherwise “ignorant” compatriots. both societies learned from each other.

* The rejected evangelical effort was transformed with time into a major project of essentially secular liberal higher education embodied in institutions such as the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut. * This conversion from direct proselytization that was openly intolerant of other faiths to more liberal persuasion was fraught with tension. The secularization of the missionary enterprise led to a dramatic increase in Western presence in the non-Western world in the late 19th century. That ascendancy led to a codification of national and racial prejudices from designations of professors, to differential pay scales, to the insistence that only the English language could be a medium of modern instruction-that discriminated against Arabs even as it offered them educational opportunities that they readily grasped.

* Students of the Syrian Protestant College-known locally as the “American college” long before it changed its name to the American University of Beirut in 1920 played a crucial role in building a thriving late Ottoman Arab print culture, and its medical graduates greatly contributed to the development of modern health care in Lebanon and the Arab world. Innovative modern education and the absence of American government imperialism in the late Ottoman Empire contributed to the benevolent image of the US in such places as Beirut, Istanbul, and Tehran. * Thousands of Arabs immigrated to America in the late 19th century.

* Qasim Amin, the famous 19th-century Egyptian advocate of women’s liberation, praised American virtues, specifically the freedom of women in America. As a consequence, women’s freedom in the US is much greater than that of European women. * Philip Hitti, a great scholar of Arab history and the founder of oriental studies at Princeton University, was an immigrant to the US. In 1924 he describes America as a young and dynamic country like no other in which people are superior in their qualities and believes in the role of America in revitalizing older Eastern cultures.

* Sayyid Qutb (!) 1948 said after traveling to America: America has a principal role in this world in all that requires mind power, in practical matters and scientific research, improvement, production, and management. But still he criticized US materialism, lack of spirit and emotion and discrimination of blacks. For humanity to be able to benefit from American genius they must add great strength to the American strength. * None of these and other Arabs in the first half of the 20th century, initially saw America as an enemy.

World War I: America and the Arabs at a Crossroads
World War I – the idea of a benevolent America reached its peak among Arabs: * Educational efforts in the region

* Provided aid to Beirut during a terrible wartime famine. * President Wilson’s proclamations on self-determination differentiated the US from the European powers in the eyes of the Arab nationalist elite. which had agreed to partition the postwar Middle East much as they had partitioned Africa in the late nineteenth century, with the notable difference that Africa was partitioned openly while the Arab world was carved up secretly. * Balfour Declaration of 1917

* Promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine despite the fact that 90% inhabitants were Arabs. The Arabs were furious and viewed it as European colonialism trying to dispose them of their lands. * The King-Crane commission

* Wilson formed a mission to find out what the Arab peoples wanted, which contradicted the spirit of the Balfour Declaration and the colonial wisdom on which it was based. * GB and FR opposed it. Zionist leaders were worried about it, as interviews with natives threatened to expose a fundamental problem of the Zionist project in Palestine: By what right could one create a Jewish state in a land where the vast majority of the indigenous population was not Jewish?! * The final report:

1) Recommended an independent unified Arab state in Syria, Palestine and Lebanon that, if necessary, should be placed under American mandatory control (drawing on a history of American missionary contributions to higher education in the region). 2) Noted that the Arab people declared their trust in the US. They know its unselfish goals (non-colonial) and genuinely democratic spirit. 3) Urged to limit the program for unlimited immigration of Jews, aimed to make Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.

The King-Crane report fell on deaf ears in Washington, London, and Paris. Wilson, who had already committed himself to the Balfour Declaration and to British imperial interests, did not publish the report officially. In 1920 Palestine became a British mandate formally committed to the terms of the Balfour Declaration. * Outside of some missionary circles, Arabs existed in popular American imagination in silent films and novels, represented as exotic, outlandish, primitive, romantic desert nomads or medieval city dwellers but not as a modern people deserving political rights and ready for independence.

Modern Politics and the Emergence of Anti-Americanism
The discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938 – here was a direct strategic interest of the US in the Middle East, not in mandatory Palestine or Syria. US Middle Eastern policy:
* Immediate post-WW1 decades – passive
* Post-WW2 – far more extensive and direct.

Result: symbiotic relationship b/w American oil companies, US gov’t and the emerging Saudi state. “Cities of Salt” (1984) a novel by Abdel Rahman Munif depicts: * almost overnight conversion of an Arab tribal society into an oil kingdom, that led to corruption and the alienation of rulers that became independent of their subjects and dependent on oil companies and foreign protection. * the historical tensions b/w American racialist paternalism toward Arabs were embodied in the collaboration with the Arabs that was only to explore and profit from oil. * The Saudi state became an oil frontier also for thousands of Arabs from the Levant and migrant workers from South Asia. * The Saudi regime emerged:

* on the one hand – dependent on the US and the migrants * on the other hand – emphasizing its “pure” version of Islam (=non-Americanism) to maintain its legitimacy with its own people. * The US still remained a land of opportunity for many Arabs and American oil companies were instrumental for profits of many Gulf Arab states.


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