[Mb-civic] They do not hate us for our freedoms - Financial Times
michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Dec 31 22:36:54 PST 2004
They do not hate us for our freedoms
Published: December 31 2004 02:00 | Last updated: December 31 2004 02:00
In the three years since 9/11 the Bush administration has successfully sold
the idea that the Islamist perpetrators "hate us for our freedoms" and
loathe us for our values: for what we are and think, rather than what we do.
In what is ultimately a war of ideas within the Muslim and Arab world, there
is no idea more damaging - or more wrong. Unless attitudes are radically
rethought, radical Islam will win the struggle for Muslim minds.
The self-serving fallacies of the they-hate-us-for-our-freedoms industry
have been criticised in recent books from, for example, the former CIA
official in charge of pursuing Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer (Imperial
Hubris), and the Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi (Resurrecting
Empire). Both argue it is the policies of the US and its allies that have
ignited such rage in the Arab and Muslim world.
Validation of this analysis came in September from an unusual quarter: the
Defense Science Board (DSB), a federal committee of academics and
strategists that gives independent advice to the US defence secretary. The
DSB report's brief was to study US "strategic communication" policy. It
found that "America's power to persuade is in a state of crisis" - not
least, it suggests between the lines, because of this administration's
unappealing mix of high-handedness, incompetence and attraction to the use
Good presentation will not build support for reviled policies. Credibility
matters, the report says, and "simply, there is none - the US today is
without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and
The polls the DSB looks at are chilling: single digit support for the US and
its policies (for example, a 98 and 94 per cent "unfavourable" rating in
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Washington's main Arab allies). The DSB finds
nonetheless that majorities or pluralities do support values such as freedom
and democracy, embrace western science and education, and like US products
"In other words, they do not hate us for our values, but because of our
policies," the DSB says, before noting that the surveys showed hatred of the
policies had begun to tarnish the attraction of the values. So what is to be
George W. Bush appeared on the right track in a speech just over a year ago
to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. Rightly condemning
the "cultural condescension" that suggests Arabs and Muslims are suited to
despotism rather than democracy, he proclaimed a "forward strategy for
freedom in the Middle East". The experience of the past 60 years, he said,
had taught us "stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty".
Quite so, but what has happened since then?
US support for Israel has solidified while the Israelis continue to expand
their hold over the immeasurably weaker Palestinians. The Iraqi state and
society have broken under a US occupation that continues to use
disproportionate force with high civilian casualties.
Diplomatically, Washington endorses the transparent attempts of Moscow,
Delhi and Beijing to reclassify regional disputes involving Muslims in
Chechnya, Kashmir and western China as part of the "Global War on Terror".
Above all, in Muslim eyes the US is taking sides against freedom and Islam
by continuing to support tyrannies throughout the region, as a trade-off for
cheap oil and forward bases. In that light, the US-inspired Greater Middle
East Initiative looks long on rhetoric and short on action - suspiciously
like France and Britain's behaviour during their post-first world war
carve-up of the Middle East. It does not help that the programme's small
secretariat is based in Tunisia, a police state.
It is the policies that have to change. In Iraq, the US needs to spell out
credibly that it has no long-term designs on the country (unlike its British
colonial predecessors). In Palestine it needs to arbitrate even-handedly and
honestly. The US must engage with non-violent Islamist movements which the
DSB correctly identifies as the emerging centre of political gravity in the
region. It must above all cease propping up Arab despots.
No change in policy means the short-term survival of tyranny and the onward
march of the jihadis. It also means the shared values of Islam and the west
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