Sunday, October 26, 2003

Why Do We Hate the US?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

I asked and answered in this space last week the question why the Americans hate us, but not why we hate them.
I admit that too many Arabs and Muslims do hate America. It is not about the American way of life, not about infidels and crusaders, as much as about the foreign policies of the US government, corporate greed, Christian evangelicalism and the aggressive push for globalization to remake the world in the US’ image. Most of us have no issue with individuals, or with most Western countries. These countries are all rich and sophisticated, and enjoy democracy, freedom and human rights. Why, then, is only America regarded as “the enemy”? If it was about envy, the Swiss and Scandinavians would be the most hated.
America has never been so hated before. I remember, as recently as the Clinton era, when the US was seen as an idealistic country saving Bosnians and Kosovans, defending Chechens, democratizing Haiti, reaching out to Africa and Latin America, establishing and supporting international organizations and treaties, and pushing for peace in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula.
What happened to all this goodwill and good intentions? Why would America sacrifice all this capital to implement the impractical neoconservative agenda and serve Israel’s interests? Whatever the realpolitik interests this hawkish administration has achieved, or meant to, have to be balanced against the US image in world opinion. No country can be an island, even one as big as America. Americans would love to travel freely and safely around the globe, like they used to do in the old-good days when they were hailed as liberators and educators, makers and builders, helpers and partners, traders and investors, messengers of freedom, and ambassadors of peace.
Unfortunately, it is human nature to stereotype. I never accepted the notion that in a democracy, people are wholly responsible for their governments’ blunders. Religious, political and opinion leaders have always manipulated our perception of the world. Some were more successful than others. Misunderstanding, misdirected resentment, misplaced blame and unjustified wholesale charges led too many to hate and hurt. Hate manufacturers are making our world too small to hold us all, too dangerous to keep us safe, and too dumb to let us even talk to each other.
What can we do to overcome all these gaps and walls between us? I say communicate. Only by talking to each other can we cross these distances, build much-needed bridges, and learn how similar we are, how good the others can be, and what the global village is really about.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Why Do They Hate Us?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

“But you burn your women after their husbands die, how dare you claim you have women’s rights in such a barbaric environment?” shouted my feminist colleague.
I was the only Arab/Muslim at an American school in a class with people who thought we burn women and marry hordes of women. I don’t blame them. Wherever they turn, we look bad. Hollywood, for one, keeps showing us as terrorists, womanizers and idiots. My kids had to explain a lot to their colleagues who had such ideas about sand niggers, camel kissers, oil diggers, and the “desert Kingdom.” Some of my university professors and many foreign correspondents think of us as primitive Bedouin with too much oil and cash that we use to terrorize the world. I bet these people think Africa is one country, Latin America is another, and people there live in Jungle Land.
I deal with similar assumptions all the time. People ask me: Why do you kill Jews, beat women, and hate us? I would tell them about how Jews escaped from Spain to Morocco and other Arab countries after the fall of the Islamic rule, because they faced forced conversion to Christianity and genocide; and how Jews in our midst still live in peaceful coexistence with their cousins, the Arabs. Some listen, some just don’t care. I would invite them to meet my wife and her Arab and Muslim friends and ask them in my absence whether they feel oppressed or denied any God-given rights; whether they would prefer to exchange their conservative, family-oriented kind of life with the Western liberal, individualistic model. Some come, some don’t, because they believe our women are not free to express their feelings and thoughts, or are hopelessly brainwashed.
Who is responsible for this distorted image of Arabs and Muslims? Mostly us. We should have done what our cousins, the Jews, learnt to do after centuries of misrepresentation and execution — good communication, that is.
In this failure we are guilty, but we are also victims. Our political, racial and religious rivals did what they had done to the Jews and are leading us to the same end. From Crusaders to Orientalists, from Zionists to evangelists, our history, culture, character and religion are intentionally misrepresented. With the international media in hand and all the power tools (money, technology and communication) in the other, the job was a piece of cake.
How to face this challenge? First, we should learn how to communicate in a sophisticated, positive way. If we start today, we have a long way to go. Since we have no option, we should take the first step — now.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

A Palestinian State? No, Thanks!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Once upon a time, the UN Partition Plan of 1947 offered the Palestinians 47 percent of their country. They didn’t like it. The Israelis, who were arriving from all over Europe, didn’t like it either. Then came the Oslo Agreement. It offered them 22 percent of the original land. They were tired of almost 50 years of Diaspora and brutal Israeli occupation and said yes. So did the Israelis.
Later on, the Israelis reconsidered. Barak’s generous offer at Camp David offered them 80 percent of the 22 percent of the 100 percent that was originally theirs. They didn’t like it, neither did the Israelis. Sharon came along with another offer in 2000: 42 percent of the 80 percent of the 22 percent of the original 100 percent, but with conditions. Among other things, he insists on the right to share control over Palestinian land, sea and airspace, and to “invade” anywhere, anytime he wishes.
The Zionists, including Americans, thought Sharon’s offer was way out of line. According to their Bible, only zero percent of the whole Palestinian land should be given to non-Jews.
It seems both Bush and Sharon were listening. The recent road map to peace approved by the quartet (the US, Britain, Russia and the European Union) now has Israeli-American conditions. The Palestinians should forget about Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the right to elect their own leaders or write their own school curriculum without prior approval from Bush and Sharon. In addition, the Palestinians have to live with a security wall that imprisons three million in the West Bank and one million in Gaza. The wall further eats into the remaining bits and pieces of their original land, isolates different parts, towns and cities — sometimes part of the same neighborhood — and keeps a large number of Jewish settlers on Israel’s side of the wall.
With their towns and leadership under siege, and with the Israeli army waging an elaborate war on civilians, I wonder what kind of state is left for the Palestinians to defend or to negotiate about. I would advise the Palestinian Authority to just pick up what is left of their dignity and leave, pronounce all peace agreements (or what is left of them) null and void, and start anew their fight for freedom. This way, Israel will be responsible, as an occupying force, for the welfare and security of the occupied. Sharon will not find a punching bag in the authority and someone to blame for every suicide attack. Instead, Israel, as an occupier, will be solely responsible for providing security to both Israelis and Palestinians.
I say: Quit a bad deal that keeps getting shoddier, and rekindle your struggle for full freedom. Whatever you get will certainly be better than this made-for-suckers scheme.
- Arab News Opinion 12 October 2003

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Our Media Bias

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Whenever you read or hear about a decision taken, or an event discussed, in our media you usually do not find views that dissent from generally accepted opinion.
When the consensus changes the arguments of commentators tend to change their opinion accordingly.
As far as our readers are concerned, they see us change lanes without any warning or explanation.
They see how we use double standards in our attitudes toward similar situations. While, for example, we show our sympathy toward Muslims in Britain or Algerians in France and criticize the Western media because it attributes every problem in these countries to our brethren we, at the same time attribute every failure in our society to the presence of “foreigners”.
This is one of many examples that clearly shows media bias and the absence of the opposite opinion.
Many writers here deal with our problems as if they were imported. They simply forget that the fundamentals of our media message are based on our Islamic and Arab virtues, which state that every person is responsible for his or her own actions. The crime of a foreigner is blamed on his whole community.
We have forgotten that the principles of international economics and free market systems ensure the need to open doors to competition in which only the better and the more competent win. Unfortunately, we are trying to force the employment of our less experienced youth in positions that require more experience and efficiency.
The result is that we end up with a stagnant economy and rising unemployment rates.
One of the essential characteristics of a sophisticated media is its balance of coverage to include all sides of an argument. Balanced newspapers, therefore, insist on finding dissenting opinions. This is the only way to ensure justice, include all sides of the debate, and enrich and enliven the national dialogue.
— Arab News Opinion 5 October 2003