Sunday, February 27, 2005

Why London Is Not Washington

Last July I was in Washington, today in London. The difference in the street is almost nonexistent. Arabs, Saudis included, are welcome by the average man, here and there. You walk like a breeze through the airports. As long as you carry a valid visa, you are as good as any.
Once you hit the streets, your identity melts peacefully into the multicultural pot of millions of immigrants and citizens. As long as you keep on the right side of the law, you are free to worship God, and express yourself as you wish.
The similarity, however, ends here. Politically, the environment cannot be more different. While wise English leaders kept their bridges open to the Arab and Muslim world, Americans felt safer burning them. The result is clear in the Arab approval rate of either country. America stands today as an ugly predator and arrogant, heartless empire, while the UK is merely regarded as a misled country.
This view is helped by the antiwar stand taken by a majority of Britons. More than half Americans, on the other hand, are taking the opposite stand. Arabs and Muslims in Britain are as well treated as ever. In USA, the FBI is making it more difficult for Arabs to study and work in the Land of the Free.
Most Saudi students have already left and many chose Britain as their best alternative. The ones I know don’t regret it.
Right or wrong, Britain is seen in the Arab world as a reluctant partner who was dragged into a war by a mighty ally with the consent of its government and against the best wishes of its people.
Some Americans explain the different attitude. They say we were hit on Sept.11 and they weren’t. Others may explain the panic reaction by the inexperience of Americans with terrorist attacks. While Britons have a long experience with IRA terror, no foreign attack had ever taken place on American soil.
But these explanations assume that the Zionist neoconservatives in US administration had no prior plan to occupy Iraq and change the Middle East’s geopolitical map to Israel’s liking.
The fact is that ever since it came to power, this administration has been hatching plans to invade Iraq and topple ex-US agent, Saddam Hussein. The project “Clean Break” was designed in 1996 but both the Clinton and Barak governments turned it down. George W. Bush and company thought otherwise. It was a matter of time before they figured out a reason and a way to implement the plan. Sept.11 was a devil-sent excuse even though the link between the attack and Iraq had not been established. Americans were angry and needed a punching bag in the area that produced the terrorists. Iraq was as good a place for revenge as any, not to mention its rich oil resources, well educated people, strong army, strategic location and close proximity to Israel.
Another difference: Britain is an old imperial hand. Naturally, they understand their former colonies more than the new American empire. The problem with the new colonists is: They are ignorant and don’t know it; they are arrogant and proud of it.
Here is an example. Before the start of the Iraq war, the British Army turned to the prestigious Institute of Commonwealth Studies of the University of London to provide training courses for the Iraq-bound officers and soldiers. The school explained the historical and cultural background of the Middle East and Iraq and gave hints and tips on how to deal with local sensitivity. They taught soldiers how to approach families and women, and search homes and cars without showing disrespect to the Islamic faith, Arabic culture and local traditions. The same course was offered to the Americans, according to Director of School of Oriental and African Studies Prof. Robert Springboard, but they turned the offer down. Why? They already knew what was needed to be known — the art of war. The rest, I guess, was sissy stuff the tough guys didn’t need!
As a result, British soldiers are in a much better situation. They are not as much hated as the Americans are and face less problems and resistance. Of course part of that might be attributed to their placement in friendly Shiite areas. But their good knowledge, attitude and behavior should also be credited. Proof?
The Americans left the same bad impression in both Shiite and Sunni areas.
Does that fully explain the different reactions to the two invading countries? There are other reasons. America has another problem with the Arab conscience — Israel. With the peace caravan moving forward during the Clinton years this problem was almost solved. Today, Afghanistan, Iraq plus Palestine put America at the same level as Israel, or worse. Britain, however, is different. Wisdom always helps.

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