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Why Do We Hate Them, and Why Do They Hate Us? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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After the events of September 11, and after the immediate and sweeping wave of world sympathy with the United States had receded, a question began to crop up in the minds of many, both inside and outside the United States: why does the world hate the United States? This question became even more burning after the invasion of Iraq and the US Administration’s brandishing of the stick in the face of any one who criticizes its policy, let alone opposes it, in line with the saying: “who is not with us is against us”.

Perhaps the United States was hated prior to that by many societies, as a result of certain policies or stands. But this hatred turned lately into a general phenomenon, rather than transient stances.

The reason for the hatred differs according to whether we are dealing with Islamic or other societies, including European societies. The US sees that the reason revolves around envy of the US lifestyle and strength; that the US constitutes an axis of goodness while those hostile to it are the ones who are hostile to the human values that the US represents and wishes to spread around the world. Therefore they must be members of the axis of evil. Even though there are some who do not necessarily link Islam to hatred, violence and terrorism, the majority of US voices see a link between violence and the Muslim culture, perceived as a culture of violence and hatred to the marrow that cannot coexist with others, especially the Western culture with which it is diametrically opposed.

In European and other societies, hatred of the US is attributed to the US culture itself; a culture which is characterized by arrogance (the arrogance of power) on the one hand, and by the attempt to dictate it forcibly on the world, considering itself the sole representative of the human culture (Americanization of the world). So if all that is good for General Motors is good for the United States, as the old saying went for a capitalism that had not been globalized yet, then all that is good for the US is good for the entire world, in accordance with the new globalized capitalism.

In Muslim societies, hatred of the US is focused at present on one principal point, namely the perception of a conspiracy against Islam and the Islamic culture which is the sole rival to contemporary Western culture and civilization. Yes, perhaps all-out US support to Israel has a role in that hatred. Some might also be motivated by leftist ideological convictions about the US hegemony and the new imperialism represented in US-inspired globalization. But it is the “doctrinal (religious) complex”, if the expression may be used, which prevails at this moment in history.

In general terms, Dia-al-din Sirdar and Merrill Wayne Davis summarize for us the reasons of world hatred for the US in four principal dimensions: A dimension that has to do with survival, another cosmological (structural) dimension, a third anthropological (nature of existence) and finally a dimension related to definitions.

The dimension related to survival is that the US has made survival for many other peoples very difficult. Through its economic, political and cultural hegemony, the US leaves no room for diversification or expression of one’s self in a world wherein the US represents the center of globalization.

The cosmological factor is summarized in that “in the globalized world of today, the US is considered the raison d’etre for everything. Nothing, it seems, moves without US approval, and nothing can be solved without US intervention”.

As to the anthropological reason, it is the US belief that it is “the God-ordained and history-selected nation”. How many times have we heard US leaders declare that God is on their side, or that history “has called upon America to act”! In the end “what is good for the US must be good for everybody”. As for the factor that has to do with definition, this is summarized in that the US “is not only the sole country that has excessive power but has also become the world’s frame of reference. It spells out the meaning of democracy, justice, and freedom; what human rights and cultural diversity mean; who is a fundamentalist, a terrorist, and an evil one. In short, it defines the human meaning” (Dia-al-Din Sirdar and Merrill Wayne Davis, “Why the World Hates the US”; Riyadh: Al-Ubaykan Bookshop, 2005, Chapter Seven).

Thus there are objective reasons and non-objective reasons for the hatred of the US in the world of today. But let us turn the question round and ask: why does the world hate us? Why does the world feel apprehensions each time the Arabs or Muslims are mentioned, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the increased revulsion at everything Arab or Muslim after the events of September 11? Some might claim that it is incorrect to talk about global revulsion to everything Arab or Muslim, or that the entire question in the end is a US contraption, its purpose being to create an enemy, albeit an imaginary one, to justify US military expenditures and the US imperialist scheme to establish a global empire. But we are not concerned about discussing these or any other views. The important issue is to try to search for some keys to answer our question: Why do they find us repugnant and actually hate us?

In my belief–and I may be partially or entirely mistaken–is that there are reasons that separate the contemporary Muslim from his world and keep him in a world of his own. This is the underlying cause for the overt or covert revulsion if not the hatred he elicits. Perhaps among the important reasons is the “suspicion” which the contemporary Muslim (in temporal terms) feels about the contemporary world (in civilization terms), a suspicion that always makes him imagine that this world is hostile to him, being often against his civilization, his culture, his history and his existence. Thus his reaction to the world is tinged with hostility, and this could be translated sometimes into acts of rejection of various types. Or it could lead to an isolation that prompts the other side to reciprocate with suspicion, leading to tension between the two sides. Whether we talk of the contemporary Muslim in his own country or in the countries to which he has emigrated, to escape from his own country and the inhuman conditions, it is suspicion, doubt, isolation and hostility that are the end result. The prevalence of a religious or nationalist dissertation in the home countries has contributed to an impression that the others must be hostile and conspiratorial enemies. This is the lesson of history, geography, and most importantly of ideological differences. Therefore the orientation in dealing with the other is that he is “sly” until proven otherwise. As to the host countries, the contemporary Muslim is following the very same course that the Jews took at one time: near-total isolation in a district that does not form part of the society or the culture in whose midst he lives. He refuses to merge in the culture of the society to which he has emigrated, even fighting the values of the society and of the state of which they have become citizens. It is legitimate that there should be a special identity for the Muslim in the country to which he has emigrated. This is his right, just as it is a right for all races that leave their homes to settle in other countries. But to turn this identity into a state of absolute rejection for all the values and principles on which these societies were developed, and to consider that his citizenship comes secondary to his identity, this is what creates the state of suspicion between the Muslim and the rest of the components of the host societies.

On the other hand, if the US considers it is the best of nations on earth, then many Muslims also attribute this to themselves, in accordance to a specific cultural dissertation that the Muslim is the sole center of values in this world, and that there is no worth to any values that are perceived to be contrary to our culture, even if this is not the case in the final analysis. Perhaps some believe that there is no salvation for the world except under the sovereignty of Islam (in accordance with a certain understanding). Others meanwhile may see that such a stand is nothing but a reaction to another stand which rejected and was hostile to everything Islamic and Muslim, in a clash of civilizations destined to raze everything to the ground. Some may interpret this as nothing but a self-defense mechanism in a world in which the Muslim sees himself as inept and unable to keep pace. So rejection and exaggerated self-esteem become the sole mechanism that salvages some self-pride and dignity. But whatever the reasons and interpretations, this will in no way change the ultimate behavioral pattern. First there is suspicion and rejection, then hostility and aggression, and in the end a mutual and chronic prevalence of hatred. The essence is that we may hate them, particularly the United States, for many reasons that have to do with us, some objective and related to policies and others illusionary and related to self-defense. In the same manner, they hate us for many reasons that relate to them, some objective dealing with our cultural stand in general, and some illusionary related to a stereotype behavioral image of the Arab or the Muslim which nothing is capable of changing. There is no solution unless each party gives up its illusions, and then there could be talk about the objective reasons for hatred. Without this, we shall continue to go around in the same vicious circle.

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad

Turki Al-Hamad is a distinguished Saudi Arabian political analyst, journalist and novelist. Mr. Al-Hamad was educated in Saudi Arabia and the United States, where he obtained his PhD from the University of Southern California, later returning to Riyadh to teach political science. He retired in 1995 to take up writing full time.

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