The US has a role to play

The Washington Post’s Post Global is “an experiment in global, collaborative journalism, a running discussion of important issues among dozens of the world’s best-known editors and writers. It aims to create a truly global dialogue, drawing on independent journalists in the countries where news is happening – from China to Iran, from South Africa to Saudi Arabia, from Mexico to India.”

It aims to present perspectives rarely heard in the Western mainstream, especially in a publication like the Washington Post. As ever, the web presents opportunities a newspaper simply won’t or can’t.

I’ve been invited to join their roster of writers and commentators. My articles will be featured irregularly on a host of issues and upcoming pieces will cover areas such as terrorism and the Middle East. My first, short piece (a comment, really) is a response to the following question:

American policies and rhetoric in the past three years has created a rise in anti-U.S. sentiment among the world’s Muslims, some of whom are turning to violence.

Should it be a goal of the U.S. to reduce that hostility and, if so, what’s the best way to do it?

My response:

A recent poll taken in Australia underlined the growing racial divide in the country. 75% of respondents believed that the “war on terror” was being lost while many feared a terrorist attack would occur on home soil within the next 12 months. Although 52% believed most Muslims living in Australia were moderate, 21% worried they were extremists and 27% simply did not know.

The fear of radical Islam, grossly exaggerated by many Western mainstream commentators, has created a dangerous tendency to demonise all Muslims as potential terrorists. It’s no wonder societal paranoia is the result.

Washington’s foreign policy is integral to the rise of anti-US sentiment around the Muslim and wider world. Images streaming out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Western-friendly dictatorships such as Jordan and Egypt prove that the supposed “democratisation” agenda implemented by George W. Bush is in fact unfriendly to true democratic principles. If there were free and open elections across the Arab world, Islamist, anti-US and anti-Israel parties would likely dominate.

The Bush administration, along with its Western partners such as Tony Blair’s Britain and John Howard’s Australia, insists that “terrorists” hate the West for its alleged freedoms. The opposite is in fact true.

Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, argues that much of the violence directed at the West is not a result of Islamic fundamentalism but a product of secular and strategic goals.

Pape recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that the US-led invasion of Iraq was the perfect way to increase suicide bombing. “Since the invasion of Iraq”, he said, “suicide terrorism, both by al-Qaeda and in Iraq itself, has just been surging. We now have a pretty good idea of the cocktail to create suicide terrorism, and it’s not a madrassa [Islamic religious school], it’s the presence of foreign combat forces.”

As the world’s most powerful nation, the US has a duty to take responsibility for its actions. Rhetoric emanating from the White House is angering Muslims around the world, including in the US. The now-endemic use of the word “Islamo-fascism” may elicit strong emotions, but security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the BBC that the term is meaningless and is effective simply for propaganda purposes. Both US actions and language seem to be deliberately alienating moderate Muslims, men and women who are desperately needed to address extremists within Islam.

The troubles are also closer to home. A recently released Gallup/USA Today poll found many Americans were highly prejudiced against Muslims and their religion. It is not simply enough to continually defend US policies to a sceptical world without asking why they are increasingly treated with contempt within the wider world and the US itself. The US needs more than a PR makeover.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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