The distorted lenses through which the U.S. views the Arab world

Rami G Khouri writes: I was in the United States 16 months ago when an Egyptian national popular uprising forced Hosni Mubarak to quit the presidency. And I was in the United States again this week when Mohammed Mursi was elected as the new Egyptian president. Then and now, Americans remain unsure about how to react to the popular revolutions that felled their longtime autocratic Arab allies, who in most cases were replaced by more legitimate, Islamist-led governments.

At the same time, though, Americans – who helped to define the modern revolutionary and democratic era in the 18th century – instinctively tend to support national populist revolutions that create government systems based on the consent of the governed and democratic electoral pluralism. When Arabs carry out these revolutionary and democratic endeavors, however, American society reacts with obvious hesitancy alongside the flashes of enthusiasm.

It is important for Americans and Arabs alike to understand this phenomenon, because it reflects much deeper perceptions, sentiments or biases that will continue to haunt relations between Arabs and Americans and prevent them from ever fully embracing one another, or simply developing normal relations.

My own sense is that two main underlying problems are to blame: the intrusion of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Washington’s deep pro-Israel bias into American-Arab relations, and the lingering consequences of several unpleasant encounters between the United States and various Arab, Iranian or South Asian parties that defined themselves in Islamist terms (Iran, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and others).

This was evident this week when I was reading through some “quality” American press coverage of the Mursi election victory (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The San Francisco Chronicle). One story in The Wall Street Journal’s coverage on June 25 was a textbook case of the recurring bias and confusion in American reactions to the transformational events in the Arab world; and one sentence in a front-page story captured this phenomenon succinctly: “Many secular Egyptians watched uneasily, wondering what Islamist rule will mean for a country that has long been a bulwark of secular, moderate and pro-American governance,” the newspaper observed. [Continue reading…]

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One thought on “The distorted lenses through which the U.S. views the Arab world

  1. delia ruhe

    He might have added that most MSM journalists — like most of the nervous American elite — figure that 18 months is quite long enough for a revolution. They forget that the US may have introduced democracy into modernity, but it was, as in ancient Greece, a patriarchal democracy, by, for, and about white propertied men. It took the US 150 years to legislate political equality, and another 100 years to enforce it — and even now, each election is yet another opportunity for those white men of property to undermine it.

    With the US continually and covertly interfering in the affairs of the Middle East, it may well take Arabs and other Muslims a very long time to establish stability — not even the Iranian revolution has reached that point (thanks to perpetual US-Iranian resentments and mutual grudges) as the periodic eruptions among the Iranian people illustrate. Look how long it’s taken Turkey finally to get its hyperactive military — which Washington & the Pentagon were in love with — under civilian control.

    Khouri is quite right about the Israel-Palestine conflict underlying the American view of the Middle East and the peoples who live there. Islamophobia and anti-Arabism have been carefully cultivated in the US since almost the moment Washington decided that it could make use of Israel, i.e., 1967. Today, the born-again Christians, egged on by the Jewish right wing, assiduously stoke those fires and feed those flames. Is it any wonder that conspiracy theorists are convinced that Israel was behind 9/11?

    There is no way Americans can learn anything about the Middle East as long as they view it through that incredibly distorted prism. The majority of American shouldn’t be expected to develop anything near a consistent position on the revolutions there. Eventually, perhaps, all of the Middle East will decide on Muslim-Brotherhood-style governance, but if that’s what they want, they should have it by right.

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