Rami G Khouri writes: The past month, during which I have had the opportunity to interact with thousands of Americans across the United States, has also been one of the most difficult and volatile in the American-Middle Eastern relationship. This has reflected the lively, occasionally violent, reactions to the anti-Islamic film that took place across the world, the exaggerated rhetoric of the American presidential elections, and the spirited, provocative rhetoric at the United Nations by Iranian and Israeli leaders. Passions are high all around, as Arabs, Americans, Turks, Israelis and Iranians all struggle with sharp rhetoric, violence, death, deep antagonisms and ongoing or threatened wars. The mass media and political classes everywhere tend to focus on the negatives that they see in others, giving the impression that we are on the verge of a catastrophic global war due to inflamed emotions and feelings of existential vulnerability by many of these parties.
The reality, fortunately, seems less frightening, as I have always sensed from my routine life and work in the Arab world, and as I am discovering from my extensive discussions with Americans this month. The many Americans I have engaged in conversations seem more realistic and sober than ever before about Middle Eastern issues and peoples. I have also sensed much less arrogance on the most appropriate role for the U.S. in the region, and in most cases a greater sense of humility about the limits of what the U.S. can and cannot do in this fast-changing region, where local actors drive events and the global powers tend to respond to rather than initiate change.
An important consequence of this is that more Americans now seem to view the Middle East, and react politically to its people and leaders, in a more pragmatic and nuanced manner than in recent years, when a more cartoon-like mentality prevailed that saw the region as a single lump with good guys and bad guys and nothing in between. Some new research tends to confirm this.
This week has seen the publication of a poll-based study entitled “Americans on the Middle East: A Study of American Public Opinion,” headed by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull, of the University of Maryland’s Anwar Sadat Chair and the Program on International Policy Attitudes. They explored how Americans across the board felt about several key, current issues in the Middle East, including the Libyan and Egyptian governments, foreign aid, Iran, Syria and the importance of U.S. relations with the Muslim world and dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. [Continue reading…]