Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"Why Muslims are still mad at America" -- From CNN World's 'Global Public Square' 11/09/05 with a different perspective from yours truly.

I have taken the time to reprint the subject article with full credit to CNN World.  But I also wanted to be able to comment on it.  And I have done so.  Steven Kull has some excellent points, but some that also need a response.  The writing backed in yellow is mine and thus a response from a different perspective. -- Ken Godevenos, Epistoli.

CNN Editor’s Note: Steven Kull is director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes and author of the recently released book, Feeling Betrayed: The Roots of Muslim Anger at America.
By Steven Kull, Special to CNN

On the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, many Americans are wondering whether the risk of a terrorist attack against America has been reduced.  The picture is mixed. With the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is weaker.  With revolutions in several Arab countries, frustrations with unpopular autocratic governments - a recruiting theme for terrorist groups - have been mitigated.  But one important contributing factor has not improved - widespread anger at America in the Muslim world.  While views have improved in Indonesia, throughout the Middle East and South Asia, hostility toward the United States persists unabated.

This does not mean that most Muslims support terrorist attacks on America. On the contrary, overwhelming majorities reject terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks, as morally wrong.  Al Qaeda is quite unpopular.

However, anger at America does contribute to an environment in which it is easier for anti-American terrorist groups to recruit jihadists, to generate funding and to generally operate with little government interference - witness how bin Laden operated in Pakistan and the widespread anger there when the Pakistani military failed to prevent the United States from taking him out.

Trying to understand Muslims’ feelings toward America has been the focus of a five-year study I recently completed that included conducting focus groups and surveys throughout the Muslim world.  I sat for many hours trying to understand as Muslims explained to me why they are so mad at America.
Muslims have much they do not like about how America treats them.
Are we talking about how America lets them have equal rights in the United States?  How the U.S. lets them practice all of their religion except those aspects that go against Ameican national laws that apply to all their citizens? Just what exactly do they mean?

But there is one thing that is the most fundamental: their perception that America seeks to undermine Islam - a perception held by overwhelming majorities.
And how does America do this exactly?  Are we talking about Islam as a peaceful religion that has no ill-will against Jews and Christians?  Or are we talking about the Ideological-quasi-political Islam that does?

The fact that many Americans blithely brush off this accusation without really understanding it is one reason this anger persists. To understand it one must go deeper into the Muslim worldview.
Muslims tend to view current events through the lens of a long-standing historical narrative.
Okay, help us to understand this better Steven.
According to this narrative, going back to the Middle Ages Christian forces from the West have persistently sought to break the grip of Islam on its people.  By holding fast, Muslims believe, they were able to flourish as a civilization, at times superseding the West in many dimensions.
Today, they believe, that struggle continues - except today the challenge is greater. Western cultural products are seen as seductively undermining Islamic culture.
Wait, and that latter point is America's fault??  The Islamic people who choose to pursue the cultural products of the West are not America's responsibility.   If they can't be controlled by their own leaders and parents, why would we blame America?  We certainly don't let Christians blame America for all that their children are pursuing against their own Christian way of life, do we?

More importantly, Western powers have gained extraordinary military might that is seen as threatening and coercively dominating the Muslim world and propping up secular autocrats ready to accommodate the West.
Just how exactly?  Name one place the West has gone in against Muslims where it has not been as a result of that state's threats to others.  Western countries have never turned their guns on such Islamic States without reason -- and by the way, in case you missed it, take a look at the threats of Iran these days -- who's using its military against them?   Someone perhaps should given that they keep threatening to annihilate Israel and America.  But we seem to miss and dismiss all that.

U.S. support for Israel, sometimes described as ‘America’s aircraft carrier in the region’, is seen as integral to U.S. plans for domination.
If the last three years of the Obama administration has done anything, it has shown the world that America's desire for domination is dead in the water, so let's not use that lame excuse for hostility towards America by Muslims.

All this is seen as also serving Western economic interests, such as in securing oil, which dovetails with the agenda of keeping Islam under foot.
Really?  If anything it is the Islamic states and OPEC that control America so beautifully when it comes to oil.  And yes, if America's friend Israel has oil and they want to develop it with America, then why not let them -- there's enough of a market for everyone.

Muslims overwhelmingly believe that the 9/11 attacks, and any attacks on civilians, are contrary to Islam.
And how exactly have they shown this?  Have they officially, through their imams or their heads of state, stood up and formally denounced 9/11?  If so, we've all missed it. 

However, many Muslims do believe that America must back away from the Muslim world.
America did not back away after 9/11.  Rather, it advanced into Afghanistan, into Iraq, and expanded its forces based in the Gulf.  Many Muslims, with their penchant for conspiracy theories, even wonder if the United States somehow engineered the 9/11 attacks to justify this advance.  When George W. Bush, in what has to go down as one of the greatest public diplomacy missteps of all time, announced a “crusade” against terrorism, the assimilation of American actions into the long-standing narrative of Western hostility to Islam was all but complete.
Yes, America went after the "terrorists" after 9/11 -- they would have gone after Christians or Jews or Hindus or Buddhists if they thought that is what the terrorists were or what they were hiding behind. But they weren't -- they were clearly people acting on behalf of what they believe is "true Islam" -- Islam by their book.  So let's not say Americans should have backed away after 9/11 any more than Al Qaeda should back away each time they get attacked.

Furthermore, the idea "that America must back away from the Muslim world" now is a little too much to take.  Most of America is wishing the Muslim world would "back away from America" and just leave it and them alone.  I could say more here but I won't.

Like most Americans I initially viewed this as a big misunderstanding.  Muslims, it seemed, underestimated the pluralism of Western society and with an overactive historical imagination had strung together various elements - each with their own good explanation - into a paranoia-tinged narrative of American hostility to Islam.
And yet with time it became clearer to me what it was about Americans that gave them this impression.  Sure, Americans are happy to have Muslims go to their mosques.  If they want to sneak away to pray 5 times a day - fine.
But for many Muslims this pluralistic bonhomie masks an American narrative that is actually quite oppressive.  This narrative is one that some Muslims think they see even more clearly than Americans themselves.
According to this American narrative - which Muslims perceive as arrogant and dismissive - human society naturally and inevitable evolves through the stages that the West has gone through.
Nobody is asking the 'Muslim world' to evolve through anything except 'peace with the rest of the non-Islamic world'.  Can they do that?  Will they do that?  So far, there's no evidence of that, except with the few Muslims who have seen the personal advantages to them of the West and capitalism.

As in the Renaissance, religion is largely banished from the public sphere, thus allowing pluralism and diversity of beliefs in the private sphere while maintaining a secular public sphere.  This leads naturally to the elevation of individual freedoms and the emergence of democratic principles that make the will of the people the basis of the authority of law rather than revealed religious principles.
From this assumed American perspective, Muslim society is seen as simply behind the West in this evolutionary process.  Retrogressive forces in Muslim society are seen as clinging to Islamic traditions that make Sharia the basis of law, not the will of the people, and inevitably keep women in their traditional oppressed roles and minority religions discriminated against.
Whether this is true or not, and much of it is -- no one is forcing Muslim society to change.  It must learn on its own to deal with outside influences, but stay home to do it, or learn to deal with it when in a non-Muslim country like the U.S.  Christians do not get to dictate how they want the culture or the country to go, nor do Jews -- why should Muslims expect a whole culture to change for them?

Muslims see this narrative as being used to justify America actually violating democratic principles in relation to the Muslim world.  Even if it is contrary to the will of the people, the United State props us autocratic governments on the basis that they are relatively more progressive - according to the assumed Western narrative - than what the people would do if they had their way. 
America is free to prop up anyone they choose, as long as they do not attack other countries in the process.  It seems to me that America was very much in favor of the Arab Spring all over the world this year -- in favor of the Muslim rebellions in many countries.

When the Algerian military in 1991 overturned the results of a democratic election when it appeared that an Islamist party would prevail, America and other Western governments turned a blind eye.
Herein lies the dilemma -- America does not agree nor can it be forced to agree that a "religion" can legitimately be a "political party".  Especially a religion which allows its leaders (both religious and political) to speak boldly and publicly about the elimination of both America and Israel for starters and then all Christians and Jews who don't convert to Islam.  That is the problem and that alone.

When democratic forces arose in Tunisia and Egypt, Muslims perceive that the United States only joined the parade when the outcome was irreversible.  Still, America supports autocratic forces in Bahrain in the face of pro-democratic forces calling for change.
See above.
A particularly frustrating feature of the U.S. narrative, for Muslims, is that it divides Muslim society into a progressive liberal and secular sector on one hand and on the other a regressive Islamist sector that seeks to impose backward Islamic traditions.   America then seeks to promote the liberal forces and to undermine the Islamist forces.
Don't blame America for that -- it's a fact.  Muslims are not united and they can't seem to agree on what the Koran really says about how to deal with infidels, Jews, and people of the Book.  They don't speak with a united voice at all.  Let's not blame America and Americans for that.  Also, let's stop hiding behind a concept of an American 'narrative' -- what the sam hill is that?  It's either an American official position or it's not.  And I do not believe that this 'narrative' is anything more than what has been made up in the minds of Muslims to justify their current situation.

This is not simply imagined. Currently in Congress there are efforts to ensure that U.S. funding of democracy promotion in Egypt only benefits liberal, secular parties and does not in any way benefit Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tell me again why American funds should support any party that is 'religious' when it does not even do that in America, and secondly, why it would support any religious party whose main premise is to defeat the West and eliminate America, then Israel, then Jews, etc.?   Somebody please explain those two things to me.  Fast.

To most Muslims this American perspective on Muslim society is simply incorrect and American efforts to choose the winner is really about America seeking to impose its Western secular model of governance and to eradicate the role of Islam in the public sphere.  Since to Muslims Islam is, by definition, meant to be in the public sphere, American efforts are seen as seeking to undermine Islam itself.
Sorry, don't buy it.  If Muslims want to be left alone, Americans would be the first to leave them alone, but it is Muslims that keep emigrating to non-Islamic countries and then insist on those nations becoming totally conducive to their way of life, etc.

The assertion that America is misreading Muslim society is supported by polling data.  While Americans do tend to divide the Muslim public into secular and Islamist groups, polls show that Muslims do not divide so neatly.
All of us know some Muslims.  And the ones I know say to me -- "I am not like the terrorist Islamists or Muslims; I do not want to destroy America or eliminate the Jews; I want to live in peace."  But that is not what any of us see in the world news -- especially in Indonesia, Malysia, Pakistan, Egypt, and other countries where Muslims are flexing their Islamic muscles against Christians and Jews. There clearly is a dichotomy whether some Muslims accept it or not.

Overwhelming majorities endorse liberal principles including that the will of the people should be the basis of governance, government leaders should be chosen through free elections and that there should be full freedom of religion.
As long as that religion shows that it is not out to eliminate other religions or states.

At the same time, equally large majorities say that Sharia should be the basis of government, that all laws should be vetted by Islamic scholars to ensure they are consistent with the Koran and that Muslims should not be allowed to convert to another religion.
Now that is all about freedom, isn't it?  Not.
Obviously there are some serious contradictions here.  But these contradictions are not primarily between sectors of Muslim society but rather within Muslim individuals.  This could be described as an “internal clash of civilizations.”
Sorry Steven, but if you believe that, you're part of the contradiction.  And if you are right, then the official Muslim position, until they prove otherwise, is the one most of us won't like and the one I've described above.
Muslims are well aware of these tensions.  They are drawn to the liberal ideas of democracy and pluralism and they want to find a way to incorporate them into their societies.  Al Qaeda’s model of rejecting all Western influences in favor of purely traditional society garners little support.
At the same most Muslims want to preserve the Islamic foundations of their society and want their public life to be infused with Islamic principles.  Most want Sharia to play a greater role.  They want a quality of piety to pervade their culture. Integrating these aspirations with liberal ideas of democracy and freedom of religion is a decidedly challenging endeavor.
So it is particularly infuriating to Muslims when America intervenes in a way that is destabilizing, trying to root for one imagined side against another, in what Americans conceive of as an inevitable evolution toward the victory of one side.
Why then blame the Americans?  Why not blame the fact that Muslims can't handle this dichotomy that they themselves want to pursue?
If this were in fact a conflict between external groups, such interventions may in fact strengthen one side over the other. But because the conflict is actually primarily an internal conflict, America’s interventions produce a backlash, making Muslims feel that they need to do more to defend their Islamic foundations and making advocates of liberal ideas suspect.
It would be a conflict between 'external' groups within Islam, except that the liberal arm is scared to death of the repercussions they would face from the radical arm.  Another reason why non-Muslims should be involved to help the weaker side, if they are to be involved at all.

There are reasons to believe that this effect was al Qaeda’s intended goal of the 9/11 attacks.  By provoking America into military action against Muslim targets, al Qaeda hoped to revive the age-old narrative of the crusading West and to drive the Muslim people into the arms of al Qaeda’s vision of a purely traditional Islamic society devoid of liberal or Western elements.
Read the above paragraph again and then tell me why America should be blamed for this, and other things -- or be accused of going after Muslims?   No way.  The facts incriminate others, not Americans.

Al Qaeda did not succeed in drawing in most Muslims.  Al Qaeda’s terrorist methods are seen as wrong and its vision as too extreme.  The hold of liberal ideas is not easy to shake. However, al Qaeda did succeed in pulling the United States into a position in the Muslim world that has alienated much of Muslim society.
So for this, we're angry at Americans????

By intervening in ways that have enhanced the polarization of secular and Islamist forces the United States has also made it more difficult for Muslims to build a political space within which they can find a middle ground that integrates these elements into a more coherent whole.
Oh please, that's like blaming outsiders for the infighting within a family.  Yes, they have a role, but only if the family lets them.
As America begins to gradually disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan there is the potential for negative feelings toward the United States to begin to abate.  Muslims generally perceive U.S. military forces in the region as a threatening presence designed to keep the region the way America wants it to be. Any lightening of America’s military footprint will further mitigate this sense of being coerced.

But perhaps most fundamentally, America’s relationship is most likely to improve as it comes to understand, accept and embrace the whole of Muslim society and the course of development that it has chosen for itself.  Muslims believe that they are on a different path than the West.
Exactly.  So why expect Americans to accept it and swallow it lock, stock, and barrel? Especially if it is so contrary to its own approach to life, and more specifically, if the other culture wants to eliminate the American way of life?  That does not make sense -- except to Muslims who want their cake and want to eat it too.  Sorry, but I think we need some perspective here.

This path is central to their notion of their freedom to practice their religion.  When they feel that America is threatening their religion and their aspirations, they grow resolutely hostile.
Let me repeat.  America is not threatening their religion at all.  Their religion is threatened only when it enters the political sphere in a way that wants to eliminate other religions and other countries.  Steven you keep missing that point.  Just a minor oversight, I'm sure, that you can easily correct next time you write.

As Americans we may believe that it is not possible to blend such a form of religiosity and liberal values.  Maybe Muslims will conclude this too.  But only when Muslims perceive America as no longer being an obstacle to their endeavor will they be able to move forward in their discovery.
And how exactly is their "endeavor" defined.  Please define it clearly and fully and then we'll see if we can even entertain it.  But we won't if includes eliminating other religions and countries, including Christianity, Judaism, Americans, Jews, Christians.  Change that and see how things change for the better.
And it is only then that America’s relationship with the Muslim world will become more amicable.
If only it were true and possible.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Steven Kull.
The views expressed in yellow interspersed within Steven Kull's article are solely those of Ken Godevenos.

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  1. Anonymous6/9/11 22:41

    Sorry but this guy is clueless. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.
    Right now, we’re at war with 6 countries. Somebody please tell me what this has to do with 911?

    When we bomb civilians, even a “smart bomb” doesn’t know who is a “terrorist” and who isn’t.
    I’ve seen video of an American Apache helicopter, making a strafing run on a van, which had new-media and children inside.
    The U.S. has bombed weddings, because there was supposedly “Intel” which suggested that a “terrorist” would be there.

    Then he talks about Iran. Oh here we go again! Secret hidden WMDs… yada yada yada… Isn’t that what took us into Iraq 10 long years ago?
    International inspectors have been to Iran again, and again… No WMDs!!!

    Those people can’t even refine enough petroleum for their own use!

    IF by some magic Iran ever did get a Nuke… how would they get it here?
    By Santa’s sleigh perhaps?
    Of course we aren’t worried about the Nukes that are all over the world… including Russia and China!
    And IF any country attacked Israel, they have 300-400 Nukes to respond with!

    Right after the U.S. went to Afghanistan, a pipeline was built to carry oil, all the way to the Caspian Sea! Now we have troops guarding the opium!

    Now Obombya has invaded Libya! He didn’t consult Congress as The Constitution says he has to!
    He did it because NATO and the UN said so!!!
    I guess that why we are HELPING AL QAEDA in Libya?!?

    If Bin Laden is such a bad guy, then maybe we shouldn’t have been doing business with him all those years. He was a CIA asset!
    Now I’m told that Obombya finally got him. No body, just his say so!
    And the guys who got him, “had an accident” and died!!!

    I’m trying to figure out how Bin Laden was still alive? He had massive kidney failure 11 years ago! I guess he was hooked up to a Dialysis machine in a cave for 11 years?!?
    Why were we after this guy anyway? Oh that’s right, he sat in a cave, and sent some kids with box-cutters to take America down. …not likely.

    And of course the Bin Laden’s were always good friends with the Bush’s.
    The Bush’s used to vacation at the Bin Laden palace!
    George W. let them fly out of the US after 911, remember?

    Also, Al Qaeda's Anwar Al-Awlaki was invited to Pentagon for lunch after 9/11!!!

    Now I can’t fly back east and visit my grandchildren, without being fondled and irradiated at the airport.
    Apparently, Taking away my Constitutional rights keeps me safe from bearded men in turbans!

    Thousands of American lives lost, Millions of Arabs dead, Trillions of (borrowed) dollars spent.

    And there can be NO END, because the enemy is UNDEFINED, and the mission is UNDEFINED!
    Just more TAXES and less FREEDOMS!

  2. Anonymous7/9/11 08:35

    You are right on the money Ken. I hope this gets to many many people. Well done!
    Doreen Scott