Anti-Americanism Essay - Critical Essays

Anti-Americanism

Introduction

Anti-Americanism

The following entry discusses points of view that are opposed to or unsympathetic to the government, official policies, and culture of the United States of America.

Anti-Americanism as a political and cultural sentiment has grown steadily over the course of the twentieth century. Although there are records of anti-American sentiment in political and literary writings in previous centuries, the United States has attracted more negative attention for its policies and culture in the twentieth century than any other time in its history. Anti-American sentiment in this century is marked by various activities, including speeches, editorials, posters, media broadcasts, and countless demonstrations both within the United States and in and around American cultural and diplomatic missions abroad. In an essay on the rise of anti-Americanism in the twentieth century, Paul Hollander characterizes it as one of the “most significant, widespread, and intellectually neglected cultural, political, and social-psychological phenomena” in our times.

According to Hollander, the complex reasons behind the increase in anti-Americanism in the twentieth century make it difficult to define the scope of the sentiment. Calling it a global trend, Hollander writes that although anti-Americanism serves different needs, including political, economic, ideological, and cultural aspects, it can be largely sub-divided into three major areas. These are: 1.) Criticism of the American political and economic system, 2.) A critique of American culture, and 3.) A negative evaluation of American character. Critics such as Hollander and C. Vann Woodward attribute the rise in anti-American sentiment, specifically during the twentieth century, to a number of reasons. Partly, writes Woodward, the United States has gained prominence because it was the first republic established in the second generation of modern nation states. As the youngest in a group of established countries, older nations and cultures often assumed an almost parental role in critiquing America. Conversely, points out Woodward, Americans also invited the attention, both negative and positive, by soliciting opinions from countries of the “old world”—regardless of whether the response was negative or positive, Americans seemed to have an insatiable appetite, especially during the nineteenth century, for European response to their culture, economy, and politics.

Many travelers to the United States during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries remarked on the intensity of interest Americans had in how they were perceived by foreigners. Many writers who visited the United States in the early twentieth century, such as Maxim Gorky, Bertrand Russell, and H. G. Wells, among others, kept diaries of their visits to America, recording thoughts and reactions to both their visit and the American culture in general. While Gorky focused on the difficulties of life in American cities, detailing the misery of ordinary Americans, and by association critiquing the technical and economic circumstances that led to the creation of sometimes difficult living circumstances for Americans living in big cities, Wells focused his observations on interactions he had with black Americans. In contrast to most foreign writers, who tended to relegate the race question in America as a mostly Southern issue, Wells regarded it as an American problem that needed to be addressed. Other foreign writers, especially French intellectuals, tended to focus on critiques of American life and culture, which they felt was increasingly responsible for the dilution of the traditional and established cultures of Europe.

In the mid-twentieth century, especially following the end of World War II, attention has focused on the United States due to the economic disparity between it and other nations, as well as to the central role it plays as the foremost democracy in the world. Hollander points to the pivotal role played by the United States technologically, economically, and culturally, as the main reasons behind much of the attention it has garnered. The crux of anti-Americanism in the twentieth century, however, has shifted fundamentally—instead of criticism rooted in institutional arguments, such as those over political systems and culture, the debate in recent decades has moved to a more focused critique of America's political, social and economic systems as it interacts with the rest of the world. Several nations react negatively to the United States for its perceived commercialism, misuse of technology, and extreme capitalism. Others, especially Third World nations, including many African nations, pursue anti-Americanism as an almost official policy, based largely on charges of economic domination, neglect, or indifference.

One of the most significant rises in anti-American sentiment in the twentieth century has been centered in the Middle East. While some scholars attribute this hostility to a clash of traditional values and ways of life, others trace the origins of negativity towards the United States in the Middle East to the specific political policies adopted by Americans in the twentieth century. In a brief history tracing the relationship of the United States and various Middle-Eastern countries, Ussama Makdisi contends that anti-American sentiment in the Arab world is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one that has clear connections to America's political relationships with various Arab nations. In particular, Makdisi points to American support of Israel as well as its oil interests in the Middle East as key factors in dictating Arab response to America. He also writes that in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, a good understanding of the historical and political relationship between the United States and various Arab countries is crucial, especially if progress is to be made towards resolving the conflict.

In addition to anti-American sentiment abroad, there is a strong sense of opposition to American political and social systems amongst Americans themselves. American writers and intellectuals regularly criticize their own country, often focusing heavily on the “deadening qualities of American life.” Authors such as Norman Mailer, Herbert Marcuse, Philip Slater, and Susan Sontag are cited by scholars as some of the most vocal and well-known critics of American values and society, and in part, hold them responsible for the growth and attention to anti-American sentiment abroad. Critics note, however, a distinct gap between the sentiments expressed by American intellectuals versus ordinary American people. For example, writes Hollander, anti-American intellectuals often feel alienated and estranged from ordinary American society, and partly, their criticism of American society rests on a fundamental opposition to ordinary American tastes, values, habits, and way of life. To some extent, scholars point out, this chasm is normal, reflecting a conflict between intellectuals living in a largely business society. Similarly, anti-American sentiment in Europe and many Western countries is largely based in and around intellectual circles. Troubled by the penetration of American cultural products, many conservative European intellectuals feel threatened that American culture will supplant their own traditional values and cultures. In contrast to the Middle-East, political opposition to American policies is not a central concern among intellectuals in most Western European nations.

Anti-Americanism in this century, then, encompasses a large number of attitudes and beliefs, and is based on a variety of circumstances, including nationalism, political differences, a clash of traditional values, and a host of other reasons—political, cultural, and social. As the foremost technological and democratic nation in the world, many critics of the United States, both within the country and abroad, hold her to a high standard of accountability, focusing strong and sustained interest on every significant political and cultural trend that emerges in the country.

Representative Works

Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale (novel) 1985

Daniel Berrigan
Night Flight to Hanoi (nonfiction) 1968

Noam Chomsky
American Power and the New Mandarins (nonfiction) 1969
Sphere's of Influence in the Age of Imperialism (nonfiction) 1972

Henry Fairlie
“Anti-Americanism at Home and Abroad” (essay) 1975; published in Commentary

Maxim Gorky
“The City of Mammon” (essay) 1906; published in Appleton's Magazine

J. L. Granatstein
Yankee Go Home? Canadians and Anti-Americanism (nonfiction) 1996

Gunter Grass
Our Backyard (nonfiction) 1983

Graham Greene
The Quiet American (novel) 1955
Getting to Know the General: The Story of an Involvement (biography) 1984

Knut Hamsun
The Cultural Life of America (nonfiction) 1889

Lillian Hellman
Unfinished Woman (memoir) 1969
Scoundrel Time (autobiography) 1976

George F. Kennan
Sketches from a Life (nonfiction) 1985

William Kunstler
Our Pleasant Vices (nonfiction) 1941
… and justice for all (nonfiction) 1963
Deep in My Heart (nonfiction) 1966

Dwight MacDonald
Discriminations (nonfiction) 1974

Norman Mailer
The White Negro (fiction) 1957
An American Dream (fiction) 1965

Herbert Marcuse
One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (nonfiction) 1964

Kenneth Minogue
“Anti-Americanism: A View from London” (essay) 1986; published in National Interest

Jan Morris
“Land of Paradoxes” (essay) 1975; published in Encounter
“Down, Down on America” (essay) 1983; published in The New York Times

Andreas Papandreou
“If Capitalism Can't, Can Socialism?” (essay) 1987; published in New Perspectives Quarterly

Bertrand Russell
Principles of Social Reconstruction (nonfiction) 1916
Why Men Fight (letters) 1917
Authority and the Individual (lectures) 1949
War Crimes in Vietnam (nonfiction) 1967

Philip Slater
The Temporary Society [with Warren G. Bennis] (nonfiction) 1968
The Pursuit of Loneliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point (nonfiction) 1970

Susan Sontag
Trip to Hanoi (nonfiction) 1968
I, etcetera (memoir) 1978

Peter Weiss
Vietnam (nonfiction) 1967

H. G. Wells
The Future of America: A Search After Realities (nonfiction) 1906

Edith Wharton
The Custom of the Country (nonfiction) 1913

Tom Wolfe
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Wine (nonfiction) 1976

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Paul Hollander (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Hollander, Paul. “Reflections on Anti-Americanism in Our Times.” In The Many Faces of Socialism: Comparative Sociology and Politics, pp. 299-311. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1983.

[In the following essay, Hollander characterizes anti-Americanism as one of the most significant cultural, social, and political phenomena of the mid-twentieth century and offers an analysis of the major dimensions of this global happening.]

In the course of the last quarter century or so, the United States has become a nearly universal scapegoat symbol. It has been denounced in countless speeches and editorials, on posters, in radio broadcasts, and over television, as...

(The entire section is 5487 words.)

C. Vann Woodward (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Woodward, C. Vann. “The Pursuit of Happiness.” In The Old World's New World, pp. 40-62. New York: The New York Public Library/Oxford University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Woodward explores early- to mid-twentieth century European perceptions of America as a materialistic society, devoid of the happiness that American zeal and industry seemed to promise.]

From the early years of the Republic, Americans have lived with an international reputation for excessive love of money and the obsessive pursuit of gain. They became accustomed to it. It came from all sides, friend and foe, and appeared to amount to an international consensus. It was expressed...

(The entire section is 7381 words.)

Criticism: Literary And Intellectual Perspectives

Maxim Gorky (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: Gorky, Maxim. “Maxim Gorky.” In Broken Image: Foreign Critiques of America, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, pp. 172-88. New York: Random House, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, originally published by Gorky in 1906, the Russian author reflects on his impressions of America following his expulsion from his own home country.]

Everywhere is toil, everything is caught up in its whirlwind, everybody obeys the will of some mysterious power hostile to man and to nature. A machine, a cold, unseen, unreasoning machine, in which man is but an insignificant screw!

—Maxim Gorky, “The City of Mammon,”...

(The entire section is 5446 words.)

H. G. Wells (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: Wells, H. G. “H. G. Wells.” In Broken Image: Foreign Critiques of America, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, pp. 189-201. New York: Random House, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1906, English author H. G. Wells reflects on the lives of black Americans living in America during the early twentieth century.]

Three unfortunate Negroes were burned to death, apparently because they were Negroes. It was a sort of racial sacrament. The edified Sunday-school children hurried from their gospel-teaching to search for souvenirs among the ashes, and competed with great spirit for a fragment of charred skull.

...

(The entire section is 4046 words.)

Alan Ryan (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Ryan, Alan. “Bertrand Russell's Politics: 1688 or 1968?” In Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics, and Culture in Britain, edited by William Roger Louis, pp. 93-107. London/Austin, England and United States: I. B. Tauris Publishers and Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 1995.

[In the following essay, Ryan recounts Bertrand Russell's views on American life, noting that while Russell detested many characteristic features of American life, he was also a proponent of the United States serving as the self-conscious, responsible leader of the Western world.]

If Bertrand Russell is remembered in the United States by anyone other than formal...

(The entire section is 7443 words.)

Criticism: Social And Political Reactions

Paul Hollander (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Hollander, Paul. “Western Europe.” In Anti-Americanism: Irrational and Rational, pp. 367-410. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1995.

[In the following essay, Hollander details anti-American sentiments in Western Europe through the twentieth century, focusing on political, cultural, and social aspects.]

I am one of the rare European intellectuals who has never been anti-American.

—Eugene Ionescu, 1985

I

European anti-Americanism has so far been limited to the Western half of Europe, to the countries outside what used to be the Soviet bloc. The...

(The entire section is 19678 words.)

Cynthia Sugars (essay date spring 1999)

SOURCE: Sugars, Cynthia. “Noble Canadians, Ugly Americans: Anti-Americanism and the Canadian Ideal in British Readings of Canadian Literature.” American Review of Canadian Studies 29, no. 1 (spring 1999): 93-118.

[In the following essay, Sugars studies popular British and other Western literary and critical perceptions of Canadian literature, writing that while many of these studies view Canadian culture as a welcome postcolonial refuge in opposition to American culture, the same cultures have some level of complicity in American imperialist enterprises.]

For some years now Canadian literature has been generating immense attention on the international stage. This...

(The entire section is 10283 words.)

Ussama Makdisi (essay date September 2002)

SOURCE: Makdisi, Ussama. “‘Anti-Americanism’ in the Arab World: An Interpretation of a Brief History.” Journal of American History 89, no. 2 (September 2002): 538-57.

[In the following essay, Makdisi presents the historical and political reasons behind the rise of anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.]

“I think that anger in the Arab street is real. It is produced by a number of different factors. But in the end, what matters is not whether they hate us or love us—for the most part, they hate us. They did before. But whether they are going to respect our power.” With these words addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Martin Indyk, then executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and later one of the architects of the failed Middle East policy in the Clinton administration, dismissed the history of anti-Americanism in the Arab world. “The antipathy towards the West that is likely to follow this war,” added Indyk in a prepared statement he also submitted, “has long been present in the Arab world. It cannot be resolved through accommodation.”1 Indyk's assumption that “they” hate “us”—and that the reasons for it are essentially immaterial and obscure—has appeared elsewhere in the recent discourse of American policy makers and pundits, as if Arabs and Americans have always been and will always be doomed to a relationship of mutual antagonism.

In contrast, this essay turns to history to answer the oft-asked question “Why do they hate us?” It offers a brief, synthetic, interpretive account of Arab and American interactions over the past two centuries. I recognize from the outset the limits of generalizing about 280 million Arabs, living in a host of Arab countries, each with its own tradition and history. Nonetheless, I seek to place the rise of anti-American sentiment in the Arab world within a historical and political context often neglected, misunderstood, or ignored by proponents of a “dash of civilizations” thesis.2

Anti-Americanism is a recent phenomenon fueled by American foreign policy, not an epochal confrontation of civilizations. While there are certainly those in both the United States and the Arab world who believe in a clash of civilizations and who invest politically in such beliefs, history belies them. Indeed, at the time of World War I the image of the United States in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire was generally positive; those Arabs who knew of the country saw it as a great power that was not imperialist as Britain, France, and Russia were. Those Americans who lived in the region—missionaries and their descendants and collaborators—were pioneers in the realm of higher education. Liberal America was not simply a slogan; it was a reality encountered and experienced by Arabs, Turks, Armenians, and Persians in the hallways of the Syrian Protestant College (later renamed the American University of Beirut), Robert College in Istanbul, the American College in Persia, and the American University in Cairo. But over the course of the twentieth century, American policies in the region profoundly complicated the meaning of America for Arabs.

Among the vast majority of Arabs today, the expression of anti-American feelings stems less from a blind hatred of the United States or American values than from a profound ambivalence about America: at once an object of admiration for its affluence, its films, its technology (and for some its secularism, its law, its order) and a source of deep disappointment given the ongoing role of the United States in shaping a repressive Middle Eastern status quo. Anti-Americanism is not an ideologically consistent discourse—its intensity, indeed, its coherence and evidence, vary across the Arab world. Yet to the extent that specifically anti-American sentiments are present, never more obviously so to Americans than in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, it is imperative to understand their nature and origins.

BENEVOLENT AMERICA

American involvement with the Arab world began inauspiciously in 1784 when an American ship, the Betsey, was seized in the Mediterranean Sea by Moroccan privateers. A year later Algerians captured more American vessels and imprisoned their crews. Thus were inaugurated the negotiations, skirmishes, and legends known collectively as the Barbary wars, which culminated in the capture of the U.S. frigate Philadelphia in 1803, Stephen Decatur's famous but quite ineffectual raid on Tripoli in 1804, and the ransom and release of the American captives in 1805. The episodes sparked debates between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams about whether it was necessary to go to war, rather than pay ransom to the Barbary states, in order to uphold the values of the newly independent republic. As Robert J. Allison has noted in his work on the image of Islam in the early-nineteenth-century United States, the Barbary wars, and especially the myriad captivity narratives that emerged from them, crystallized existing negative Western images of the Muslim and Ottoman world. The discourse of the despotic “Turk” functioned as one foil to early republican identity just as the more entrenched discourse of “Mohammedanism” as imposture signified the antithesis of true religion, that is to say, Christianity, at a time when complex political and sectarian battle lines were being etched into a rapidly changing American landscape.3

Such perspectives were amplified in the nineteenth century by the advent of U.S. travelers' discourses of the Orient and, specifically, of Palestine. Hilton Obenzinger has described a “Holy Land mania” that gripped American travelers, artists, and writers who toured and laid claim to Palestine. The Arab inhabitants of Palestine (and the surrounding areas) were acknowledged to be paradoxically there—animating accounts of the Holy Land as Levantine dragomans, dirty natives, impious Mohammedans, or “nominal” Christians—yet not there in any meaningful historical or spiritual sense. During his post-Civil War tour of the Ottoman Empire, for example, Mark Twain irreverently satirized American travelers' religious obsession with Palestine and their enchantment with the East more generally.4

In the United States itself books by Twain and by missionaries, landscapes by such artists as Frederic Church, as well as novels such as Robert Smythe Hichens's 1904 The Garden of Allah (which went into forty-four editions over the next forty years), contributed to the rise of a specifically American genre of orientalism. It exoticized the East as premodern, conceived of it as dreamy yet often experienced it as squalid, separated the sacred landscape of the Holy Land from its native Arab inhabitants, and commodified the Orient through promotions, advertisements, trinkets, novels, photographic exhibits, postcards, and ultimately films.5

There was, however, an American encounter with the Arabs that was far more direct and had a far greater impact on early Arab attitudes toward the United States. This was the missionary encounter led mostly by New England men and women. They shared many of the prejudices that characterized nineteenth-century American travelers; indeed, the roots of their missionary effort lay in part in their disavowal of a growing liberalism in New England religious thought. They were impelled by a sense of patrimony in the Holy Land and feelings of superiority to the natives as they sought to reclaim the lands of the Bible from Muslim and Eastern Christian control. Yet, motivated by “disinterested benevolence,” they were also the first Americans to engage with the local populations in a serious and sustained manner—they wanted to change the Ottoman world, not just to describe or experience it. Their spiritual preoccupation with the Holy Land was premised, not on overlooking the natives, but on recognizing their presence on the land and on proclaiming the urgent need to save the “perishing souls” of the East. The first American missionaries to the Arab world were associated with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They departed Boston in 1819 and arrived in the Levant in 1820. Failing to establish themselves in Jerusalem, they settled on Beirut as the center of a missionary enterprise to Syria in 1823.6

Initially, the Eastern churches and local Ottoman officials described the Americans as “English,” reflecting both their dim awareness of the United States and the protection afforded by British consuls in the Levant to the missionaries. There was sporadic local interest in the evangelical message of the missionaries and in their new and seemingly unmediated approach to the Scriptures in an era of increasing Western power over the Ottoman Empire. But for the most part evangelism fell on deaf ears and was effectively countered by the native churches, which repeatedly warned their respective communities of the spiritual and political dangers allegedly posed by the missionaries. A Maronite Christian was the first Arab convert to Protestantism, but he was imprisoned by the Maronite Church and subsequently disappeared in the late 1820s. Most indigenous Christians, Jews, and Muslims refused to accept the missionaries' claim that theirs was the only correct path to salvation. Evangelically speaking, the American mission to the Arab world was largely a disappointment.7

Had the missionaries devoted themselves only to direct proselytizing, their impact on the region would have been scarcely noticeable and their later achievements impossible. But the missionaries also functioned as a bridge between cultures. Not only did they seek to introduce the Ottoman Arab world to Protestant notions of piety and individual salvation, they also brought with them American manners and customs, clothes, education, and medicine. Simultaneously, they sought to introduce Americans to a world unknown to them—to actual inhabitants, societies, histories, and geographies normally excluded by the alternatively sacred and exotic discourse of American orientalism. Intrinsic to the missionaries' endeavor was a sincere desire to know and evangelize the Arabs—to establish Christian fellowship—mixed with a paternalism that would remain a hallmark of their enterprise. Eli Smith, a famous American missionary to Syria, explained to an audience in New York in May 1840 why he considered the Arabs a peculiarly fascinating and promising object of missionary endeavor:

[They] are a very talented race. I have examined all their books of science, mathematics, etc., and it is curious to see how they have started from points totally opposite to our scientific land marks, and yet have arrived at precisely as accurate results. Again, there is Algebra, which owes its origin to them; its name is Arabic. In astronomy they are proficient. … In philosophy they often reason more accurately than the most civilized nations of Europe. They generally tell all the facts of the case, insist on no dogmatic inferences, but leave you to judge conclusively for yourselves.

Their history is like the Hebrews, full of romance, and chivalry, and high and lofty achievements. Their poetry is like ascending from earth to heaven; it is the soul of sublimity … In literature they excel all other nations, for there is no country which possesses so many different books in the native tongue. … We love our language, and think very highly of its beauty, and force, and finish. But it sinks into insignificance before the beauty and force, and finish of the Arab tongue!8

Missionaries such as Smith learned Arabic; others mastered Armenian or Turkish. Smith devoted himself to revitalizing the Arabic language and Arab history and to studying Arab manners and customs. He pioneered the development of modern Arabic printing fonts, which set the standard for nineteenth-century Arabic printing. He thereby made a powerful and enduring impression on many educated inhabitants of Beirut, such as the Maronite-turned-Protestant educator, writer, and encyclopedist Butrus al-Bustani who, like others, was moved by the enthusiasm of the American missionaries. Together with Smith, he established a literary society in Beirut in 1847 that delved into then controversial topics, including the education of Arab women. Bustani advocated learning from the West, but not simple imitation of it; he believed firmly in a dialogue between civilizations. “We gave them [the West] knowledge by one route with our left hand, and they are now returning it to us by another route with their right hand,” declared Bustani in 1859. “We must put at the first rank in this regard the American missionaries, and the Latin priests and nuns, particularly the Jesuit and Lazarists among them, because their beautiful example and graceful labor through their schools and printing presses are obvious, and can only be denied by those who are ungrateful or who are fanatical and prejudiced.”9 Bustani and other avatars of Arab liberalism in the nineteenth century were a minority; they were elitist, but they seized upon a romanticized and as yet unsullied image of America (among other symbols) to advocate a “modern” nation and to educate their otherwise “ignorant” compatriots.

The missionaries, in turn, served as ethnographers of Arabs to Americans. While they refused seriously to entertain equality between American and Arab, they worked with men such as Bustani and learned from, as well as taught, them. The missionaries themselves changed in the crucible of encounter, especially after it became clear that the proselytizing dimension of their enterprise had failed. Thus an evangelical effort that rejected a current of liberalism growing in early-nineteenth-century New England was transformed—by the labors of missionaries and natives alike—into a major project of essentially secular liberal higher education embodied in institutions such as the 1866 Syrian Protestant College in Beirut and the 1863 Robert College in Istanbul. Nowhere was the fruit of this transformation by actual experience in the Orient more evident than in the words of the famous American missionary-turned-college president Daniel Bliss. When he laid the cornerstone of College Hall at the Syrian Protestant College in 1871, Bliss spoke words as revolutionary in America as they were in the Ottoman Empire:

This College is for all conditions and classes of men without regard to colour, nationality, race or religion. A man white, black, or yellow; Christian, Jew, Mohammedan or heathen, may enter and enjoy all the advantages of this institution for three, four, or eight years; and go out believing in one God, or in many Gods, or in no God. But it will be impossible for any one to continue with us long without knowing what we believe to be the truth and our reasons for that belief.10

This conversion from direct proselytization that was openly intolerant of other faiths to more liberal persuasion was fraught with tension. The secularization of the missionary enterprise coincided with and reflected a dramatic increase in Western ascendancy in the non-Western world in the late nineteenth century. That ascendancy led to a codification of national and racial prejudices—from designations of professors, to differential pay scales, to the insistence that only the English language could be a medium of modern instruction—that discriminated against Arabs even as it offered them educational opportunities that they readily grasped. Students of the Syrian Protestant College—known locally as the “American college” long before it changed its name to the American University of Beirut in 1920—played a crucial role in building a thriving late Ottoman Arab print culture, and its medical graduates greatly contributed to the development of modern health care in Lebanon and the Arab world. Innovative modern education and the absence of American government imperialism in the late Ottoman Empire contributed to the benevolent image of the United States in such places as Beirut, Istanbul, and Tehran. For example, the famous nineteenth-century Egyptian advocate of women's liberation, Qasim Amin, extolled American virtues and praised the freedom of women in America. In his 1900 Almar'a al-jadida (The new woman), he wrote:

[The] status of women in [Western] societies has reached a level of respect, intellectual freedom, and action that is laudable, even though they have not yet reached the level that is their just due. American women in the United States are completely independent within the private sphere, and government intervention in their private affairs is almost nonexistent. As a consequence, women's freedom in the United States of America is much greater than that of European women. American men and women are equal in the realm of personal rights. Women have also gained political equality in some states. In the state of Wyoming, for example, women received their voting rights in 1869.11

Other nineteenth-century Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire embraced a benevolent idea of America based on the missionary experience—particularly education—and on immigration. In 1893 al-Hilal, a leading Egyptian cultural, literary, and historical journal owned by a former student of the Syrian Protestant College, introduced George Washington to its readership as “one of the geniuses of the eighteenth century and one of the greatest men of freedom.” In the words of the immigrant Mikha il As'ad Rustum in 1895, America was a bustling “land of cities and civilization” defined by its industry and by its people “from all tribes and races.” It was no coincidence that in 1908 the constitutional Persian government invited an American to reorder its finances to stave off British and Russian imperialism. And it was to America that thousands of Arabs emigrated in the late nineteenth century. Philip Hitti, the great scholar of Arab history, the founder of oriental studies at Princeton University, was himself an immigrant to the United States. In a serialized account of life in America that appeared in 1924 in al-Hilal, he noted that in America:

You will feel as though you have arrived in a country whose inhabitants are giants among men. When you enter the city and walk among the people, you will be struck by how eager Americans are to go to their work, how quick their pace is, and how active and energetic they are. You will then realize that you are not in a country like others, and you are not among a people like others, but rather among a people superior in their qualities, distinguished in their vitality, and unique in their abundance of energy. The matchless skyscrapers, the quick pace of life, the ability to focus on one's work, are none other than manifestations of the dynamism of a nation that is full of youth and pulsating with tremendous energy.12

Frequently such descriptions contained a notation of cultural difference, more often than not composed of generalizations based on anecdotal experience and ossified notions of gender, culture, spirituality, and materialism. After traveling to America in 1948 Sayyid Qutb, later a famous member of the Muslim Brotherhood, wrote:

America has a principal role in this world, in the realm of practical matters and scientific research, and in the field of organization, improvement, production, and management. All that requires mind power and muscle are where American genius shines, and all that requires spirit and emotion are where American naivete and primitiveness become apparent.

For humanity to be able to benefit from American genius they must add great strength to the American strength.13

Like other Arabs in the first half of the twentieth century, neither the Christian Hitti nor the Muslim Qutb initially conceived of America as an enemy. Rather, Hitti emphasized America's youth and dynamism; in particular, he believed that America had a role to play in revitalizing older Eastern cultures. Qutb acknowledged America to be a leader and a teacher in the world of science, but he deplored its materialism and what he considered its startling lack of spirituality; he also noted its discrimination against blacks. Upon his return to Egypt, he began to formulate his ideology of Islam as a viable and necessary political and moral alternative to Communism and capitalism at a time when the nature of American involvement in the Arab world, and indeed the Arab world itself, were taking a profoundly different turn.

WORLD WAR I: AMERICA AND THE ARABS AT A CROSSROADS

The influence of an idea of a benevolent America reached its apex among Arabs during and immediately after World War I. Not only were Americans identified with educational efforts in the region, they were also central to relief efforts amid a terrible wartime famine in Beirut and the surrounding region of Mount Lebanon. Moreover, President Woodrow Wilson's proclamations on self-determination reinforced a notion among nationalist elites in the Arab world that the United States was different from the European powers, which had agreed to partition the postwar Middle East much as they had partitioned Africa in the late nineteenth century, with the notable difference that Africa was partitioned openly while the Arab world was carved up secretly. Most egregious from an Arab perspective was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the native inhabitants—90 percent—were Arabs who opposed what they saw as European colonialism bent on dispossessing them of their land. Arthur James Balfour, who as British foreign secretary had committed Great Britain officially to Zionism, stated in 1919 that:

in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

In 1919 Howard Bliss, son of Daniel Bliss and then president of the Syrian Protestant College, urged Wilson to form a mission to find out what the Arab peoples wanted, an idea that squarely contradicted the spirit of the Balfour Declaration and the colonial wisdom on which it was based.14

The American section of the resultant Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey was popularly known as the King-Crane commission, headed as it was by two Americans: Charles Crane, a Chicago industrialist and contributor to Wilson's presidential campaign, and Henry King, president of Oberlin College. The British and the French opposed it from the outset, reluctant to participate in what they regarded as American meddling in their imperial spheres of influence. Zionist leaders regarded it with “deepest disquietude,” for travel to Palestine and interviews with natives threatened to expose a fundamental (and still often unacknowledged) problem of the Zionist project in Palestine: Namely, by what right could one create a Jewish state in a land where the vast majority of the indigenous population was not Jewish?15 The King-Crane commission represented the tension between two strands of nineteenth-century American experience of the Arab world. On the one hand, the commissioners by their own admission began with a “predisposition” to the Zionist perspective: they were well informed about the passionate claims to Palestine made by Jews. At the outset of their mission, therefore, they reflected a dominant nineteenth-century American view of Palestine that overlooked the Arab reality on the ground or dismissed it as marginal to the allegedly true Judeo-Christian heritage of the land or to its modern civilized future. This predisposition was summed up by Capt. William Yale, a member of the commission who ultimately dissented from its final report. Yale insisted that the “national history, national traditions, and a strong national feeling” of Jews worldwide who would bring Western science and civilization outweighed the fact that Zionism in Palestine was “entirely contrary to the wishes of the people in Palestine and those of most of the inhabitants of Syria.”16 On the other hand, the commissioners made a concerted effort to find out what the native inhabitants actually thought.

After conducting interviews with local mayors and municipal councils and professional and trade organizations and making an extensive tour of Palestine and Syria, the King-Crane commission issued a final report that outraged British and French imperial sentiments as well as Zionist aspirations. It recommended an independent unified Arab state in Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon that, if necessary, should be placed under American mandatory control. In recommending an American mandate, the commissioners drew on a discourse of American exceptionalism and a history of American missionary contributions to higher education in the region that, they claimed, had led Arabs to know and trust the United States. The Arab people, noted the final report, “declared that their choice was due to knowledge of America's record: the unselfish aims with which she had come into the war; the faith in her felt by multitudes of Syrians who had been in America; the spirit revealed in American educational institutions in Syria, especially the College in Beirut … their belief that America had no territorial or colonial ambitions”; and finally “her genuinely democratic spirit; and her ample resources.”17

The King-Crane commission urged a “serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.” If the Wilsonian principle of self-determination was to be upheld “and so the wishes of Palestine's population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist program.” Presciently, the commission warned that Zionism could be accomplished only through violence.

That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program, on the part of the non-Jewish populations of Palestine and Syria. Decisions, requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of a serious injustice. For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a “right” to Palestine, based on an occupation of two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.18

The King-Crane report fell on deaf ears in Washington, London, and Paris. Wilson, who had already committed himself to the Balfour Declaration and to British imperial interests, did not publish the report officially. The British and the French proceeded with their predetermined partition of the Arab world. In 1920 Palestine became a British mandate formally committed to the terms of the Balfour Declaration, and the French dismantled the fledgling Arab state in Syria, exiling its leader, who became instead king of the newly constituted British-dominated state of Iraq.19 The King-Crane report notwithstanding, the dissociation of the Holy Land from its native inhabitants was far more entrenched in popular and official American imagination than its association, and Zionism as a nationalist project in Palestine was premised upon that dissociation. Outside of some missionary circles, Arabs existed in popular American imagination in silent films—for example, The Sheik (1921) with Rudolph Valentino—and novels and tales such as the Arabian Nights: they were represented as exotic, outlandish, primitive, romantic desert nomads or medieval city dwellers but not as a modern people deserving political rights and ready for independence.

MODERN POLITICS AND THE EMERGENCE OF ANTI-AMERICANISM

The discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938 pushed the United States into a more direct role in the Middle East. It was in oil, not in mandatory Palestine or Syria, that the United States had a strategic stake. And unlike the largely passive U.S. Middle Eastern policy of the immediate post-World War I decades, post-World War II policy was far more extensive and direct. The result was a symbiotic relationship between American oil companies, the U.S. government, and the emerging Saudi state. The brilliant novel Cities of Salt (1984) by Abdelrahman Munif depicts the extraordinary political transformations entailed by the almost overnight conversion of an Arab tribal society into an oil kingdom, the corruption it induced, and the alienation created as rulers became increasingly independent of their subjects and dependent on oil companies and foreign protection. The novel explores the historical tensions between the American racialist paternalism toward Arabs, epitomized in the white American compounds from which natives were barred, and the collaboration between Americans and Arabs to explore for, market, and profit from oil.20

The Saudi state became an oil frontier not only for American companies, as the political scientist Robert Vitalis has argued, but also for thousands of Arabs from the Levant and tens of thousands of migrant workers from South Asia.21 It was from this oil frontier that the Saudi regime emerged in its present form, on the one hand deeply dependent on expatriates and on the government of the United States, and on the other hand constantly emphasizing its Islamic (and hence non-American) heritage and mandate in an effort to maintain its legitimacy with its own people. The autocratic Saudi state has sought to co-opt and outflank domestic opposition both by appearing to uphold a “pure” version of Islam and by using oil profits to build a modern infrastructure of highways, hospitals, airports, schools, and electricity grids for its citizens. The American-Saudi relationship inaugurated a U.S. involvement with the Arab world far more secular in form, strategic in conception, and nationalist in interest than the nineteenth-century spiritual and educational missionary enterprise. Henceforth, while the United States remained a land of opportunity for many Arabs and American oil companies were instrumental in realizing undreamed-of profits for many Gulf Arab states (as well as for themselves), the U.S. government saw itself far less as a force for liberal or democratic change than as a guarantor of the status quo.

The Cold War exacerbated the suspicion felt by U.S. policy makers toward any potentially destabilizing force in the Middle East, particularly populist secular Iranian and Arab nationalisms. In Iran, for example, after the parliament nationalized the British-dominated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organized the overthrow in 1953 of the nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq. Thereafter, the United States supported the absolutist dictatorship of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, rationalizing or ignoring the tremendous popular disaffection with Pahlavi rule. As late as New Year's Eve 1978, Jimmy Carter lavishly praised “the great leadership of the Shah,” which, he insisted, had turned Iran into “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” The United States helped the shah establish (with Israeli advisers) the infamous SAVAK internal security agency that rounded up and tortured political prisoners. The historian Nikki R. Keddie concluded her study of the Iranian revolution of 1979 by noting that it was American policies in Iran that led to a marked increase in anti-American feeling.22

A similar process unfolded in the Arab world. American hostility to Mosaddeq paralleled American animosity toward the secular Pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Despite some initial sympathy, American policy makers were ultimately unwilling to interpret his nationalist Pan-Arab rhetoric within the context of the recent history of British and French colonial exploitation of the Arab world. Nasser saw Israel as the greatest threat to the Arabs, whereas the Americans focused on the dangers of alleged Soviet intrusion into the Middle East. Thus they perceived Nasser within a Cold War logic that dismissed his attempt at nonalignment. Although much of the Arab world, indeed, the Third World, saw in Nasser a genuinely charismatic leader and an authentic voice for Arab aspirations, for the Palestinian people, and for Egypt, Americans portrayed him as dangerously ambitious. They regarded his 1955 decision to seek arms from the eastern bloc (after being rebuffed by the West) and his 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal (after the United States suddenly pulled out of financing the Aswan Dam project) as destabilizing to proWestern regimes in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq (whose monarchy was indeed overthrown). When the Iraqi monarchy fell in July 1958, 14,000 American troops were immediately dispatched to a Lebanon embroiled in civil conflict.

They were sent to shore up the pro-Western regime of Camille Chamoun and also to signal U.S. determination to stave off perceived radical Arab nationalism and Soviet expansionism.23 This politicization of the United States on the side of conservative autocratic regimes fostered a first round of anti-American sentiment in the Arab world that was similar to the anti-Americanism then evident in Latin America and Asia, where the United States more often than not sided with dictatorships in the name of fighting Communism and radical nationalism.

This anti-Americanism was not characterized by hatred of America or things American as much as by a relatively new identification of American power as a force for repression rather than liberation in the Arab world. Nasser expressed this succinctly in a speech he gave in Damascus on July 22, 1958:

America, brothers, revolted on 4 July … it engaged in a revolution in order to get rid of British colonialism and in order to raise the living standards across the United States. America revolted and won and proclaimed the very same principles that are today proclaimed by your brothers in Iraq.

But in proclaiming its anger today, America refuses to see the reality of the situation in the Middle East and forgets also its own history and its own revolution and its own logic and the principles invoked by Wilson. They fought colonialism as we fight colonialism. … How do they deny us our right to improve our condition just as they did theirs? I don't understand, brothers, why they do not respect the will of the peoples of the Arab East? … We all call for positive neutrality. All the peoples of the Arab Middle East are set on non-alignment. Why should these peoples not have their way? And why is their will not respected?24

The secular anti-imperialist rhetoric of student movements, leftist intellectuals, and “progressive” governments such as Nasser's now regarded the U.S. government as a representative of the historic force of colonialism and imperialism (and capitalism) and as a power holding the Arab world back from its rightful place at the eagerly anticipated postcolonial “rendezvous of victory.” Enormous differences within the secularist camp notwithstanding (Nasser's regime, for example, persecuted Communists), this secular criticism of perceived American imperialism was based ultimately, not on a theory about a clash of civilizations, but on a discourse about a historic clash between the reactionary forces of imperialism and the progressive forces of revolution. It interpreted politics as a struggle between two stages of a single teleological reading of history in which the United States supported allegedly retrograde regimes, be it in the shah's Iran or in Chamoun's Lebanon and Nuri Said's Iraq in 1958 against supposedly more progressive ones. Anti-imperialist mobilization involved anti-American rhetoric, but its characterizations were broad, its criticism tempered by the fact that the United States as a nation remained a promised land for many, a source of admiration for still more, and on occasion—as during the Suez crisis in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower reversed a British, French, and Israeli invasion of Egypt following Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal—a symbol of hope for a new kind of relationship between the Third World and the great powers.

For the most part secular anti-imperialist rhetoric prevailed from Cairo to Baghdad, especially in the 1960s as the secular Arab nationalism represented by Nasser remained ascendant. But there also existed an undercurrent of Islamist dissidence from the autocratic governments of the Arab world and Iran. Unlike secularists, Islamists (who were also split into many ideological factions) framed their politics as a response to the violation of an alleged tradition and envisioned a revival of an ostensibly pure Islamic state and society. Unlike many of the great nineteenth-century Islamist reformers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu, who had tried to reconcile Islam and the West, many Islamists now regarded the West as a representative of an antagonistic secular and un-Islamic history, culture, and civilization. They witnessed the Arab inability to prevent the loss of Palestine and the dispersion of the Palestinian people—the first of which was justified, and the second largely ignored, by the West. They also seethed at the corruption of postcolonial Arab regimes. Qutb, who had once awkwardly admired certain facets of the United States, turned away from it in the 1950s because of its materialism and its support for Israel. He was further radicalized following his arrest in 1954 after a failed assassination attempt on Nasser by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Qutb belonged. Qutb suffered, as did many other Egyptians, at the hands of Nasser's secret police, and he ultimately advocated not only delinkage from the West but also a struggle against rulers, including Nasser, mired in what he called an ignorant or jahili culture, purposefully deploying the classical Islamic designation of the pre-Islamic age as one of jahiliyya or ignorance. Qutb's harsh analysis of Muslims as besieged sustained a rigid yet influential Islamist interpretation of history and politics as an ageold clash of civilizations between “believers” and their “enemies.” It was not freedom or temptation per se that Qutb opposed; it was what he saw as the degradation, corruption, injustice, authoritarianism, and materialism imposed on Muslims by their enemies. Qutb was hanged by Nasser's regime in 1966.25

A year later Nasser's regime and secular Arab nationalism were shaken by Israel's success in the June 1967 war. The Israeli defeat of Nasser and secular Arab nationalism, which by then had amassed a dismal human rights and economic record, and the Iranian revolution of 1979 sapped secularist rhetoric and galvanized the Islamist alternative. What Qutb, an adherent of the dominant Sunni branch of Islam, advocated in Egypt, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini succeeded in accomplishing in predominantly Shiite Iran. Not surprisingly, when the shah of Iran finally fell in 1979, an intense power struggle between Islamists and secularists and among Islamists themselves began not only in Iran but also in the Arab world. Many self-styled spokesmen for Islam denounced American and Western culture, and some have also criticized and on occasion persecuted those women, minorities, and Muslim men who did not conform to “proper” Islamic codes of conduct. In the Arab world, however, Islamist movements have remained oppositional forces to authoritarian governments. In Iran the Islamists led by Khomeini triumphed and ushered in the “Islamic Revolution” and with it the most sustained challenge to U.S. regional hegemony. Khomeini did not hide his antipathy to the West and the United States in particular for propping up the shah's repressive regime. “With the support of America,” Khomeini wrote in 1978, “and with all the infernal means at his disposal, the Shah has fallen on our oppressed people, turning Iran into one vast graveyard.”26

But unlike Nasser, and unlike Islamists such as Ali Shariati who promoted an Islamic liberation theology, Khomeini mobilized and channeled revolutionary aspirations into a Manichaean theocracy that viewed Islam and America as totally antithetical civilizations. The taking of American hostages in 1980 dramatically illustrated the gulf that separated the revolutionary Iranian sense of an “imperialist” America and the U.S. image of itself as a benevolent nation. Khomeini's fiery denunciation of America in 1980 drew on a history of American overseas politics of which most Americans were ignorant but that Iranians and Arabs encountered on a daily basis. “The most important and painful problem confronting the subjugated nations of the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim,” Khomeini said, “is the problem of America.” He continued:

America is the number-one enemy of the deprived and oppressed people of the world. There is no crime America will not commit in order to maintain its political, economic, cultural, and military domination of those parts of the world where it predominates. It exploits the oppressed people of the world by means of the large-scale propaganda campaigns that are coordinated for it by international Zionism. By means of its hidden and treacherous agents, it sucks the blood of the defenseless people as if it alone, together with its satellites, had the right to live in this world.

Iran has tried to sever all its relations with this Great Satan and it is for this reason that it now finds wars imposed upon it.27

The Islamist anti-American sentiment that came to the fore during the Iranian revolution was ironically and unintentionally exacerbated by covert U.S. and Saudi mobilization, training, and financing of Muslim fighters to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their victory over one “imperialist” superpower turned their attention to another. Indeed, the United States loomed in the 1980s and 1990s ever more clearly as the unequivocal regional hegemon, the largest arms seller to the Middle East (particularly the gulf Arab states), an increasingly staunch supporter of Israel, and the guarantor of the authoritarian status quo in the gulf states (the wealthiest Arabs) and, since Camp David, in Egypt (the most populous Arab nation). And the United States military firmly planted itself in Saudi Arabia following the Gulf War and continues to oversee a stringent sanctions regime against Iraq. It is in this context of Iranian revolutionary upheaval, the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the rise of U.S. dominance in the Persian Gulf that some Saudi Islamists, for example, have incorporated a militant anti-Americanism into their opposition to an increasingly obvious dependency of Saudi Arabia and to the “unjust” regional order that the United States has overseen. Their specific political anti-Americanism is inextricably bound up with their religious defensiveness and their more general repudiation of secular culture. Their anti-Americanism is not, however, simply a reaction against the basing of U.S. “infidels” near Mecca and Medina; nor is it simple fury at long-lost Muslim ascendancy. Such Islamists see the United States as a leader of a new crusade, a term that in the Arab world is replete not only with religious connotations of spiritual violation but equally with political ideas of occupation and oppression, in short, of worldly injustice.28

For all their appeals to a transhistorical Islam, most of the religiously, culturally, and politically diverse Islamist movements in the Middle East took their cue from nationalist struggles and discourses, each with its own nuances, audience, and resonances. Some, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, which emerged following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon—in which Israel used U.S. weapons and was protected by U.S. diplomatic support as it besieged an Arab capital for three months, killing thousands of civilians—regard the U.S. government as a major political enemy but have accommodated themselves to the multireligious environment of Lebanese politics. Others, such as the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), are involved in an altogether different struggle—which does not immediately involve the United States against the military-dominated government, which in 1992 annulled the results of democratic parliamentary elections the FIS was poised to win, unleashing an extremely bloody civil war. Islamist mobilizations remain, for the most part, firmly rooted in nationalist politics in which they are but one current among many.29

ANTI-AMERICANISM AND ISRAEL

On no issue is Arab anger at the United States more widely and acutely felt than that of Palestine. And on no issue, arguably, has there been more misunderstanding and less candor in mainstream commentaries purporting to explain Arab anger to American audiences following September 11. For it is over Palestine that otherwise antithetical Arab secularist and Islamist interpretations of history converge in their common perception of an immense gulf separating official American avowals of support for freedom from actual American policies. No account of anti-Americanism in the Arab world that does not squarely address the Arab understanding of Israel can even begin to convey the nature, the depth, and the sheer intensity of Arab anger at the United States.

Viewed from an exclusively Western perspective, the creation of the state of Israel represented Jewish national redemption, both because of a history of European anti-Semitism (especially the Holocaust) and because of the centrality of the Jewish presence (and the marginality of Islam) in Christian, particularly evangelical, thought about Palestine. But from an Arab perspective, Israel never has been and never could have been so understood. Zionism in Palestine, a land whose overwhelming majority was Arab at the turn of the twentieth century and for over a thousand years before that, caused the destruction of Palestinian society and the dispossession of its Arab inhabitants. As early as 1938 one of the most thoughtful modern Arab historians, George Antonius, warned the West about the implications of its support for Zionism in Palestine.

The treatment meted out to Jews in Germany and other European countries is a disgrace to its authors and to modern civilisation; but posterity will not exonerate any country that fails to bear its proper share of the sacrifices needed to alleviate Jewish suffering and distress. To place the brunt of the burden upon Arab Palestine is a miserable evasion of the duty that lies upon the whole of the civilised world. It is also morally outrageous. No code of morals can justify the persecution of one people in an attempt to relieve the persecution of another. The cure for the eviction of Jews from Germany is not to be sought in the eviction of Arabs from their homeland; and the relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population.

Antonius grasped the importance of Zionism for Jews and realized that blocking it would

cause intense disillusionment and bitterness. The manifold proofs of public spirit and of capacity to endure hardships and face danger in the building up of the national home are there to testify to the devotion with which a large section of the Jewish people cherish the Zionist ideal. And it would be an act of further cruelty to the Jews to disappoint those hopes if there existed some way of satisfying them, that did not involve cruelty to another people. But the logic of facts is inexorable. It shows that no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the nation in possession.30

Compounding the original uprooting of the Palestinians in 1948 from their homes and lands—what Palestinians refer to as the nakba (catastrophe)—has been Israel's 1967 military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, an occupation that remains in full force today. Successive Israeli governments, Labor and Likud alike, have steadily confiscated more and more Palestinian land, demolished Palestinian homes, and exiled Palestinians, thus dismantling an Arab reality in Palestine and transforming it into a Jewish one. In the immediate aftermath of the 1948 war, for example, the new state of Israel razed approximately four hundred Palestinian villages; today Jewish settlements continue to be built on expropriated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.31 Because of this, Israel represents, for Arabs, a gross injustice. The contradictions and nuances within Israeli society are lost in the fact that Israel's creation and its persistence in its present form came and continues to come at the expense of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. From an Arab perspective, the creation of Israel marked the triumph of Western colonialism over native Arabs at a time when India and much of Africa and Asia were freeing themselves from European colonial rule. The specific question of Palestine has always been a broader Arab one as well, both because of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in several Arab countries and because of a common history, language, culture, and politics that leads Arabs—Muslim and Christian—to identify with Palestinians.

American support for Israel has several foundations, ranging from the evangelical to the secular, from putative Judeo-Christian affinity to Cold War strategy, from passionate belief in the necessity of a Jewish state to opportunistic appeal to American Jewish voters, and from memory of the Holocaust to a perception of Israel as a small democratic nation surrounded by hostile Arab nations. For those reasons American financial support for Israel currently stands at nearly $3 billion a year, making it by far the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.32 But as Kathleen Christison, a former cm analyst, has recently put it, “the singular U.S. focus on Israel's perspective in the conflict renders the United States unable to perform the role it has always set for itself as ultimate mediator and peacemaker.”33 In the United States (unlike most other parts of the world, including Europe) and among most Americans, the cumulative costs borne by Palestinians particularly and Arabs more generally for the violent creation of a Jewish state in the Arab world against the explicit wishes of the indigenous population are rarely acknowledged in public debate. To the extent that Arab hostility to Israel is known, it is often assumed to be based on age-old or irrational hatreds, anti-Semitism, or an intrinsic anti-democratic Arab sensibility. Just as support for Israel has become fundamental to an American imagination of the Middle East, particularly following the 1967 war, it is largely through Israel that most Arabs have come to judge the United States politically (although within often contradictory secular and Islamist narratives and hence with different implications). Satellite television stations such as Al-Jazeera daily beam pictures of Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation directly into Arab households at a time when American television represents the Palestinian-Israeli conflict largely as Arab violence against Israel and Israeli retaliation against this violence.

It is not lost on Arabs that current American government officials describe the United States as an “honest broker.” But those officials (and those in administrations before them) have explicitly condemned Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians while remaining largely silent when Palestinian civilians in far greater numbers are killed by Israeli terror. This American silence is seen in the Arab world as complicity in Israeli occupation—particularly when it is American planes, helicopters, and bombs that enforce the thirty-five-year-old occupation. The dominant view in the Arab world is that American foreign policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is shaped by the pro-Israel lobby, notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Even regimes considered “pro-American” such as those of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and post-Camp David Egypt are embarrassed by their apparent inability to make any significant impact on this state of affairs. And those who are not tied to the United States, such as Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, declare without hesitation:

I believe that America bears responsibility for all of Israel, both in its occupation of the lands of [19]48 or in all its settlement policies [in the lands occupied after 1967], despite the occasional utterance of a few timid and embarrassed words which disapprove of the settlements. [America] does not apply any pressure on [Israel] on par with the pressures it applies against the Palestinian Authority. America is a hypocritical nation when it comes to the question of Palestine: for it gives solid support and lethal weapons to the Israelis, but gives the Arabs and the Palestinians [only] words.34

Such stark condemnations of an evident U.S. bias toward Israel rarely acknowledge the Arabs' own role in solidifying that affinity, given the lack of democratic governance in the Arab world and the consequent inability of Arab leaders (and recently of Yasir Arafat) to articulate the moral and political nature of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination in terms that will resonate with the American public. Nor is it to deny that many Arab regimes and opposition parties have ruthlessly exploited the Palestinian question or that those regimes treat Palestinians and their own citizens callously. Nor is it to suggest that Arab convergence on the question of Palestine indicates unanimity on how to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. On that question, as on so many others, Arabs are deeply divided. Nor is it to deny that the Palestinians' own leadership under Yasir Arafat has successively alienated Arab people after people, beginning in Jordan, going on to Lebanon, and most recently in Kuwait, both tarnishing the image and immensely complicating the meaning of the Palestinian struggle within the Arab world. Nor is it, finally, to deny that criticism of Israel covers up a multitude of Arab sins, from the suppression of democratic opposition, the torture and banishment of dissidents, and the rampant corruption of state institutions to the cultivation of one-party and, indeed, one-family rule in Arab regimes (pro-American or not) from Saudi Arabia to Syria. Yet it is testament to the unresolved simplicity of the basic underlying issue that fuels this struggle—Arab natives evicted from their homes by Zionists, languishing stateless in refugee camps, and still suffering under Israeli occupation—that Arabs, from Morocco to Yemen and from all walks of life, still strongly sympathize with the Palestinians as a people for their half century of tribulations and exile from their land.

Whatever good Americans and the United States as a nation do in the region—from food aid to technological assistance to educational outreach to efforts at bilateral Arab-Israeli peacemaking—has been constantly overshadowed and tainted in Arab eyes by the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Arabs do not see the United States as evenhanded. Anti-American sentiment stemming from American support for Israel has been compounded in the past decade by the punitive American-dominated United Nations (UN) sanctions regime against Iraq put in place following the second Gulf War. The sanctions have contributed—according to UN statistics—to the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians.35 In 1996 CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl noted a report that “half a million children” had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions and asked then secretary of state Madeleine Albright, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”36 Americans see the image of Saddam Hussein and hear about frightening “weapons of mass destruction.” Arabs see a flagrant double standard—Iraq punished and humiliated for invading Kuwait; Israel effusively supported despite its far longer occupation of Lebanon (which began in 1978 and ended in April 2000 because of a successful resistance campaign waged by Hezbollah), both occupations in clear defiance of UN resolutions. In the Arab world, therefore, the hope in America evident at the beginning of the twentieth century was transformed by the mid-twentieth century into disillusionment and by the end of the twentieth century into outright anger and hostility.

CONCLUSION

Most Arabs do not and will not act on this anger at U.S. policy in the region; like other people, most Arabs try to get on with their daily lives and, when they do turn to politics, can and do separate what they think of American culture, of Americans, and of American foreign policy. Yet September 11 is ultimately a mutilated and hijacked expression of immense Arab anger at the United States. Osama bin Laden is no more representative of Arabs than David Koresh or Timothy McVeigh were representative of Americans. But bin Laden is a manifestation of a deeply troubled Arab world beset by Arab government authoritarianism, a rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands, continuing Palestinian exile, and, finally, by American policies toward the region during and after the Cold War that have done little to encourage justice or democracy. Osama bin Laden's anti-American perspective is tied to a profoundly antisecular and illiberal world view; it is fueled by a dangerous self-righteousness that divides the world neatly between believer and infidel, good and evil. But his actions and his vocabulary must be placed in their modern historical and political context if we are to draw any meaningful conclusions from them.

The merest familiarity with modern history, then, would indicate that widespread Arab opposition to America is a sign of the times. It is based, not on long-standing hatred of “American” values, but on more recent anger at American policies in the region, especially toward Israel. Anti-Americanism is therefore not civilizationally rooted, even if it is at times expressed in civilizational terms. Nor does it stem primarily from Islamic philosophy or exegesis, even if it is sometimes expressed (especially at present) in Islamist idiom. A deep political gulf certainly now separates Arab peoples from the United States. However, a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that recognizes the equality and the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians will go a long way toward healing the very modern rupture in American and Arab relations. But before that can happen, there must be an acknowledgment of both Jewish and Arab histories rather than a consistent subordination of one to the other. What is most important at this juncture is a realization by both Americans and Arabs of the interactive process, the dialectical relationship, that has shaped Arab attitudes toward the United States and vice versa. This essay has attempted to historicize the evolution of Arab attitudes toward the United States, and it is written in the belief that similar attempts must be made to help explain the United States and American society to the Arab world. To do so in any meaningful way, however, requires that both Arabs and Americans move away from narratives of innocence and purity—whether of religions or of nations.

Notes

  1. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, Post-War Policy Issues in the Persian Gulf 102 Cong., I sess., Feb. 21, 1991, pp. 120, 85. Emphasis added.

  2. For a recent interpretation that subscribes to the “clash of civilizations” thesis, see Bernard Lewis, “The Revolt of Islam: A New Turn in a Long War with the West,” New Yorker, Nov. 19, 2001, pp. 50-60. The most famous pronouncement on this thesis is Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign Affairs, 72 (Summer 1993), 22-49.

  3. There was one final outbreak of hostilities during the War of 1812. See Robert J. Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim War” 1776-1815 (New York, 1995), esp. 35-59. In the 1780s John Adams favored negotiations, but Thomas Jefferson staunchly advocated resolving the captivity crisis through war. “1. Justice is in favour of this opinion,” he wrote to Adams on July 11, 1786. “2. Honor favors it. 3. It will procure us respect in Europe. 4. It will arm the federal head with the safest of all the instruments of coercion over their delinquent members and prevent them from using what would be less safe. … 5. I think it least expensive. 6. Equally effectual.” Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill, 1987), 142.

  4. Hilton Obenzinger, American Palestine: Melville, Twain, and the Holy Land Mania (Princeton, 1999); Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869; New York, 1966).

  5. Robert Smythe Hichens, The Garden of Allah (New York, 1904); Holly Edwards, ed., Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930 (Princeton, 2000).

  6. See Ussama Makdisi, “Reclaiming the Land of the Bible: Missionaries, Secularism, and Evangelical Modernity,” American Historical Review, 102 (June 1997), 680-713.

  7. A. L. Tibawi, American Interests in Syria, 1800-1901: A Study of Educational, Literary and Religious Work (Oxford, Eng., 1966), 36-41.

  8. New York Morning Herald, May 19, 1840, box 312, Eli Smith Family Papers, Record Group 124, Special Collections (Yale Divinity School Library, New Haven, Conn.).

  9. Butrus al-Bustani, Al-Jam iyya al-suriyya li al-ulum wa al-funun, 1847-1852 (The Syrian Society for the Sciences and Arts) (Beirut, 1990), 112. Unless otherwise indicated, translations from Arabic are my own.

  10. E J. Bliss, ed., The Reminiscences of Daniel Bliss (New York, 1920), 198.

  11. Qasim Amin, The New Woman: A Document in the Early Debate on Egyptian Feminism, trans. Samiha Sidhom Peterson (1900; Cairo, 1995), 8.

  12. “Bab ashhar al-hawadith wa a'zam al-rijal” (Chapter on the most famous of events and the most outstanding of men), al-Hilal (Cairo), 1 (1893), 152. Mikhail As 'ad Rustum, Kitab al-gharib fi al-gharh (Book of a stranger in the West) (1895; Beirut, 1992), 11; Philip Hitti, “America in the Eyes of an Easterner; or, Eight Years in the United States,” in America in an Arab Mirror: Images of America in Arabic Travel Literature: An Anthology 1895-1995, ed. Kamal Abdel-Malek (New York, 2000), 49.

  13. Sayyid Qutb, “The America I Have Seen,” in America in an Arab Mirror, ed. Abdel-Malek, 26.

  14. “Memorandum by Mr. Balfour Respecting Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, 1919,” in From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948, ed. Walid Khalidi (Washington, 1987), 208. On Howard Bliss and the fact-finding mission, see Harry N. Howard, The King-Crane Commission: An American Inquiry into the Middle East (Beirut, 1963), 24-25.

  15. Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy (Berkeley, 2000), 33.

  16. Howard, King-Crane Commission, 205. For an incisive account, see James L. Gelvin, “The Ironic Legacy of the King-Crane Commission,” in The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment, ed. David W. Lesch (Boulder, 1999), 13-29.

  17. “The Recommendations of the King-Crane Commission,” in Howard, King-Crane Commission, 353.

  18. Ibid., 349-51.

  19. Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, 27-33.

  20. Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt (New York, 1989). For a scholarly account, see Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Making of the Modern Gulf States (Reading, 1998).

  21. Robert Vitalis, “Black Gold, White Crude: Race and the Making of the World Oil Frontier,” in The United States and the Middle East: Diplomatic and Economic Relations in Historical Perspective, ed. Abbas Amanat (New Haven, 2000), 187-233.

  22. For Jimmy Carter's statement, see William Shawcross, The Shab Last Ride (New York, 1988), 130. Nikki R. Keddie, Roots of Revolution: An Interpretative History of Modern Iran (New Haven, 1981), 275-76.

  23. On this crisis and how it affected American-Egyptian relations, see Irene L. Gendzier, Notes from the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon and the Middle East, 1945-1958 (Boulder, 1999).

  24. Ahmad Yusuf Ahmad, ed., Al-ma/mua al-kamila li-khutab wa ahadith wa tasrihat Jamal Abd al-Nasir (The complete collection of the speeches, interviews, and declarations of Gamal Abdel Nasser), vol. III: 1958-1959 (Beirut, 1999), 231-32.

  25. See Yvonne Haddad, “Sayyid Qutb: Ideologue of the Islamic Revival,” in Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John L. Esposito (New York, 1983), 67-98.

  26. Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations, trans. and annotated by Hamid Alga (London, 1985), 238.

  27. Ibid., 304-5.

  28. See Yvonne Haddad, “Islamist Perceptions of U.S. Policy in the Middle East,” in Middle Fact and the United States, ed. Lesch, 433-52.

  29. For a good overview of U.S. policies and Islamist politics, see Fawaz Gerges, America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests? (Cambridge, Eng., 1999).

  30. George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (1938; New York, 1968), 411-12.

  31. See Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948 (Washington, 1991). See also the words of Moshe Dayan quoted in Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine (New York, 1992), 14. See also the work of revisionist Israeli historians such as Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World (New York, 2001); and Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds., The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (New York, 2001).

  32. On the cultural reasons for U.S. support for Israel, see Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000 (Berkeley, 2001). The aid figure does not include substantial loan guarantees nor U.S. subsidies for the Arrow missile project. Egypt is granted nearly $2 billion annually and has thus been the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid since the signing of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel. Yet on a per capita basis, aid to Israel far surpasses aid to Egypt. For more information on the extent of U.S. aid to Israel, see the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs <http://wrmea.com= (June 18, 2002). See also the Jewish Virtual Library <http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/US-Israel/U.S._Assistance-to Israel i.html= (July 30, 2002).

  33. Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, 293. Christison's book provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

  34. Al-muqawama al-musallaha al-filastiniyya: Milat al-bu'd al-akhlaqi, Al-sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah” (Palestinian armed resistance: Questions relating to its moral dimension, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah), al-Adab (Beirut), 50 (no. 1-2, 2002), 19.

  35. See a work published by UNICEF and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999: Preliminary Report ([Baghdad], 1999). The estimate was based on a pattern of “substantial reduction in the under-five mortality rate during the 1980 reversed in the 1I Os. Two UN humanitarian coordinators for Iraq have resigned in protest against the sanctions regime, one in 1998, the other in 2000. The first said, “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.” See Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq http://www.cam.ac.uk/societies/casi/guide/quotes.html= (April 19, 2002).

  36. “Punishing Saddam,” prod. Catherine Olian (episode of 60 Minutes) (CBS, May 12, 1996).

Hong Zhang (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Zhang, Hong. “America as Both Inspiration and Obstacle.” In America Perceived: The Making of Chinese Images of the United States, 1945-1953, pp. 9-31. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Zhang studies the relationship between, and the perception of, the United States from the Chinese point of view during the first half of the twentieth century, theorizing that the Chinese culture often oscillated between viewing the United States as an inspiration as well as an impediment.]

The young United States rose to prominence when the old “Middle Kingdom” experienced drastic decline. In the midst of China's economic, political,...

(The entire section is 11460 words.)