Are Arabs anti-American?
by Amir Taheri
September 30, 2005
PRESIDENT Bush's "image queen," Karen Hughes, is
on a tour of Arab countries, where conventional wisdom claims that
anti-Americanism is second nature. Hughes, now in charge of public diplomacy at
the State Department, plainly she shares that analysis — why else choose the
Arab region for her maiden voyage?
But how true is that claim? Are Arabs the most
anti-American people on earth?
Start with the tangibles.
is by far the largest pole of attraction for Arab foreign investment at all
levels, from public-sector funds to small private savings accounts. The most
conservative estimates put the value of Arab assets in the
at over $4.5 trillion, which puts the Arab countries just behind
as the biggest investors in the
is also one of the top three trading partners of virtually all Arab states. In
fact, many U.S.-made goods (cars, for example) that don't sell anywhere else
still enjoy robust markets in Arab countries.
has been the No. 1 foreign tourist destination for Arabs since the 1980s, and
has remained so despite restrictions imposed on Arab visitors after 9/11. Arabs
from all walks of life and of all political sensibilities also love to send
their children to study in
. And when it comes to seeking medical treatment, no country competes with the
in attracting well-heeled Arabs.
If she takes time to stroll in Arab capitals, Hughes would
be struck by the ubiquitous presence of things American. It is possible to spend
a holiday in most Arab capitals without moving out of the orbit of
American-franchised hotels, restaurants, tourist services and banks. A stroll in
modern shopping malls would reveal a population wearing American-style clothing,
including baseball caps, with Motorola mobile phones pressed to ears, as
jazz plays in the background. She could sip one of those coffees the choice of
which requires a PhD at a Starbucks, or indulge herself in a Hagen-Dazs of her
More than 70 percent of what's broadcast on Arab TV
stations (including those regarded as "obsessively anti-American") is
U.S.-made; 80 percent of the films shown in Arab cinemas are made in
. There are more than two dozen English dailies, all using the American version
of the language. Go through them, and you see that much of the content comes
agencies and syndication services.
Even Arabic-language newspapers serve as outlets for
American journalism. More than half of all major articles in the two main
pan-Arab daily newspapers come from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA
Today, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and Time magazines and other U.S.
publications. Some American columnists have become household names in most Arab
Hughes is also bound to be struck by the number of Arab
decision-makers with American educational or business backgrounds and/or
Only God and the
immigration service would know how many Arabs hold green cards or even dual
Arab-U.S. citizenship. With the possible exception of
, which has a weird regime, and
, whose leaders fear they may be targeted for "regime change," almost
all Arab regimes are well-disposed toward the
. Sixteen of the 21 member states of the Arab League host some
military presence. The FBI maintains offices in at least 12 Arab capitals.
So, where did the impression that the Arabs are seething
with anti-Americanism come from? Isn't it possible that the Arabs may be sharing
the anti-American craze produced in the West, including the
? Aren't the Arabs, as with so many other products, importing anti-Americanism?
In Arab newspapers, the bulk of the material that could be
classified as anti-Bush and/or anti-American is translated from
sources. Stroll in the streets where books and video and audio tapes are on
sale at the curbsides and you will see that 90 percent of the items vilifying
come from American, French and British authors.
No Arab anti-American has produced anything like the
conspiracy theories that American intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Michael
Moore, Scott Ritter, Seymour Hersh and Edward Said, to name a few, have put on
the markets everywhere, including the Arab world.
At any given time, one can find a horde of American
activists visiting the region to urge the natives to hate
* Two years ago, a group of Americans appeared in Arab
capitals to stop people in the bazaars to "apologize for the
Crusades," although the
didn't even exist when those wars were fought between Europe and the
* Before the liberation of
, scores of Americans came to
to offer themselves as "human shields" for Saddam Hussein. No Arab
was so foolish.
* This month, a group of 30 American professors turned up
to describe the
as "a rogue state on the rampage".
* Bianca Jagger, presented as ambassador for UNICEF and
"a leading thinker," has been in the region telling astonished
audiences that the United States is the source of all evil in the world. (By the
way, isn't UNICEF supposed to be apolitical?)
* One American professor recently published an op-ed in The
New York Times relating his trip to Iran, where he was "disappointed"
to see that students not only did not hate George W. Bush but, horror of
horrors, also craved for an American-style democracy instead of an Islamist
* The anti-Bush demonstrations that Arabs watch on TV take
, not in any Arab city.
* A friend, who happens to be a minister in an Arab state,
was saddened this summer when, spending holidays with his family in the
as he had always done since student days, he had to quarrel with an old
American schoolmate. The point of the dispute was that the American insisted
was an "evil empire," while the Arab believed that it could be a
force for reform in the
* Last month, an Iraqi journalist gave up his American
scholarship and returned home because faculty members in the
university he attended made him feel "guilty for having been liberated
from Saddam Hussein."
* A Kuwaiti friend withdrew his son from an American
university to "protect him from [being] brainwashed into hating the
Many polls have been conducted to show that the Arabs are
anti-American. A more interesting poll would aim at finding out how many
Americans are so afflicted by self-loathing as to devote their energies to a
systematic vilification of their nation.
The best that Karen Hughes could do is to help make
available to the Arabs the other side of the American debate; to show that not
all Americans share Chomsky's belief that the United States planned to kill 6
million Afghans solely to build a pipeline from Central Asia. Her aim should be
to help Arabs understand America in all its contradictions, not necessarily to
There are many issues on which the Arabs disagree with the
United States. But most Arabs don't see that as a sign of anti-Arabism on the
part of America. Hughes should not regard it as a sign of anti-Americanism on
the part of Arabs.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador