By Mohammed Nosseir
There is no doubt that the United States of America is by far the most controversial nation among Arabs. Consecutive US Administrations have somehow managed to cultivate an intense love-hate relationship with millions of Arabs. The valid question ‘Why do they hate us?’, raised in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, can more appropriately be replaced by another relevant question: ‘How can they hate us and love us at the same time?’ The irony here is that, to a great extent, the very same Arabs who hate the United States for its actions, admire many of its qualities.
I believe that, as a superpower, the United States controls its relationship with Arab citizens; it is able to regulate the doses of love or hate among Arabs and Muslims. According to the game rules laid down by the US, the Arab role is simply to fill in the gaps. The US proffers outstanding qualities; laudable internal values, appreciated by the majority of its citizens and often guaranteed by the rule of law and the system of checks and balances. Moreover, the country has the courage to face up to and overcome any internal challenges or deficiencies it may face (inequality among its citizens and the use of torture abroad).
Still, it is well-known that most US citizens are physically and mentally isolated from the rest of the world. Concerned only with domestic affairs, they are not really bothered with their country’s foreign policy – which is handled by the few hundred citizens who ignore their nation’s internal moral values and apply US cruelty on the ground. Should the United States fail in an overseas incident, the vast majority of its citizens don’t even notice it – and they would be powerless to change or influence events in any case. Furthermore, when it comes to foreign interference, the United States is not accountable either to its citizens or to the United Nations.
I have realised over time that President Obama’s speeches, with their outstanding rhetoric concerning the values upheld by the United States in conducting its foreign policy, are in reality addressed to US citizens; to assure Americans at home that their country’s foreign policy implements the internal values they hold so dear. Thousands of miles away, the ugly reality on the ground is incompatible with all moral values.
Arabs who have had the opportunity to visit the United States can understand and appreciate that country’s qualities. Once they have successfully surmounted the (often-painful) entry visa process, they are impressed by US structure, values, knowledge, lifestyle, trends and many other positive aspects. Personally, whenever I am in the US, I try to grab some sort of educational knowledge, always a wonderful and enriching experience. Unfortunately, this knowledge is never conveyed to our region.
I have tried on numerous occasions to explain my theory about the ‘internal morality and external cruelty of the United States’ to various Arabs and Muslims. Their response has often been, ‘who cares?’ The vast majority of Arabs and Muslims only deal with the ugly side of the United States, particularly its track record of repeated military interferences in Arab and Muslim countries. The fact that US citizens believe in, and abide by, a set of admirable values is of no importance to Arabs and Muslims.
Concerning Middle East security issues, the United States always wants to think and act on behalf of Arab nations, claiming that it has its own missions and justifications, including fighting terrorism, promoting democracy and putting the region in better order. The US government proclaims that Iraq, now a democratic country, is better off than it was under Saddam Hussein, that if not for US interference, Libyan citizens would never have managed to get rid of Gaddafi, and that no practical solution exists to the conflict in Syria that has produced thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. This attitude applies also to the recent ISIS challenge; the Arab nations alone could easily have tackled this threat, but the US was keen to lead this battle too and it is obviously bearing the consequences of its decision.
However, let’s not debate the intentions behind US interference in the region. The key question is; do Arab citizens generally value or condemn the US role in the current situation? The vast majority of Arabs certainly does not appreciate any form of US interference – not even that which concluded in the ousting of corrupt autocratic leaders. This interference has compounded Arab and Muslim hatred of the US. Different Arab rulers were happy to fuel this sentiment, while the United States has never genuinely cared about correcting its image in the region.
Conflicts and battles have transformed the Middle East into an extremely heated region, driven by power and violence. While the United States is certainly not the initiator of this violence, it has been fuelling it over the past decades, thus playing a destructive role in the region. Excessive use of force is definitely a behaviour that the United States and the Arabs have in common. In coping with the challenges in the Middle East, both parties prefer wielding power to engaging in dialogue. The difference is that while the US resorts to organised force (its military forces) and pressurising Arab rulers into alliances, those Arabs who disagree with this course turn to either deep hatred or terrorist activity. Regardless of who is on the right side of history, the significant point here is that each party has its own justifications and regional admirers.
The United States views the world through what is called ‘US interests’. In the ongoing debate among Americans on what best serves their country’s interests, no thought is given to the interests of non-US citizens (especially the interests of their respective countries). The US often manages to persuade or pressurise Arab leaders into serving its interests. It has never been concerned that these interests might have a negative impact on Arab citizens, and undeniably damaging consequences on Arab-American relations. On the rare occasions when US foreign policy defends a given moral value, it does so to pressurise respective Arab rulers – not in defence of the value per se. As a result, the hatred felt by Arab and Muslim citizens towards the United States has accumulated intensely over time.
To offset the above, and in an attempt to promote its moral values, the United States tries to reach out to the world by donating billions of dollars to international organisations and offering hundreds of scholarships to various foreign students. Nevertheless, the true objective behind these actions is to serve US national interests, either by manipulating recipient organisations or by ‘Americanising’ scholarship students. I have observed many students who have studied in the United States. Although they appreciate the opportunity they received to enhance their knowledge, they continue to reject US behaviour in the region. In other words, the few hundred individuals that the United States is investing in continue to be displeased with its interference in the region.
The recently released ‘Torture Report’ that triggered a widespread debate on the right to use torture among US citizens clearly defines the conflict between moral values and cruelty. Even so, Americans in general missed an important point: the counter reactions of both the innocent and the guilty detainees and their affiliates. No mechanism exists that allows the innocent victims of torture to prosecute the United States. As for the guilty, being subjected to torture will certainly intensify their proclivity for violence and determination to exact revenge. The question here is: does the use of torture make the United States a foe or a friend of the Arab World?
In conclusion, the turmoil in the Middle East would certainly calm down were the US to decide to extend its internal moral values to the region. The debate on the ‘Torture Report’ is an expression of the fine internal mechanisms in place in the US. However, I was shocked to learn that roughly two-thirds of the American people still envision circumstances in which torture is justified. This means that the violence in our region will persist for years to come, adversely affecting thousands of innocent people.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012