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The Persistence of Arab Anti-Americanism
May 7, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Marc Lynch reviews Amaney Jamal's Of Empires & Citizens, which argues that "anti-Americanism has very little to do with cultural resentments or civilizational hatred... Instead, Arab anti-Americanism reflects a deeper rejection of undemocratic political systems in Arab countries, which for decades have been underwritten and supported by the United States."
posted by MisantropicPainforest (36 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought that the assertion above was widely understood, at least by people whose understanding of the region is formed by more than Chuck Norris movies.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 8:37 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It might also have something to do with the decade of indiscriminate bombings.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:40 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I thought that the assertion above was widely understood, at least by people whose understanding of the region is formed by more than Chuck Norris movies."

Jamal and Lynch are both well-respected scholars of the region, who spent significant time doing fieldwork and are both fluent in Arabic.

Also, Jamal's work is considered to be pretty original. If you knew her results before she did, then that is pretty damn impressive.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:49 AM on May 7, 2013


Gee.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2013


If you knew her results before she did, then that is pretty damn impressive.

Huh? I think lots of people have talked about how US support for dictatorships in the middle east fosters anti-American sentiment:

In Egypt

and all over the middle east:
Millions and millions of people see American officials at peace [who] support, prop up extremely corrupt, crumbling regimes in the Middle East, regimes that have no sympathy for any democratic notion in their countries. They have no notion of support in any kind of human rights for their own people.

But they see Americans appeasing them. They see Americans supporting them -- and I'm talking about the American officials here, many administrations. This is not only restricted to the current administration. So they view this as an act of hostility towards the people of these countries.
Maybe Jamal has a lot more statistical and investigatory data and information that confirms this outside of our qualitative impressions, but it's not like this is a new revelation.
posted by deanc at 8:59 AM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


The post title should really be "Mark Lynch rejects Amaney Jamal's premise as simplistic."

It's an unceasingly harsh review, as far as collegial criticism goes.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:03 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, Jamal's work is considered to be pretty original. If you knew her results before she did, then that is pretty damn impressive.

I'm confused by this statement. Are you really not at all familiar with this as the standard leftist understanding of what fuels anti-Americanism in the Middle East? Jamal may have done work that confirmed this, or innovative work that fleshed it out, but it's certainly not a new idea.
posted by OmieWise at 9:07 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jamal's point is more complex than that: She argues that, in Kuwait, the ruling class are pro-democracy because being pro-democracy means that they can benefit from a closer alignment with the US (open markets and all that). Being pro-democracy in Jordan means ceding power to forces that are anti-american, and thus the ruling classes are not pro-democracy because being so would jeopardize their lucrative relationship with the US and its open markets.

If this doesn't come through in the Lynch essay then that is his fault.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:13 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


When Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush as president in 2008, however, the perceived crisis of anti-Americanism faded away. Obama pledged to engage with foreign publics and repair the United States' image abroad, an effort that peaked with his June 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world.

That was a pretty low watermark. The only thing Obama replaced was the face on Bush's neo-con policies. Apart from the Cairo speech, the Obama administration has continued the long, unbroken, morally bankrupt policies in the region. Hope and Change turned into the Drone Ranger.

Why are Arabs "anti-American?" Because Americans are anti-Arab. Not as bad and as racist as Israelis, but almost.
posted by three blind mice at 9:15 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Barry Rubin wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2002: The Real Roots Of Arab Anti-Americanism
Although anti-Americanism is genuinely widespread among Arab governments and peoples, however, there is something seriously misleading in this account. Arab and Muslim hatred of the United States is not just, or even mainly, a response to actual U.S. policies -- policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years. Rather, such animus is largely the product of self-interested manipulation by various groups within Arab society, groups that use anti-Americanism as a foil to distract public attention from other, far more serious problems within those societies.
It's paywalled, but here's a PDF in a similar vein: Anti-Americanism Re-Examined
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why are Arabs "anti-American?" Because Americans are anti-Arab. Not as bad and as racist as Israelis, but almost.

Three sentences which could really use the word "some", I feel. And I'm not even American, but are "Americans" and "the US government" not considered separate entities?

Interesting post.
posted by billiebee at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seconding Panjadrum, it's worth RTFA, as the linked article actually criticizes Jamal's thesis pretty seriously:

And the liberal and secular factions that might have seemed like natural American allies are now voicing some of the loudest complaints: they are angry at the United States when its military intervenes in the region (in Libya) and when it does not (in Syria), and they are outraged when Washington supports democratic elections (in Egypt, where Islamists won) and when it does not (in Bahrain, for example).

-----

Jamal's description of U.S. policy as "pro-American democracy or no democracy at all" might have been accurate for most of the last few decades. But the U.S. response to the revolutions calls her view into question.

-----

The survival of Arab authoritarianism has also relied on the fact that many Arab leaders have enjoyed access to vast oil revenues or regional alliances that have allowed them to build sturdy patronage systems and massive national security institutions. They have often excelled at patronage politics and strategies of divide and rule. Jamal too easily moves past such factors and gives the United States far too much credit.

------

And the driest slap-down in the piece:

Jamal overlooks this nuance and instead injects a note of moral judgment into her argument. U.S. policy, she complains, has "placed the interests of the United States above and beyond the daily welfare of Arab citizens." Well, yes.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:25 AM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm glad you quoted this:

"The survival of Arab authoritarianism has also relied on the fact that many Arab leaders have enjoyed access to vast oil revenues or regional alliances that have allowed them to build sturdy patronage systems and massive national security institutions. "

Jamal goes to lengths in her book to show that here data on public opinion in Kuwait directly contradicts the rentier thesis (which is what Lynch is arguing for here).
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's an unceasingly harsh review

Really? It seemed entirely within the norms of academic critical debate to me.
posted by yoink at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2013


the standard leftist understanding of what fuels anti-Americanism in the Middle East

I'd have thought the "standard leftist understanding of what fuels anti-Americanism in the Middle East" revolved mostly around the US role in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Part of Jamal's argument is that this is actually not a very important factor.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on May 7, 2013


It's too bad you can't link a book. How about Amaney Jamal in The Cairo Review Of Global Affairs: Lost In The Middle East
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:57 AM on May 7, 2013


I think Americans tend overestimate how much anti-Americanism there is in the world, and under-estimate how many people love the promise of the United States. A small ruling elite may hate you guys, but slap an American flag on something and it sells like hotcakes.

Anyway, Egypt's current problems would seem to have nothing to do with Americans.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:15 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Americans tend overestimate how much anti-Americanism there is in the world, and under-estimate how many people love the promise of the United States.

Nope, no. No they do not.
posted by crayz at 10:19 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The argument (if the review is taken at face value) sort of drastically underemphasizes the significance of U.S. policy on Israel/Palestine, both in terms of the conflict itself and its use for proxy politics by other interested governments and groups. Which would be nice if it were true. But I don't think it is.

But perhaps that isn't an accurate account of the underlying work--it might develop it more in the context of the US' 'inability to support democracy in the region.'
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:23 AM on May 7, 2013


Policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years.

It's important not to confuse pro-Arab policies with pro-Arab-government policies. The two are very different things.

The PDF linked above concludes with an intimation that journalists are anti-American. If the writers are going to make such an incredible claim, it would be helpful to have evidence -- or even a clear definition of what constitutes anti-Americanism. Here is the closest they get:
Equally, what do anti-Americans mean when they say that they do not like U.S. policy? Why did Europeans or Arabs oppose the United States over a war with Iraq? Do they believe America attacked Iraq to steal oil and enslave Arabs and Muslims, or do they think that it simply misunderstood the best way to deal with a dictator who oppressed his people and endanngered the West? These are both arguments against the war in Iraq but the first is anti-American and the second is not.
Alan Greenspan believes that oil was the primary motive behind the Iraq war. Is he anti-American? Morever, the two examples are nonsense. It is possible to believe that oil was a motive but that "enslaving" Muslims was not. And it is possible to have opposed the war because you believed that Saddam posed no danger to the West. Neither option is realistic; the dichotomy isn't even false.
posted by compartment at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


>I think Americans tend overestimate how much anti-Americanism there is in the world, and under-estimate how many people love the promise of the United States.

Nope, no. No they do not.


Yes, they do. You're confusing a small amount of sociopaths with the majority of people around the world that share the same dreams and aspirations as the average American.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not an American, by the way, but I have lived overseas for over a decade, and have worked for an American company in the past.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 AM on May 7, 2013


Alan Greenspan believes that oil was the primary motive behind the Iraq war.

Believing that oil and US interests in a stable flow of oil from the Middle East underlay US involvement in Iraq is not even remotely the same thing as believing that "America attacked Iraq to steal oil and enslave Arabs and Muslims."
posted by yoink at 10:44 AM on May 7, 2013


"The argument (if the review is taken at face value) sort of drastically underemphasizes the significance of U.S. policy on Israel/Palestine, both in terms of the conflict itself and its use for proxy politics by other interested governments and groups. Which would be nice if it were true. But I don't think it is. "

you don't think it is, but Jamal marshals a not-insignificant amount of evidence to argue that the Israel/Palestine conflict isn't that important in forming anti-american views.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2013


I'd have thought the "standard leftist understanding of what fuels anti-Americanism in the Middle East" revolved mostly around the US role in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Couldn't you say that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the same thing as "a deeper rejection of undemocratic political systems in Arab countries, which for decades have been underwritten and supported by the United States"? The Arabist view of the conflict seems to be that Palestinians are undemocratically oppressed persons in what would be an essentially Arab country if not for U.S. support of Israel.
posted by Etrigan at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let's not forget that the Russians have supplied all that cheap military gear which allowed many Arab countries to dominate their populations (including Syria at the moment).

I had also thought that Arabs "hated" America because of the airbases on Saudi territory, so close to Mecca. Wasn't that one reason why the Saudis and Egyptians hijacked planes on 9/11?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:00 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Couldn't you say that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the same thing as "a deeper rejection of undemocratic political systems in Arab countries, which for decades have been underwritten and supported by the United States"? The Arabist view of the conflict seems to be that Palestinians are undemocratically oppressed persons in what would be an essentially Arab country if not for U.S. support of Israel.

Leaving aside the question of how well that argument works to shoehorn the I-P conflict into the broader "US supports antidemocratic forces in Arab world" paradigm, there is still a yawning gap between the argument that this one particular instance is the central cause of anti-Americanism in the Arab world (i.e., fix the I-P problem and, bingo, the anti-Americanism essentially goes away) and the argument that the cause of anti-Americanism in the Arab world is US support for anti-democratic regimes in general, of which Israel just happens to be one.
posted by yoink at 11:04 AM on May 7, 2013


I had also thought that Arabs "hated" America because of the airbases on Saudi territory, so close to Mecca. Wasn't that one reason why the Saudis and Egyptians hijacked planes on 9/11?

The Saudis and Egyptians that did 9/11 were, like what, two, three dozen people?

We're talking about public opinion, not the really idiosyncratic views of extremists.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:10 AM on May 7, 2013


I had also thought that Arabs "hated" America because of the airbases on Saudi territory, so close to Mecca.

Which is a secondary effect of the U.S. propping up the undemocratic Saudi regime. The airbases were a symbol of the cause, not the cause itself.
posted by Etrigan at 11:16 AM on May 7, 2013


Most of the anti Americanism I have found in Latin America has to do with the USA interventionism in favor of anti democratic governments. It has very little to do with cultural differences.


And this anti Americanism is not in opposition with a desire to be more like the USA or to move there. The USA ruined my country to make theirs better, why not move there and enjoy the fruit of their evil policies.

Reading the post, I see that the Arab situation is more complicated, specially by religion, but very similar.


If the USA wanted to clean their image in Latin America they could do better than name an expensive clothes store Banana Republic. Go read on the Guatemalan genocide and tell me what you think.

How long until there is some fancy sex toy shop called extraordinary rendition.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:17 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Talking about "anti-Americanism" goes nowhere unless you distinguish between individual Americans and the lives they lead at home, and the actions the American government takes in the world. Even if you argue that they are inextricably linked, it doesn't change the fact that billions of people want a nice hamburger while very few want to butcher cattle.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:28 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The phrase "promise of the United States" has been bandied about this thread a bit...

Indeed, I think many people across the world are attracted to the promise of the United States (including Americans). It's the reality of the United States in it's foreign policy as well in various domestic policies that often disappoints both American's and non-Americans.

Put another way, I think if you talk to people around the world about the American dream; the possibility of class mobility, the entrepreneurial spirit, the foundations of the country (as documented in the bill of rights, declaration of independence, etc, you will find it resonates with people around the world. But if you want to defend the US foreign policy of the last 50+ years, or discuss various aspects of it's current domestic policy (social net being dismantled, prison population, etc) you will find much less enthusiasm from people outside of the US.

Add to that the impact that US foreign policy has had across the globe and you'll find regional sentiments that often are a direct result of US actions.
posted by el io at 11:50 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jamal overlooks this nuance and instead injects a note of moral judgment into her argument. U.S. policy, she complains, has "placed the interests of the United States above and beyond the daily welfare of Arab citizens." Well, yes. In decrying U.S. support for autocracy, Jamal seems to forget that the United States' main concern is its own national interest.

I don't think this is the obvious put-down that Lynch seems to think it is. It's easy to see scenarios where pursuit of one national interest at the expense of a foreign population might endanger out her national interests. Supporting the Shah, for example, was well within US national interests at the time, but we can't say that stance hasn't produced a lot of subsequent problems. National interests, it seems can conflict with national interests as well as ethical behavior.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the USA wanted to clean their image in Latin America they could do better than name an expensive clothes store Banana Republic. Go read on the Guatemalan genocide and tell me what you think.

That name may be unfortunate, but the USA didn't pick it, Mel and Patricia Ziegler did (for a safari-themed store). They are also responsible for naming the Republic of Tea.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:22 PM on May 7, 2013


Arabs don't hate us for our freedoms. News at 11.
posted by cthuljew at 6:43 PM on May 7, 2013


ha, Genji, I was just going to bring up the Shah.

policies that, if anything, have been remarkably pro-Arab and pro-Muslim over the years.

I must say, I disagree with this, vehemently. This is especially the case when you examine the areas of the middle east with the strongest anti-American sentiment.
posted by smoke at 6:55 PM on May 7, 2013


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