Why Are These People Mad At Us?

Ed looks into some of the historical and psychological

(This is an attempt to explain as simply as possible a very complex story. This isn’t meant to be a history; it is meant
to point out the major reasons why Arabs in general aren’t too happy with the U.S. Generally, I’ve tried to give the Arab perspective rather than my own; that doesn’t mean I agree with it. I’ve stripped out all but the essential details,
while making room to make some points and to go into some detail in areas where there’s confusion or misconceptions. The point is to understand where they’re coming from and see where we can go from here, not to agree with anything or everything said. It certainly is not
meant to justify violence or terrorism.)

Why are these people mad at us?

First, the vast majority aren’t killing mad. Unhappy, yes. Frustrated, absolutely. Killing mad, no. But to answer that question in one sentence:

“We Get No Respect”

It’s a complicated issue, but the root of all problems pretty much boils down to that: the West doesn’t respect the Arab world.

We Ruled

We are dealing with the descendants of an ex-superpower.

Arabs first played a major role in the world after the Prophet Muhammed began the faith of Islam in the early seventh
century AD. They literally picked up the Book (the Quran) and ran with it.

They fought well. They also essentially gave the average person in the places they conquered a better deal (at least initially) than they were getting from their old rulers.

The next thing you know, this Arabic state extended from Spain to India.

It wasn’t “convert or die.” For the average person, not converting just meant you paid more taxes than those who did.

Since there were few Arabs and lots of others, like the Romans, adopting Arab ways (speaking Arabic and practicing Islam) made you an Arab.
That basically made you a first-class citizen and cut your taxes. Over the course of a couple centuries, most people in the region
voluntarily shifted over. Most “Arabs” today aren’t ethnically Arabic; in most of the Arabic world being “Arab” is like being “American.”

Most of the areas conquered had pretty much had avoided the collapse of Greco-Roman civilization we call the Dark Ages. Medieval Arabic civilization was in many ways a continuation of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization under new management.

So when you hear comments like “{Islamic fundamentalists} act like it’s the seventh century”; they had a much, much better seventh century than Europe. And eighth. And ninth. And tenth. . . .

If you had to choose between living in an Islamic or European country back then, no way you’d choose Europe. For one thing, Islam insisted you washed a lot, while Europeans thought that was bad for you and did it maybe once a year.

Even by the time of the Crusades, when Western Europe was starting to get their act together a little and Arab power was in decline; the Europeans didn’t make a good impression. As one Arab at the time put it, he saw in these invaders “animals possessing the virtues of courage and fighting, and nothing else.” Maybe a little shallow, but he probably got one sniff and stayed his distance. 🙂

In those areas where Westerners conquered what had been Islamic areas, the Westerners who lived there adopted the Islamic standard of living, not the other way around.

Indeed, it’s quite arguable that the work of the medieval Arabs got Europe going again. They preserved and translated many books and much knowledge from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, long lost or forgotten in Europe. The European Renaissance was mostly fueled by books written in Arabic.

This is a case of a people with a glorious past, and not-so-good present. They ruled, they’re proud of it, and they remember it, all the time. If you have ever met or read about (pretty rare nowadays) American Southerners who act like the Civil War ended yesterday, you got the idea.

“We Have The Technology”

Towards the end of the European Middle Ages, this grand civilization stagnated. That’s not unusual, you can just go so far with traditional means.

Europe was beginning to do something different, though.

Northern Europe was actually pretty weak and primitive compared to the other civilized places back then. It was pretty much left alone because it was cold and unpleasant and poor.

On top of that, towards the end of the Middle Ages, it got whacked big-time by plague, again, and again and again. Over a century, Europe lost half its population.

Not a promising place.

Faced with these circumstances, people in Europe began to change their attitude and try something that no other civilization had really tried before. They began looking at technology as a way to solve problems.

That sounds like a “DUH” to you, but looking upon technology as a way of life is basically why Europe (and its children like the United States) got to rule.

To give just one example, Europeans didn’t invent gunpowder, the Chinese did. The Chinese more or less considered it a toy; Europeans sure didn’t.

You don’t become a technological society just by using technological products. A truly technological society has changed its whole culture to suit the technology. Work, economics, politics, even religion gets transformed to accommodate the technology.

This is a very hard change to make. It took frontrunner England about five hundred years to completely turn over to the new way of thinking. It took other European countries even longer, and even in rural areas of a place like France, the old ways and attitudes lasted into the twentieth century. There are still backwater areas in Western Europe that still really haven’t changed.

Anyway, it took about five hundred years for the accumulation of technology to really become decisive, but once it did, that little medieval runt started going “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum” to the rest of the world.

What were the Arabs doing to get ready for the new competition? Essentially nothing, but neither was the rest of the world (Japan being the only real exception). They didn’t have the right attitude.

During this period of history, most Arabs had eventually come under the political rule of some Islamicized Turks called the Ottomans, but the Ottomans pretty much followed the same routine as the Arabs had, and they didn’t have the right attitude, either.

Continued on page 2…

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Crusades II

During the nineteenth century, various European powers (primarily Britain) grabbed control over most of the Arab world.

This is pretty humiliating coming from people that to you were wearing animal skins the day before yesterday.

No European country could be accused of being ethnically sensitive. Europe pretty much sliced and diced territories and made and unmade countries and rulers with little to no concern about whether any of it made any sense to anybody living there.

After the Europeans got the Ottoman Turks out, the Arab people wanted to be one big independent country. Didn’t happen, the Europeans set up quite a few countries and put local guys on top.

If you’re one of those rulers, you don’t want to hear anything about anything that would dethrone you. You also pay a lot more attention to the folks who made you and could unmake you just as fast than your subjects who had nothing to do with it.

The foreigners eventually left, but the rulers stayed. Eventually, some kings got overthrown, but usually, the new rulers came from the military and just substituted it as the folks who needed tender, loving care.

The Arabs have had a much different historical experience than the West. No Dark Ages, but no Renaissance or Enlightenment or centuries-long struggle for democracy, either. How could they? During that time, other people were ruling them, and not under those rules.

The rules of ruling in the Arab world were essentially:

  • There’s rulers and ruled, and never the twain shall meet.
  • Keep in the family (or tribe).
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
  • Everyone has a price.

    So by Western standards, Arab countries are at least fairly dictatorial, corrupt places where the government doesn’t have a broad base of support nor much cares about it.

    Now none of this is the least bit unusual in the non-Western world, or for that matter even in the West not all that long ago. What is unusual is having a country quite different right in the middle of this.

    Crusades III

    The European powers were weakened by World War I, and even more so by World War II, and started pulling out of the Middle East after that.

    Just when you think things might be getting better for the Arabs, along comes Israel.

    Yes, there was a Jewish state(s) on-and-off between two to three thousand years ago, and a lot of Jews lived in Palestine then. However, for a variety of reasons, relatively few had lived there
    since about 400-500 AD. In the meantime, what are now called Palestinians moved in, and lived there a long, long time.

    A little more than a hundred years ago, somebody got the notion that it would be a great idea if Jews went back to their ancient ancestral lands and set up a Jewish homeland. This is called Zionism.

    Many (though by no means all) Jews thought this a good idea. Many Western Christians looked at their Bibles, read God’s opinion on the matter, and agreed. During World War I, the British controlling the place thought it was a good idea, too, and promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine (though over the next thirty years, they often regretted it).

    Just about the only people who didn’t think this was a good idea were the people who lived there.

    Palestinians and other Arabs looked upon this like Native Americans looked upon the U.S. Government: “Why are you giving away our land?”

    For Europeans, it would be like the United States telling France, “The Celts owned your country two millennia ago. Now get out and hand France over to the Irish.”

    During the 1920’s and 30’s, an increasing number of Jews came to Palestine to settle, joining the increasingly threatened and hostile Arab Palestinians. They did not play well together.

    Hitler gets increasingly Nazi to Jews, first in Germany, then elsewhere. Many tried to go elsewhere. The West pretty much said, “Not here, you don’t.”

    Then comes the Holocaust.

    Afterwards, the West, including the United States, feels pretty guilty about this, and if the survivors want a Jewish state, they’re rather inclined to let them have it.

    The Arabs say the equivalent of “Why do we have to pay for your guilt? Go give them New York City and New Jersey if you feel so badly about it.”

    Britain throws up its hands and walks away from the situation, telling the U.N., “You take care of it.” The U.N. suggests splitting Palestine roughly 50-50. Future Israelis reluctantly say “Yes,” Arabs not reluctantly say, “Hell, no” and attack.

    Over the next twenty five years, the Arabs keep attacking, and keep losing. In twenty five years, four wars, four losses. Like the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl.

    After the 1948 war, instead of about half of Palestine, Israel ends up with 75%. Israel becomes bigger, and Palestinians become refugees, thinking they’ll go back shortly. Wrong.

    After the 1967 war, Israel ends up with pretty much the rest of it. After a while, Israel starts putting in Jewish settlements and doing what it can to make these areas Israeli areas.

    During these twenty five years of periodic war, the Arabs start looking for friends to help them out. Though the United States government is actually pretty neutral during this time (almost all U.S. money going to Israel was private, not governmental), they’re hardly going to help the Arabs wipe Israel off the map.

    The Soviets, on the other hand, are more than happy to give a helping hand with weapons and advisors. When this starts happening in the mid-sixties, this gets the United States real interested.

    US assistance starts building up just before the 1967 war. By the 1973 war, it’s pretty substantial, and it becomes clear that the U.S. is not going to stand by and let Israel go down the tubes in any war any time soon. During the seventies and eighties, aid to Israel continues to grow by leaps and bounds until it reaches about three billion dollars in total aid a year.

    Let Me Tell You About A Story ‘Bout A Man Named ‘Saud

    (I only speak about Saudi Arabia here, but the same pretty much holds true for most of oil states.)

    There have always been two types of people in the Middle East: the settled folks, and the nomads. Neither particularly like each other. The settled folks find the nomads a bunch of uncivilized bumpkins; the nomads find the settled folks wusses.

    There have also always been two Arabias: the cultivatable, settled places on the edges (that’s where places like Mecca are), and the desert-and-steppe-only-nomadic-Bedouins-live-there interior.

    During the 1920s, someone named Ibn Saud, a man from the interior, grabbed both the inside and outside and created what we call today Saudi Arabia.

    No European seemed to mind that too much since it was obviously a worthless place outside of the religious tourist trade. They just gave the family of the ousted rulers of Mecca another country to rule.

    Just before World War II, they found oil. Lots and lots of it. Starting the early seventies, they started getting paid lots and lots of money for it, too.

    This created a huge problem in the Arab world.

    The Arab countries generally have either people or oil. Not both. Where the people are, the oil isn’t; where the oil is, the people aren’t. (Two exceptions are Iraq and Iran. You know what Saddam is doing with Iraq’s money, and Iran is a non-Arab Islamic state with about 70 million people)

    Remember, the folks running the country with the most oil were those dirt-poor nomadic folks generally looked down upon. So began the Middle East equivalent of the Beverly Hillbillies.

    Most of the Arab world is poor by Western standards (about $3,500-$5,000 per person GNP, it’s about $30,000 for the U.S.). The countries who had the people but not the oil as a entitlement from Allah that they were eager to spend on themselves and to knock off Israel.

    Those who had the oil didn’t agree. If you’ve been poor all your life and strike it rich, you don’t give it all away to distant relatives who are far away and don’t think much of you. First, you take care of yourself and your own.

    Since you know the stuff will eventually run out, you try to invest the riches wisely so future generations of your own won’t end up having to wandering among oases again. You look around, and Arab investment opportunities don’t look so hot (more on this later), so you end up investing in the West.

    Given those priorities, the Saudis have generally done pretty well. Like Jed Clampett, they’ve usually been wise enough not to get snookered, and certainly have done better than a lot of other places with an oil bonanza.

    By world standards, the Saudis do give a lot away, about 5% of what they make. The problem is the average Arab probably thinks the Saudis should keep 5% and hand them the rest, and Saddam isn’t the only person who would like to make them do just that given the chance.

    With brothers and sisters like that, infidel Americans start looking awfully good. 🙂

    Americans come to Saudi Arabia. All they want is to get oil and make money doing that. They do all the work, and give the Saudis lots of money to do that. They live in little enclaves and keep their Western practices to themselves. The workers work there a few years, then
    they go home. They don’t stay in the country. They don’t conquer the country, in fact, they’ll send armies to protect it. No wonder why the Saudis like the Americans so much. 🙂

    It’s Really Not That Much Money

    Contrary to popular belief, oil doesn’t make countries filthy rich. Saudi oil revenue will probably be about 200 billion dollars this year. That may sound like a lot, but not when you have to split it up into millions and millions of pieces and that’s pretty much all you have to live on.

    It would be like Texas just living on its oil revenue. Sure, there were more than a few Texan oil millionaires and billionaires, but not every, most, or even a decent chunk of Texans are filthy rich from oil.

    Even with the recent surge in oil prices, the average per capita income even in Saudi Arabia is a bit less than half that of the U.S. and considerably lower than that of the United States or most developed countries.

    What you have in Saudi Arabia are a relatively few filthy rich (usually related to or well-connected with the royal family), and most who are certainly better off than the average Arab, but hardly wealthy by Western standards.

    If splitting oil revenue doesn’t make everybody rich in Saudi Arabia, splitting it 200 or 250 million ways would benefit the average recipient a whole lot less.

    But the average Arab person doesn’t look upon it that way. He feels Allah sent oil to get rid of Israel and make the Arabs great again, and the Saudis are selfishly taking money God sent to them and partying with it instead.

    You can imagine this causes a lot of resentment and frustration. It’s like you need an operation, you pray for a miracle, your brother wins the lottery, and then he spends almost all of it on himself rather than you.

    It’s also the biggest example to show that all Arabs aren’t alike. They really aren’t all taking numbers and waiting in line at the suicide counter.

    Continued on page 3…

    Email Ed

    Why Are They The Chosen People?

    To the Arab world, the West follows a double standard. When they do something bad, the West musters expeditionary forces. When Israel does something bad, they muster excuses.

    This absolutely baffles the Arab people.

    They can understand why politicians from areas with high Jewish populations back Israel. What mystifies them is why tons of American politicians with not the slightest apparent reason to do so back Israel to the hilt.

    This makes absolutely no sense to the average Arab, so he falls back on conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the United States one way or the other. This only gets him into even more trouble in American eyes.

    The reality is far more mundane.

    Most Americans simply perceive Israel and Israelis to be more like them than they do Arabs. The average American is far more likely to have had personal contact with a Jew than an Arab. The average American also equate American Jews with Israelis, so if they’ve had good experiences with American Jews, they figure Israelis are just like that. (Actually, very few Israelis come from the United States; there are actually more ex-Israelis in the U.S. than ex-Americans in Israel), though Israel
    tries to get those American-sounding Israelis into those positions where Americans are likely to see and hear them. Israel is viewed as a Western, modern society, and outside of maybe the oil states, Arab countries are not.

    In earlier days, Holocaust guilt played a big role, but as those who remember those days pass on, something else has taken its place.

    Senator Henry Jackson described it well about thirty years ago:

    “Americans, whether Gentile or Jew, respect competence. They like the idea that we are on the side which seems to know what it’s doing.”

    More simply, Americans love underdogs who win, and that’s how they see Israel. Maybe the underdog label is fraying a bit, but it’s still there.

    Familiarity and competence empower the third big reason:

    Israel does a great PR job in the United States. They certainly make the most of their advantages, but Arabs and many other make is the “it must be the shoes” error. If the generally positive feeling weren’t there, the lobbying and PR wouldn’t do much.

    That being said, Israel hasn’t been getting such a free ride in U.S. public opinion the last ten years or so. George Bush Sr. actually got along very badly with Israel during most of his Presidency. The mood improved with Bill Clinton, but he was more critical of Israel, too.

    If the Middle East people in the State Department had to vote on The Man They Most Hate Running Israel, it is the current prime minister Ariel Sharon. One way or the other, he’s been a huge problem for the U.S. going back to late nineteen-fifties. This is a big reason why Bush, Jr. pretty much washed his hands over the current troubles over there.

    U.S. media more often than not portrays Israel as a bully nowadays. In a recent poll, three-quarters of Americans supported the creation of some sort of Palestinian state. Probably not one as big as a lot of Palestinians want

    Arabs have started playing the PR game, and have had a few good representatives for the talk shows.

    However, for the average American, the real Arab PR people have been people like Saddam Hussein, and now Mr. Bin Laden. Need I say more?

    In contrast, the American perception of Arabs has gone from bad to worse, from Arab = Primitive People to Arab = Soviet Ally to finally Arab = Terrorist.

    Israel can get pretty bad and still look a lot better than that.

    Call it PR, call it propaganda, it’s much, much easier to get somebody already leaning one way to lean more than to get someone to change the direction of the lean.

    Just ask the best people in the world at this: the British.

    So the Arabs see the Israelis stealing their land, the Saudis stealing their money, and the American cop protecting both of them.

    It’s The Economy Too

    You’re sitting in a country that either a dictatorship or not too far away from one. Your ancestors conquered a good chunk of the world,
    now a tiny country kicks your relatives’ asses all over the place, and the Jolly Red White and Blue Giant smiles benignly at this when it isn’t doing likewise. All the military
    in your country seems good for is keeping themselves up, and you down.

    Can you at least forget about the rest of the world, and just make yourself a lot of money? No, you can’t do that, either.

    The non-oil Arab economies are weak. To a large degree, they remain traditional economies with traditional attitudes about work and money.

    In the twentieth century, Arab leadership did look abroad to modern ideas. Unfortunately, the place they looked at was the Soviet Union.

    Many non-Arab states can still be described as having semi- or more than semi-socialist economies. Traditionally corrupt semi-socialist economies. Not surprisingly, they’re not exactly world-beaters in economic growth, actually they’re near the bottom of the pile.

    More People, Less Money

    Unfortunately, a pretty good number of Arab countries are doing a whole lot better making babies than money. Population growth has equalled or exceeded economic growth, leaving stagnant economies.

    Stagnant economies are never good, but they have one particularly bad effect in the Middle East.

    Due to the Soviet-style economies, you have an educational system that cranks out a relatively large number of degreed young men. Physical labor has always been frowned upon in the Arab world, so many of these young men end up waiting years for white-collar government jobs, ill-paying, but not beneath their dignity.

    Lots of at least reasonably educated proud young men with nothing productive to do. Some of them go to the United States. Fewer of them go to Bin Laden. Whichever it is, there’s an economic reason behind it.

    Back to Basics: Islamic Fundamentalism

    The Arab (and for that matter the rest of the) world has essentially had the Western world and Western ways shoved in its face over the last couple centuries. As I pointed out earlier, it takes a lot of time for an entire society to change its way of thinking from pre-industrial standards to Western ways, or at least develop something compatible with a technological society, and it’s pretty traumatic.

    Many (but by no means most) Arabs look at what they view as the overly individualistic, consumerist West and its different (or simply lack of) values, and say, “No.” They look at the half-assed Westernized Arab states, and say, “No” to them, too.

    They say, “Let’s go back to what we know worked for us as a people before,” and that’s pretty much what we call Islamic fundamentalism.

    Now does that mean Islamic fundamentalism is “bad” for the West? That depends on what you mean by “bad.” If you want to sell bikinis to young women in Iran and Afghanistan, then Islamic fundamentalists are terrible people. Then again, so are the Amish.

    Understand that you have different kinds of Islamic fundamentalists, ranging from essentially the Islamic Amish to groups like Mr. Bin Laden’s.

    If you can accept, “we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone,” then Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t have to be “bad” at all.

    The average American opinion seems to be “You fundamentalists don’t have the right to shove your views down your countryman’s throats.” The fundamentalists would answer, “You Westerners don’t have the right to shove your views down our countrymen’s throats, either.” It becomes a competition in throat-shoving. 🙂

    However, I think the average Islamic fundamentalist is far more likely to believe, “We reject your values, leave us alone,” than “We reject your values, and we’re going to kill you because of them.”

    There’s a huge difference between the two, and if we don’t notice the difference, that will make Mr. Bin Laden and his friends very happy.

    Final Words

    There are a lot of stereotypes of Arabs in the Western world. None of them are entirely incorrect; all of them are mostly incorrect.

    The Arabs are not a monolithic people, indeed, disunity has been the Arab curse of the twentieth century.

    They are not culturally primitive, indeed, their cultural heritage stretches over a millennia.

    They are not all rich; most of them are poor.

    They are not prone to suicide, in fact, an American is far more likely to commit suicide than Arabs living in the Middle East.

    They don’t all hate the United States; they do generally disapprove of U.S. Middle East policy.

    Does this make them perfect? No, of course not. They have some major faults. They look to the past rather than the future, which really impedes needed cultural adjustment for today’s and tomorrow’s world.
    They tend to blame others for all their problems and not themselves. They’ve made some pretty bad economic and political decisions during the twentieth century, and have often engaged in
    self-defeating behavior.

    They aren’t anywhere near as bad as the West thinks they are, but they aren’t anywhere near as good as they think they are.

    They have legitimate grievances which aren’t being heard and which leads some to take more and more extreme action. On the other hand, even when they do,
    they tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    There’s no quick fix to all this, but first we have to understand that there’s even a problem.

    Email Ed

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