The origins of the mistrust between the West and many of the world's Muslims - and how to resolve it - are the focus of a new book called American Raj: Liberation or Domination? American author Eric Margolis, a veteran Middle East correspondent, foreign policy analyst and syndicated columnist, says it will take meaningful actions, not better public relations, to build new bridges between the West and the Muslim world. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi spoke with the author and prepared this report.
In American Raj, - whose title recalls the 19th- and 20th-century British occupation of India - Eric Margolis takes readers on an eye-opening and provocative journey across the political and cultural landscape of the Muslim world. It is a landscape fraught with violence, anger and hatreds fueled by what Margolis calls the still-raw wounds of past defeats and human tragedies.
Margolis contends the Muslim world's anger is rooted, first, in the decades of colonial control of the Middle East by Western nations, and then by the continuing influence leaders in the United States and other western governments have sought to exert over the rulers of the region's Muslim states. Margolis recounts how many of these rulers have been dictators and how their undemocratic and often oppressive governments have sparked public hostility toward their Western patrons and toward America in particular.
"I stepped back into early 19th century and showed the steady progression of resistance in the Muslim world to Western colonialism - first European colonialism and then the domination by the West - and I am trying to put the context of violent groups in the Muslim world in a context of resistance to occupation rather than as being motivated by religion, as certain people in the U.S. claim," Margolis says.
Margolis says one of his primary goals in writing this book was to help Americans understand why the Muslim world often seems so hostile to the United States. He says the long-simmering Arab-Israeli situation - and what he calls America's uneven handling of this conflict - have been fueling Muslims' anger for decades, and Margolis contends the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have added more fuel to that fire.
"There are many other reasons for this antagonism. The primary reason, and the most important one, is the continued American and Western - French and British - backing of nondemocratic regimes across the Muslim world," Margolis says. "I call this the primary source of what we say is terrorism.
"But certainly, resolving the issue of Palestine, I think, would drop [reduce] the anger towards the West by 40 to 50 percent in the Muslim world, because it is the outstanding issue.
"And it also: A, reminds many Muslim people that their governments have been completely unable to do anything about this tragedy, and B, they are angry at themselves for not being able to do it."
There was a time, Margolis says, when the United States was widely perceived as a positive force in the region's geopolitics. He says when President Dwight Eisenhower was in office during the 1950s, the U.S. was regarded with enormous admiration and affection across the Muslim world. It was seen then as a liberator and a counterbalance to the historically exploitive European powers.
Margolis cites Eisenhower's famous 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which he warned against what he called the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex in the United States. Margolis doesn't think U.S. leaders have heeded that warning. He believes that powerful complex has gradually turned U.S. policy in the Muslim world away from one of friendship and liberation to one of backing dictatorial regimes and supporting Israel, above all. And that approach, Margolis says, has had disastrous consequences for America.
"It has earned great hatred for the West. It is responsible for the clash that the U.S. has now with the Muslim world," Margolis says. "It was responsible for 9/11, and it is going to continue until the U.S. really practices what it is preaching and advances its values - that is, helping the Muslim world move toward genuine democracy and good governments."
In American Raj, Margolis argues that the United States needs to rethink its so-called war on terror. U.S. policymakers, he believes, must recognize that many of the violent groups confronting American interests are doing so not because they hate Americans or their values, but because of the American military presence in and perceived domination of the Muslim world.
Margolis cites a recent poll by the private World Public Opinion Research organization which found that in Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan - all important American allies - 75 percent of the people questioned said they believe the primary goal of American foreign policy is to undermine Islam or destroy it. While Margolis believes that perception is a false one, he says the U.S. needs to change it through concrete actions, such as brokering a peaceful, just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, ending U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and showing more friendship to the Muslim peoples.
"We have got to start changing dictatorial regimes across the Muslim world, stop supporting them, and when free elections bring regimes to power that we do not like, - like the Islamists in Algeria or Hamas in Palestine - we have got to accept this," he says. "This is democracy. Democracy means putting up with people you do not like and having to listen to them, not overthrowing them and trying to starve them to death."
In his book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination? Margolis urges the United States to acknowledge that Muslims have legitimate political grievances and to support struggling democratic institutions in the Muslim world. He criticizes the angry rhetoric of some fundamentalist groups in the U.S. who speak of an inexorable clash between civilizations. But Margolis believes Muslims, too, must abandon inflammatory language and condemn the use of violence if the United States and the Muslim world are ever to be reconciled.