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A Scholar Explains the Muslim View of US to Students - 2001-10-12

On college campuses throughout the United States, academics are lecturing on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Since the September 11 attacks, much of the focus is on the historical conditions that have promoted anti-American views among many in the Middle East. Jenny Badner in New York attended one such lecture by Professor Fawaz Gerges at Columbia University.

The Muslim view of the United States is a hot topic among students thirsty for information to understand the September 11 terror attacks.

Professor Fawaz Gerges delivered his lecture to a packed classroom. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "The Islamists and the West." Recently, he published an opinion article in The New York Times in which he discussed what he sees as the widespread distrust of America among Arabs and Muslims.

He says there were three historical events, which led many Arabs and Muslims to view the United States as their main adversary. "First, in 1947 was the U.S. political and diplomatic support in the United Nations for the division of Palestine, historic Palestine into two States, one Jewish, one Arab," he said. "And of course the subsequent Washington support for the state of Israel. The second factor of this shift lies in America's entanglement in inter-Arab rivalries of course aimed at winning the fight against Soviet Communism. And the final factor was Israel's crushing defeat [of Egypt, Syria and Jordan] in the June 1967 war was also seen as part of an American conspiracy to humiliate and punish the unruly Arabs."

According to Mr. Gerges, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Persian Gulf War further fueled Arab and Muslim animosity towards the United States. Now, he says, radical groups, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, are trying to use the Palestinian cause as a tool to rally support on the streets. "Leftists, nationalists and Islamists who hardly see eye-to-eye on any other issue bought this particular hypothesis, but abused it for their own political purposes," he explained. "America's hostility towards Arabs and Muslims became an article of faith, a dogma, not to be questioned or deconstructed."

Professor Gerges says that there is a wide array of opinion in Middle Eastern societies. He says in addition to animosity, there is a deep fascination with the United States and its popular culture. He calls on the U.S. government to change priorities when dealing with the Middle East.

"I was wondering, isn't it about time that we start investing in civil society, and I know it's a vague term," Professor Gerges went on to say. "In terms of education, in terms of health in terms of investing, isn't it about time to engage Muslims over the heads of the anti-American opinion makers, over the heads of their established authoritarian governments? Isn't it about time to build more libraries, more clinics?"

The United States invests billions of dollars in the Middle East in military and political aid. Professor Gerges says if more of that money is diverted to improving quality of life, then Muslim and Arab opinion of the United States may improve too.