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Do US Attitudes Fuel Terrorism? - 2001-11-24

Why do they hate us? That question is repeatedly asked by the American media in the wake of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington. Many explanations are offered for this terrorism.

A free-floating anti-Americanism blows at will and knows no bounds among Muslims, whether Islamists or secularists.

That is what Fouad Ajami writes in the current Foreign Affairs quarterly. Professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Mr. Ajami says no matter what the United States does or does not do, terrorists will act against it, shifting the rage against their own societies to America.

Professor Ajami notes the glee even among upper class Egyptians after the terrorist attack on the United States. In their opinion, he writes, the super power got what it deserved. That is not the experience of John Duke Anthony, president of the National Council for U.S. Arab Relations. In the 38 years he has dealt with Muslims around the world, he says he has not encountered this kind of anti-Americanism.

"I have scratched my memory, and I have never had a single conversation with any Arab or Muslim who has made the case that the United States is despicable because of what it is in terms of its values or its customs or its ideals not one," Dr. Anthony says.

What arouses anti-Americanism, says Dr. Anthony, are specific U.S. policies, particularly in the Middle East. Muslims do not complain about American ideals but about the failure of Americans to live up to them. They also think U.S. polices are too much under the influence of special interests.

U.S. policies are not the primary reason for terrorism, argues former U.S. Ambassador Philip Wilcox, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. The plague has many sources, but one in particular in Arab countries.

"The failure of governments in those areas to promote economic development and political participation among their own people," he says. "That has bred a sense of defeat, despair and alienation and hopelessness among people in that part of the world."

Dissent is harshly suppressed by authoritarian Arab governments, says Mr. Wilcox. In their frustration, people lash out at America, which is seen as supporting these regimes.

That is a fundamental of terrorism, says former U.S. ambassador Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute.

"You remember that Osama bin Laden did not think twice about Palestinians until he thought it could be a vehicle for getting support. He basically was opposed to the Saudi regime, and he was opposed to the United States because it supported the Saudi regime and because we had forces in Saudi Arabia," he says.

Don't think an agreement on a Palestinian state will put an end to terrorism, cautions Ambassador Walker.

But it will help a great deal, contends Ambassador Wilcox.

"Our policies create an environment in which terrorists can thrive and gain sympathy because they exploit and manipulate, for example, the Israel-Palestinian issue and the alleged failure of the United States to do its job in resolving this conflict," the ambassador says.

This conflict should be resolved for its own sake, says Ambassador Wilcox, as well as for the reduction of terrorism.