"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

The United States Is "Aggressive, Morally Decadent and Racist"
By Charles Hawley in Berlin
March 9, 2005

United States policy in the Middle East is leading to a blooming of democracy. Right? While democracy does seem to be taking its first baby steps in the region, a new survey indicates that most in the Middle East are extremely distrustful of the US -- but the basis of that thinking isn't what you think it is.

The shift in European media coverage of the Middle East has been lightening quick. Within the space of nine short weeks from early January to the beginning of March, the image of a region rapidly sliding into a morass of chaos and violence has whiplashed to a storybook tale of an Arab world witnessing the birth of democracy. The Palestinians went to the polls in early January, the Iraqis in late January, the protests in Lebanon -- optimistically dubbed the Cedar Revolution by the US State Department -- appear to be leveraging the Syrian occupiers out of the country and even Saudi Arabia held regional elections recently. United States President George W. Bush claimed on Tuesday that "the thaw has begun" in the Middle East.

In other words, the subtext of the last few weeks seems to be, "maybe the Americans were right." Maybe, despite the well-documented difficulties the US had in justifying its invasion of Iraq, democracy can indeed be exported at the tip of a sword. Indeed, we're getting very early hints that the Cold War of cultures between the West and Islam could meet the fate of the first Cold War -- with a victory for Western values, culture and democracy.

In Eastern Europe, though, the end of the Cold War resulted in a dozen countries embracing democracy and the values of the West. But that, suggests a new study on Middle Eastern public opinion released by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan in February, is not likely to happen this time. The countries and bodies surveyed -- Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority -- suggest that the so-called "Arab Street" doesn't see the existence of an over-arching conflict of values between the West and the Middle East at all. Rather, the tensions are seen almost completely as a result of United States and British foreign policies in the region.

Viewing the US as aggressive and racist

The survey, which specifically concentrated on attitudes toward the US, the United Kingdom and France, painted a bleak picture. The words most associated with the US and the UK were "racist," "aggressive," "morally decadent" and "imperialistic" among other uncomplimentary concepts. France was less harshly judged. It's not all bad, however. Western societies are seen as bastions of liberalism, individual liberty and technical progress, yet they are plagued by social problems. The countries surveyed see themselves as having a stronger adherence to tradition and to family.

It is in the area of foreign policy, however, where most of the disgust with Western countries seems to lie -- and where it becomes apparent that the Middle East has a much more nuanced view of the West than many occidental commentators would have one believe. Indeed, anger is directed squarely toward the US (a country that many feel is steered by a "Zionist lobby") and the UK. Over 70 percent in the countries surveyed, with the exception of Lebanon, felt that the US and the UK attempt to dominate countries through the offer of foreign aid and fewer than two in 10 Egyptians, Syrians and Palestinians see the US as supporting democracy in the region. The US was also seen as a major violator of human rights. France, on the other hand, a country which steered clear of the Iraq war and which is lauded for its respectful dealings with the Middle East, came out smelling like roses.

Many in the Middle East feel things would be a lot better if the Americans would just leave them alone. "Thus," write the authors of the study, "while the survey reflected the growing tensions between the Arab world and the West, it does not support the caricature of an Arab public that fully and uniformly rejects the West."

The demographic time bomb

But regional attitudes toward the US and the UK make it clear that President Bush's thaw is likely to be more akin an unexpected warm day in late December than the blooming of tulips at the beginning of March. American and British policy in Iraq and US policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are almost universally rejected. Worse, distrust of America is even higher among Middle Eastern youth. Only 15 to 20 percent of people between the ages of 16 and 24 hold favorable attitudes toward America. Ominously, fully 50 percent of the population in the region is under the age of 25 and it is getting even younger. Such a demographic time bomb, the study concludes, means that "positive attitudes toward the US and the UK will continue to plummet unless major changes in their foreign policies are implemented."

The results of this highly negative view of the US and the UK can also be seen in the methods many in the Middle East feel are necessary to combat Western aggression in the region. Terrorism, a concept many in Europe and the United States have come to associate almost exclusively with Islamic countries, is defined much differently in the countries surveyed. Over 85 percent of the population in four of the five countries surveyed felt that the war against Iraq was an act of terrorism (the exception being Lebanon where 64 percent felt that way). Furthermore, nine out of 10 of those surveyed believed that Israel's killing of Palestinian citizens constituted terror. Hamas and Hezbollah, on the other hand, are viewed as valid resistance organizations. Even al-Qaida is seen by Jordanians and Palestinians as legitimate.

What clash of civilizations?

The United States war against Iraq remains extremely unpopular in the Middle East. Surprisingly, while many in the West are fed on a steady diet of coverage that plays up "the West versus Islam," those in the Middle East do not see the current conflicts as being driven by a Muslim-Christian divide. In fact, most feel the US places little value on religion. The survey also found a more nuanced self-image of Muslim in the Middle East than is often protrayed in the West. While most said they supported Sharia law as a source for legislation, only a tiny minority said they wanted a Taliban-like interpretation of the religious code.

So is the apparent trend toward democracy in the Middle East likely to continue? That remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the less visible the Americans are in the region the better.

"The current conflict," the study concludes, "is based in deep-seated frustration with Western, and particularly American, foreign policies, and a growing distrust of America's underlying regional objectives."

The war media continues to try to justify Bush's war with claims of spreading democracy, but in the real world the US is the most despised country on earth. When will the war media report the facts again and let us decide what's true?