The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Depressing Poll

"Do most Islamic nations want to have a positive and peaceful relationship with the United States?"

In my insomnia, I have decided to write on a piece of news that has been bugging me for a while. According to a Rasmussen poll, a whopping 32% of Americans believe the answer to the above question is 'yes'. I don't know how Americans understood the question, but I find it disturbing no matter which way they interpreted it.

OIC participants

Did they interpret 'nations' to mean governments of Muslim-majority countries? Do they have any idea that the vast majority of these governments are either American allies or have normal relations with the United States? Of the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, pretty much only Syria and Iran could be construed to be outright 'enemies'.


Did they forget that Muslim nations form a vast and diverse group, of which Middle Easterners form a surprisingly small minority? That the biggest Muslim country is Indonesia? Or that there are more Muslims in Africa or South Asia than the Middle East? Around two thirds of Americans apparently believe that the Muslim World - from the Senegalese peasants outside Dakar, to the Malay businessmen in Kuala Lumpur and from the godless post-Communist bureaucrats in Almaty to the jubilant Kenyans celebrating 'Obama Day' in Mombasa - on the whole wants conflict with the United States.

And is it not still terribly unreasonable, if we assume most respondents were ignorant that there are indeed Muslim countries outside of 'Arabia', to believe most ordinary men on the street in most Middle Eastern countries want bad relations with the United States in principle? Do they expect Americans in Egypt or Syria to be spat at in the street? I think it is better to be predisposed to the notion that ordinary people - to the extent they think about the United States - are more offended by specific U.S. policies than America itself until proven otherwise. That would seem to me understandable enough given that - for better and for worse - the pronounced and overwhelming American power and influence in the region is used with systematic disregard for the sentiments of its inhabitants.

Or is it that Americans have become prejudiced towards an entire religion because they have been saturated with images of violence, extremism and anti-Americanism from a handful of countries and terrorist movements? For all the talk of Iran and Hezbollah, all the lurid images of terror attacks and hysterical demonstrations, you will find almost nothing on the 1.5 billion Muslims strewn across every continent - Imams and agnostics, Sub-Saharan Africans and southeast Europeans, illiterate peasants and urbane intellectuals, burqa-clad women and make-up ladden girls in headscarves - characterized more by their differences than anything else. You almost never get a sense that they are people as one finds people in all corners of the globe, with their own painful struggles and petty worries, with their occasional exciting adventures and banal daily lives, with all their qualities and all their flaws. The effort to educate the American people on this issue, it seems to me, has been mismanaged with criminal negligence. We would do better to read more Fred Halliday and Alaa Al-Aswani.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home