Roots Of Rage

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Among the signs waved by Pakistanis in demonstrations last week was one in English that read AMERICANS, THINK! WHY DOES THE WHOLE WORLD HATE YOU? Actually, Americans didn't need that exhortation to ask the question, Why?

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The reasons are complex and deeply rooted in history. The proximate source of this brand of hatred toward America is U.S. foreign policy (read: meddling) in the Middle East. On top of its own controversial history in the region, the U.S. inherits the weight of centuries of Muslim bitterness over the Crusades and other military campaigns, plus decades of indignation over colonialism.

But to get to the virulence of antipathy exhibited by the kamikaze 19 and their abettors and apologists, another element is required. That element is the idea that the U.S. is not just the enemy of the Arabs or even of Muslims generally but also the enemy of God. It is an idea encouraged by the Ayatullah Khomeini, who proclaimed the U.S. "the Great Satan," spread by Islamic extremists throughout the Arab world and now given potent expression by, it would seem, the biggest player among all such militants today, Osama bin Laden.

Animosity toward the U.S. in the Middle East can be plotted through concentric circles. In the white-hot core are violent ideologues like bin Laden and their acolytes. Then come Arab radicals, including both Islamic fundamentalists and secular nationalists, who are desperate and angry enough to have danced in the streets upon hearing the news of Sept. 11. But the distaste also extends to large numbers of temperate Arabs who were quietly pleased to see American arrogance taken down a notch--business people and family people who smiled and sent messages of congratulations to one another when the Twin Towers fell. The middle sphere forms a substantial recruiting base for the toxic inner hub. It and the outer loop are the reason the U.S. faces an enormous challenge persuading even its allies among Arab governments to sign on to its war against terror. And the entire web of ill will invites the question, Will the U.S. go to war against Middle East enemies and, by that very act, just create more of them?

Certainly the greatest single source of Arab displeasure with the U.S. is its stalwart support of Israel: politically (notably at the U.N.), economically ($840 million in aid annually) and militarily ($3 billion more, plus access to advanced U.S. weapons). To a majority of Arabs, Israel, as a Jewish state, is an unwelcome, alien entity. Even to those who accept its existence, Israel is an oppressor of Arab rights; despite the Oslo peace process, it still occupies most of the Palestinian territories. Particularly egregious to Muslims is Israel's control over Islamic shrines in Jerusalem, the third most sacred city to Islam.

Each time Israel stages an incursion into its Arab neighborhood, it adds a new layer of grievance. Its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the occupation of Lebanon's southern tip for 18 years afterward bred deep antagonism. And the U.S. role in these assaults is never far away: Israel is using American missiles and F-16s in its current struggle against the Palestinians. When it comes time to broker peace in the region, many Arabs are inflamed by the strong U.S. bias toward Israel in negotiations. To Islamic fanatics, including bin Laden, the peace process is of course anathema; for them, Israel is a state to be destroyed, not to be bargained with.

Bin Laden, a Saudi, speaks out frequently against Israel, but for him the real casus belli is the U.S. troop presence in his country dating to the military buildup before the 1991 Gulf War precipitated by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. To bin Laden, as well as many nonradical Muslims, the presence of infidel soldiers in the homeland of the Prophet Muhammad is a sacrilege. Today 7,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Saudi Arabia. That the U.S. servicemen are there at the invitation of the Saudi government is irrelevant to bin Laden. He considers the Saudi royals stooges of the U.S.

It is a common refrain among America's critics in the region that the U.S. props up objectionable local leaders out of selfish interests. To protect its access to oil, the U.S. supports repressive princes in the Persian Gulf states. In an effort to contain Islamic extremism, Washington backs the government of Algeria's President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, despite its ironfisted conduct in the civil war against the Armed Islamic Group. The authoritarian regime of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak also enjoys the patronage ($2.7 billion a year) of the U.S., which views him as a bulwark of moderation and stability in the region. Classmates in Egypt of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta, told the New York Times he used to blast Mubarak for being an autocrat surrounded by "fat cats." "We want to understand, are you Americans in favor of human rights and freedom? Or is that the privilege of some people and not others?" says Essam El Eryan, a leading member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

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