AMMAN, JORDAN — These three young Jordanians - worldly, well educated, and well off - ought to be counted among America's allies in the Middle East. They embrace equality and democracy, and are steeped in American culture. One actually watched "Pearl Harbor" all the way through.
But if America's products and principles appeal, its policies appall.
Meet Rasha Atallah. Born in Kuwait and educated in Jordan and Canada, she works on information systems for Jordan's water authority.
Ghaith Madadha, a budding journalist, grew up in the US and Europe as the son of a diplomat. He has a master's degree in nationalism, culture, and society, sports a trim goatee, and drops Noam Chomsky into his conversation.
Hams Rabah, the youngest of the three, is the only one to have been born and raised in Jordan, but now attends university in Wales. She is anxious about her return to school in the aftermath of Sept. 11. "People have an even worse impression about Arabs," she says. "They hate us even more now."
What most perturbs all three is the distance between the US rhetoric they hear and the reality they perceive.
"All the Americans ever talk about is their freedom, and their liberty, and their independence, and they can't see that they are actually taking that away from people who have lived in that land for generations and generations," says Ms. Atallah. By "people" she means Palestinians, and by "that land," Palestine. Like the majority of Jordanians, Atallah is of Palestinian origin. For her, the fate of the Palestinians is the burning issue, in part because it is personal.
"It's really sad that I'm a Palestinian, my father's a Palestinian, my mom's a Palestinian. We have land there, we have homes there, we have family there, and when I want to go for a visit, I need to wait outside the Israeli Embassy for four hours ... and fill out a form and have some freak of nature come and tell me you need a visa to go to your homeland," Atallah says. "An American or a Canadian or a European can just walk into Palestine ... and me - a Palestinian - I can't go visit my uncle without permission from the Israeli government."
Mr. Madadha (right) suggests that Americans can begin to fix the situation by adopting "a sense of justice or equality in the way they treat things." As it stands, he says, "if the Israelis go and do something - attack, or kill civilians - it's labeled self-defense ... while when a Palestinian does the same thing it "is instantly condemned as terrorism."
He sees two reasons for the lack of justice and equality. "One is that Israel's position in the Middle East is that of a proxy of America to a certain extent - keeping the area under control, carrying out American interests, etc. While at the same time it's difficult to deny that there is a strong ... pro-Israel lobby in the US which has a certain hand in decision-forming and in the media - and in the disinformation served the American public."
Ms. Rabah shares the view that Americans are misinformed. "Only one side is being portrayed.... And that's why everyone has a bad impression about the Arabs - being portrayed.... that they're terrorists and stuff.... I think [Americans] would sympathize a bit more with the Arabs, and it would be different if they were aware of what's really going on," says Rabah (below right).
Shock, horror, sorrow - these are the words the three use to describe their reactions to the attacks on Sept. 11. Then come the qualifications.
Atallah is adamant that because no proof has been offered, Americans are wrong to accuse Arabs. Madhaba says the attacks "may be ... not as bad as the things the American government itself has carried out." He cites various Israeli atrocities, America's use of "terrorism" to undermine the Nicaraguan regime in the 1980s, the war in Vietnam, the bombardment of Laos.
Atallah's fear is that an Arab was indeed responsible. But even that has to be qualified: "It's great, because it'll be nice for us to get some kind of revenge, but it's going to really ruin things in the Middle East."
She adds later: "I have friends who work on Wall Street, who live in Manhattan, and I was worried about them, but the end result is, you know, now the Americans know you can't mess with people...."
Still, there is reason to admire America, and not just for its pop culture. Atallah: "There's so much more liberty in the West than there is here.... I've always been raised in a family ... where everything's OK for the girls and for the boys - it's the same. And that's an ideal that's not from the Middle East, it's so Western. I appreciate it. It's made me a stronger person, [with a] better character, and it is the Western influence."