An Arab liberal's anguish
I like jeans, Lou Reed, and 'The Simpsons' - but that doesn't make me agree with US Mideast policy.
I am a young liberal Muslim Arab, the trilingual product of French and American schools. While I grew up in Beirut, most of my friends grew up in Montreal, New York, London, or Paris. I wear jeans and miniskirts - not a veil. I listen to David Bowie and Lou Reed. I watch "Sex and the City," "The Simpsons," and Woody Allen. I've attended an American university, and plan to pursue a career in international affairs in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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If there is to be a pro-American cadre in the Arab world, one would think its members would look like me and my friends. Indeed, when the State Department's strategists talk about combating anti-Americanism and about spreading democracy, they're talking about cultivating more Arabs like me.
Yet, despite my upbringing and orientation, I feel deeply estranged from everything the United States is trying to do in the Middle East. My friends and I aren't buying what the US government has to offer. For all our understanding of the US, the US seems not to understand who we are.
We share the Arab heart. Whether we're from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, or elsewhere in the Middle East, we share a language, holidays, foods, literature. We even share the same nostalgia - like the Sunday family gathering at Grandmother's house, where we gorged on meza (the feast before the feast). As much as we may look and act like Westerners, our roots are different - as are our politics.
President Bush thinks that our problem is hatred. Speaking to a joint session of Congress just after the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
I don't know how the terrorists feel about this statement, but I see things quite differently. When I'm home in Beirut, I do see hatred of the US. But it's hardly hatred of American freedoms. We all admire these liberties and would like to integrate them in our own societies - I, for one, benefit from them every day working here in the US. Rather, the Arab rancor I perceive stems significantly from dismay over American policy toward us, which uses few of the democratic values Americans practice and expect in their own country.
By supporting authoritarian governments in the region, the US is generally viewed by Arab liberals - who would like to see change in their societies and leadership - as a belligerent external force that promotes and prolongs injustice and is indifferent to Arab suffering.
In Lebanon, I observe an Arab identity that is hardening around perceived US hostility. It is seen as antipathy not toward what Arabs do, but toward Arabs themselves.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the American administration seems to act as if Arabs are all Muslims (they aren't) and all Muslims are Arabs (not so, either). We are all lumped together; we are all suspect - and I feel as if the US is pushing me away.
In all of this, I feel a bit trapped. "Arab" is a vague term - perhaps as vague as the idea of "the West." In a strange way, I feel part of each. Culturally I may look and act "Western," but politically I'm "Arab." I want my country to find its own solutions to its political and economic problems without pressure from the West.
A common thread that unites Arabs across the Middle East is the shared sense of threat from Israel. This surprises Americans, who generally see Israel as the aggrieved party, or don't understand the history of the region which is so geographically, economically, and politically entangled with the Palestinians' plight.