Looking down their noses at Arabs

There is a widespread cultural condescension in America toward the Arab Middle East. This phenomenon concerns me because it is a form of racism. Furthermore, in the wake of a commonly perceived threat from the Soviet expansionism in West Asia and the Persian Gulf, this may turn out to be the single most important obstacle in the development of a possible Arab-Ameican united front.

The issue deserves open and serious discussion. I believe I can objectively engage in such a discusion because I am not an Arab, and I understand the political cultures of the Arab Middle East and United States. I also believe that these two rich cultures have ample bases and needs for mutual cooperation and deference.

The roots of America's arrogance lie embedded in its culture and have manifested themselves in a variety of forms. Essentially, cultural condescension describes all attitudes which are marked by manifest or latent expressions of superiority toward, and contempt for, cultures of non-Western countries by applying Western standards of rationality, subjectivity, or morality; and the worst expression of cultural condescension may be heinous and contemptuous cultural stereotypes.

One doesn't have to go far to come up with frequently mentioned nefarious phrases about the Arabs. The American hostage situation in Iran brought out in public such slogans as "Camel-jockeys go home!" A curious thing about this slogan is that it conveys an uneducated perception of the Iranians, who do not even ride camels.

Another recent manifestation of cultural condescension was the term used to describe the widescale sting operation conducted by the FBI in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, New York, and other places to uncover political corruption. It was called "Abscam" -- short for "Arabscam." I wonder how many ethnic identities could replace the word "Arab" in "Arab-scam?"

In an attempt to comprehend the dynamics of cultural condescension, I have conducted frequent surveys in my undergraduate political science classes which also contained nonpolitical science majors on various college compuses in three different regions of the United States. In addition, I have had extensive conversations with college students of varied standings, from undergraduates to graduate students, on this subject. I have asked my respondents to describe can-didly their perception of the Arabs.

Overwhelmingly, the response has been strongly to moderately negative. On the subject of political embargoes -- after explaining that even the US has used an embargo as a political weapon against Cuba and the People's Republic of China , and most recently against the Soviet Union -- I asked my respondents to express their feelings toward the oil embargo imposed by the Arab states against the US in 1973-74. In almost every single instance the action was described as "unjust," "amoral," "illegal," and even "criminal."

On the subject of my participants' perception of the Arab political culture and of Arab states, the response was predominantly uninformed and naive, and also overhwlmingly negative. The respondents used such phrases as "dictatorial, " "primitive," "high-handed," and even "murderous" and "fascist" to describe certain Arab regimes.

I do not wish to overemphasize the results of my nonscientific surveys. What is important is the extent of cultural condescension in America toward the Arab Middle East. This issue must be dealt with by the Carter administration consciously and systematically. Congruence of interests between the US and countries of the Persian Gulf and West Asia has never been more pronounced, thanks to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Mutuality of interests, however, is only one political aspect of an alliance. Mutual affinity is the heart of long-standing alliances and this may only be nurtured by dismantling uninformed, uneducated, and contemptuous political/cultural stereotypes, an dby striving to replace cultural condescension by cultural understanding.

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