Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests

Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

The Arab World does not hate America because of their materialistic culture, their television programs, or their freedoms.  It’s not about that.  The real reasons behind the anti-American protests come down to an imbalance of power between the United States and the Arab World.

This week, one of my students commented on the recent violence occurring in reaction to the anti-Islamic video and the French caricatures.  She expressed a viewpoint which has merit, but which I have not seen reported elsewhere.  Quoting my student:

“The Muslims feel in competition with the West.  They feel that they have to be better, on top, the winners.  Every time the West does something, even on television, Arabs feel they have to compete.  For example, when America created the show America’s Got Talent, the Arab World created Arabs Who Have Talent.  When the West created The Voice (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) the Arab World created The Voice in the Arab World.  To copy American Idol, they created Arab Idol.  They copy every single thing!  They always feel in competition with America, because they feel America hates them, and does not like Arabs.  They always feel they have to be the best, but particularly better than America, most of all.”

Egyptian Winner of Arab Idol

My student also explained that the reason Muslim populations always take the side against the United States in international disputes is that they feel the REASON America doesn’t help Palestine is because they are Muslim, and that they help Israel because they are Jewish.  (Of course, not every person believes this, but generally speaking, it is quite commonly believed, even among the well-educated.)   “Here,” my student said, “they always take the side against America because they believe America doesn’t help Palestine because they are Muslim; they help Israel because they are Jewish.”

Today I watched to see what the reaction in third-world countries would be to the second print-run of the French caricatures.  Surprisingly, I found only very minor protests against France, and continued protests against the U.S., such as mobs burning the U.S. flag and pictures of President Obama in Pakistan.

Why were the protests against France so feeble, while weeks after the YouTube video, the protests against America continue so strongly?

A BBC interview with Pakistanis, on the streets of Lahore following the protest, also supports this same point-of-view my student had.  The BBC asked, “Where is all the anger coming from?  Is it all over a low-budget movie, or is it something else?”  Half of the respondents said it was because of hurt feelings over religious insults, while the other half said something different:

“They’re not just angry because of the movie.  They have their personal political issues, their personal problems.  They are angry about the wars (U.S. power in the region).”

“Whenever the powerful countries try to take over the resources of the weaker countries (how America is perceived in the entire Middle East), obviously the people living in those countries will try to protect their rights, and try to protect their resources.  Every country should have equal rights with every other country (angry about lack of power).”

“They are angry over poverty and unemployment.  There are many rich people and very poor people, and the difference is very great.  They are angry because they don’t have enough food, and mostly because they don’t have enough power.  So they are not just angry because of a simple movie.

Basically it comes down to a question of power.  Those who are choosing to protest actually have underlying anger issues at the United States that go far beyond the YouTube film.  What they are angry about is the imbalance of power–that the United States seems so overwhelmingly more powerful than the Muslim countries, and the Arab World.  There were comparatively few protests against France  because France does not have the same overwhelming power and influence when compared to Muslim countries.

At the end of my discussion with my student, I asked, “So, what you are saying is that the only way to get the Arab World to stop protesting against America  is to stop helping Israel, and to become weak (at least weak enough to be no threat to the Arab World)?”

“Exactly!” my student replied.

–Lynne Diligent

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11 Responses to “Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests”

  1. Mockingbird Says:

    Great article, Lynne. Congratulations.
    I liked this article because I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue, lately.
    Here are some of my thoughts:

    I think your student’s opinion is valid to some extent. However, I think these are not the real reasons behind the protests. I believe that your student, with all due respect, doesn’t understand the situation 100%. (That I understand the situation 100% isn’t my claim, but I can think of other reasons which I think are more reasonable.(

    First, I totally agree with your student that there is a huge imbalance in power between the US and the Arab world. On the other hand, this imbalance isn’t why people are enraged. I know Arabs copy every popular American program but this doesn’t show that Arabs want to be better than America, it’s the opposite, it shows the extent to which Arabs are ready to receive anything that comes fron the US. In fact this is how I imagine Arab TV producers think: “The US is the greatest country in the world and their programs are the best, let’s copy them!” To me, this doesn’t show defiance, it shows lack of creativity and extreme dependence and reliance on the US. Furthermore, these very same programs have Australian, German, Polish and even Chinese and Japanese versions! Do all these countries want to show America that they can be better? I don’t think so. Globalization has made it mandatory for all channels to keep up with American programs.

    Also, some people, like your student, agree that America helps Israel and not Palestine because Israel is a Jewish state whereas Palestine is a Muslim one. Nevertheless, a lot of other people believe that America is FORCED to help Israel because of the very powerful Israeli lobby in the US. People believe that the jews are the owners of the American economy, and he who owns the economy, owns the politics!

    Now, why aren’t Muslims as mad at France as they are at the Us? I think the answer to this question is twofold; first, people believe that America started the whole thing, so France wouldn’t have done the same if it wasn’t for America. Second, the nature of the works ar different (movie vs paper), I think video is much more powerful, especially in the Arab world, jut compare the numbers of TV viewers and book readers in the Arab world and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I believe that Making a movie where a human being is impersonating the Prophet of Islam PBUH and putting it on Youtube is way more powerful and insulting.

    The other point on which I agree with your student is when she says that the movie isn’t all people are angry about, and that they’re angry because of the wars in the region. This is totally true. America has invaded Afghanistan (A Muslim country), Irak (A Muslim country), defended Israel’s war on Libanon (a Muslim country), defended Israel and used Veto unlimited times for Israel’s sake against Palestine (A Muslim country)… And now, allowing the Prophet to be insulted and ridiculed… Those people have something to be mad at!

    Now, getting back to the “imbalance of power” notion, which I think is a smart remark from your student, I think that with all the wars and injustices Muslims suffer from world wide ( Palestine, Irak, Afghanistan, Burma, Eastern Europe…), people have come to a boiling point, the protests are a cry for justice, it’s like a subconscious cry saying: “America, we know you hate us and kill us, we know you’re always looking for lame excuses to attack us, here is another lame excuse, just do it and kill us,already. We have no money or assets to be sorry about, anyway! And we know that if you kill us we’ll go straight to heaven, so it’s a win-win situation”.

    I don’t think stoping to help Israel is what people want, I think they want America to stop its double standards: “When Arabs kill, it’s terrorism, when America kills, it’s self-defence”

    In the end, I want to conclude with a tweet I read somewhere:
    “Muslims vow to make USA pay because of 1 crazy man. Can you imagine us doing that? Oh yeah we did. Bin Laden. We made Afghanistan pay for it”

    Thank you very much, Lynne! :)

  2. paulgarrigan Says:

    I can definitely sympathize with how people in the Arab world must feel. I grew up in Ireland so I’m well acquainted with how a whole nation can develop an inferiority complex. I don’t even pretend to know what the solution to this could be.

  3. cybermd Says:

    Huh??? This makes no sense to me. Power is something that is earned through hard work and building sociopolitical bridges. The Arab world was once very powerful and could be powerful again.
    As far as the video goes, it is almost incomprehensible that anyone could blame the US for this offensive film. No one here ever watched it or even heard of it until it showed up in the Arab world. It was made by an Egyptian Coptic with weak ties to the US and has been universally criticized by all American leaders.
    Killing Americans over a video that has nothing to do with American thought or policy may not be terrorism, but it certainly is naivete.

    I am also deeply offended by the racist, anti-Semitic, and self-loathing comments of “Mockingbird”. The US supports Israel because it is a democracy with similar values and principles. Jews represent 1% of the US population and at most 5% of the US economy, and to say they control American politics is blatantly untrue. The US has never had an American president or Secretary of State, and the Jewish “lobby” spends less than every major corporation in the US.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Cybermd, shockingly, I’ve discovered that many Europeans and British citizens also think that the United States is totally controlled by the Jewish lobby. Conspiracy theories also seem to be popular among French, British, and Arabs. I have pointed out the facts you mention above, to well-educated people, numerous times, only to not really be believed! Just like there are people in America who WANT to believe everything they hear on Fox News, there are a lot of people in Europe, Britain, and the Arab World who WANT to believe these lies and conspiracy theories about the United States. Part of the problem is that they are judging the United States based upon their own cultural behavior.

      Generally speaking, France and the Arab World (and Britain to a much greater extent than America) are “in-group” based societies. Children are actually taught, “You can speak to or help these people, BECAUSE THEY ARE OUR FRIENDS–it doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong–and don’t help THOSE people–even if they are in trouble–just mind your own business, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT IN OUR FAMILY OR ONE OF OUR CLOSE FRIENDS!”

      Therefore, what is happening is that this thinking is being brought up to a national level. The Arabs, and Europeans (especially those from in-group societies) think, “America would not help Israel unless most Americans were Jewish.” Why? Because they would not help another country unless that country was part of their “group.” (Although even Arab countries sent aid to Thailand after the tsunami.) When informed that less than 1% of America is Jewish, the usual Arab/French/British response is, “Well they must have control of all the media and all the money.” (Speaking again from their own viewpoint, coming from class-based societies.) I once asked an educated British friend after comments like this what percentage of Jews she thought there were in America. She guessed 40%. If this sort of perception exists even among educated people in Western Europe, is it any wonder that the Arab World has even more extreme opinions? When I was in Egypt, I had some people tell me they thought I was Jewish “because I was American.” The uneducated man on the street in Egypt seems to think ALL Americans are Jewish (one reason so many anti-American protests are going on there now). When I asked, in Egypt, why would they think I was Jewish just because I was American, I was told, “America is a Jewish country!” When I told them that America is a CHRISTIAN country, they didn’t know it, and didn’t believe it. I presume educated people know it, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference!

      –Lynne Diligent

  4. zar Says:

    While it is true that the video was unheard of until it was aired in Egypt, the US & its policy in the Middle East is generally perceived to be pro Israel.To the average Arab & the Muslim world, educated or otherwise, America is judged as having double standards. Mostly they think “When Arabs kill, it’s terrorism, when America kills, it’s self-defence” or collateral damage.

  5. Joseph Schwartz Says:

    ‘I am also deeply offended by the racist, anti-Semitic, and self-loathing comments of “Mockingbird”.’ I feel the same way, the anit-Israel rhetoric and misinformation is astounding. Has anyone considered that the US supports Israel because the ARAB world as well and most other MUSLIMS have been dedicated to the DESTRUCTION of this TINY country since it was re-established in the area of Palestine? Then to equate the hatred over the act of ONE MAN, not even an American, with the quest to capture or kill Bin Laden is so far off-base. Bin-Laden was sought because he was perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be the creator of the plan to attack Americans on American soil (the first since Pearl Harbor) that resulted in the DEATH of thousands of inocent people. And one equates this with the creation of A MOVIE? Then to state America refuses to help Muslims is a blatant ignoring of the facts, The USA sent more money to victims of the famous Tsunami (many of them Muslims) than any other nation. WHERE WERE THEIR FELLOW MUSLIMS THEN? Don’t give me the poverty excuse…what about all that oil money? Finally, to claim the US is responsible for the rich-poor disparity in Muslim countries is also ludicrus. Are muslims that ignorant? It is their OWN LEADERS how horde the wealth from oil sales and KEEP THEIR OWN PEOPLE IN POVERTY. Yet there is NO attack against THEM! So that student MAY believe what she says, but it has NO merit concerning reality and instead of being given publicity she aught to be set right in her understanding. I believe the Koran and Muslim teachers of it are responsible for these riots and the hatred of Americans. They constantly preach this hatred, even in Mosques on AMERICAN SOIL! We constantly give these people the benefit of the doubt and give them oportunities to behave in a civilized fashion and without exception they fail to do so. I would love to see the US stop supporting Israel and save all the money spent in that support, so, Islamic world, leave Israel ALONE and so will we! I don’t think our country is perfect, or never made a mistake, but to portray us as forcing our power over the entire world is wrong. We are the country that comes to help in the time of need. Who else is there when tragety happens? Huricanes, floods, earthquakes…we are there, and most of the time IT IS WITHOUT any thanks in return. Instead, it is “why don’t we do more? Don’t believe me? Look at the debris strewn beaches of countries truck by that tsunami…they are still waiting for Americans to come and clean it up! Don’t even get me started on the inference that Fox News is fables while CNN, ABC, NBC, etc, are fact based…thier news is the real fairy tale.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Joseph, I think the position the United States finds itself in today is the same position Ancient Rome found itself–as the sole superpower, one becomes universally hated, whether the reasons are valid, or not. Thank you for your excellent comments, and for taking the time to leave them.

  6. Don L Says:

    I find it amusing that both Europe and Arabs feel that America is controlled politically by the Jews. We currently have one of the most anti Israel Presidents in office. Jews in America vote in large majorities for Democrats which have tended to be more hostile to Israel than the Republicans.
    I agree the USA historically has tilted heavily to the side of the Israelies but they have been the only reliable democratic state in the middle east for decades. Since becoming President, Obama has retreated from this unwavering support for Israel in his 3.5 years with ongoing rebukes of this traditionally strong relationship.

    Your believe your students comments why they hate America. I know they believe they are feeling and living the unvarnished truth?

    America has to much power.
    America takes over the resources of weaker counties.
    Arab countries have a lack of power.
    Arab countries want to have equal power.

    What is the “ROOT” cause of Arab hatred for America? In my opioion for generation Arab goverments have fed to their people that their people’s ill fate rests at the hands of America and its power.
    Why should America have expected anything different.

    This is an intersting point in history with the pending Arab Winter approaching with those countries that broke with there dictators in the last year. The Arab world has developed a mob mentality with institutional victimization at the hands of America and Israel.
    From the comments of your students it is clear the source of there collective misery is on the hands of America.

    In the last 15 years America has come to the aid of Muslims around the world which include Kosavo, Somali, Libya, Iraq to mention a few.
    What I find interesting is America has been placed in the same catigory as the Colonial powers like UK, France and Spain who did rape and pilage forgien lands for centuries.
    Whether you agree or not for the invasion of Iraq or not? Iraq is the only functioning Arab democracy in the middle east at this point time.
    In hind sight when the war in Iraq was at its height in 2006/2007, there were protest signs all over America that said “NO BLOOD for OIL” .

    An inconvenuent truth was that American oil companies were cut out of most of the oil contracts that were offered by Iraq. So the Arab perception that the America is stealing their resources does not hold water.

    Interesting factoid is that 27% or 1,636,600 people of Israel’s population is Arab decent with many religions and they are full voting citizens in a representive Republic where these Arabs have some of the highest percapita incomes in the middle east.

    Victimhood is a cancer that is spread and grows where blamming others for your lot in life is a staple of consumption in the Arab world.
    It is a sad day when whole generations are being lost to the victimization message coming out of the Arab world.

    The ONLY people that can gain respect and power they desire is to take charge of your own lot in life and do something with it.

    Lastly as an American when I watch to two towers fall with 2900 lives and listened to the heroic stories of Americans taking on Arab TERRORIST on Flight 93, I will never aplogize for the invasion if Afghanistan.
    Afghanistan was at the heart of terrible acts on the USA and needed to be dealt with.

  7. interested bystander Says:

    I have just checked out your post and I see it has generated quite a lot of comments. Some of them seem to be the typical hysterical response to even mild questioning of US values – why insult the ‘mockingbird’ commentator, for example ? Interesting to see that a couple of people say the US supports Israel ‘because it is a democracy’. That doesn’t seem to get to the bottom of the questions. Why support a democracy in one country and dictators in others, Egypt previously and Georgia for example ? Why support any country just because it is a democracy ? Does the US support Hugo Chavez right ot wrong, just because he was democratically elected (the first time at least) ? What if the country seems to have lost its way and appears to be beholden to a small minority of zealots who hold the balance of power after democratic elections, is it still a democracy ? What if a democracy elects a leader who threatens to wage war on his neighbours, does it still have to be supported ? What is unconditional support, no matter how well-intentioned, is propping up a system that is incapable of resolving or even confronting serious issues ?
    What I like about Lynne Diligent’s blog is that she posts about a really wide range of subjects and attracts a truly diverse group of readers, as can be seen by the variety of comments posted. Each comment is a fascinating insight into another point of view.

  8. Sally-Ann Says:

    Very good article, but it does not factor in the contrast between the have and have not’s in their own country, there are many rich people in their own countries that do not help the poor, infact it is in their interest to keep them there. We all need to ensure that the aid we send to all these countries reach the people most in need and do not line the pockets of the “officials” who have to clear the passage. I do not think it has anything to do with any films or drawings, until the fuss I had not even heard or seen either, you choose what you watch or read, if you do not like something just ignore it.

  9. Anna Says:

    I have been wondering lately… What do US have against Arabs and what do Arabs have against US..

    Firstly, I am an Arab. I read so many articles on this subject, and most of them shared one or two main points:
    They (Arabs) think that they need to be better and in charge… Some Arabs do think that way but you can’t always judge ALL Arabs.. You have only seen the angry ones on the tv, the ones that media show.. The truth is you haven’t seen the rest of us.. I don’t think that I need to be in charge or in power or that my country should be (although I’m an Arab and a Muslim) simply there are some of us who just want world peace… Who don’t want to be hated… And to assure you I have no hate or grudge to Americans…

    Considering the programs (arab idol, arabs got talent, the voice) your student forgot to mention that not only the Arab world copied America, but also many other countries… So it’s not right to only mention us..

    My point is not all Arabs hate Americans and I don’t believe that all Americans hate Arabs…. There are some true people out there who present and symbolize what are religion REALLY is and who Arabs TRULY are..
    To sum up things, you haven’t met all of us, you’ve only seen the evil angry side.

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