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.”
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.