Why do they hate us?


By Sandy Shanks

Wednesday 01 June 2005, 10:34 Makka Time, 7:34 GMT  

Why do they hate us so? That question was asked by many Americans after 11 September 2001. The query is based entirely on ignorance, which, by itself, is a result of a chronic American fault - a near total apathy towards history.  

The vast majority of Americans are clueless regarding the past of faraway lands as well as their own. That is highly dangerous in so much as we share this planet with other ethnicities, and historical illiteracy breeds misunderstanding.


George Santayana wrote: "Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it," or words to that effect, and many believe him, allowing the caveat that the principle also applies to those who never learned history in the first place.


Subsequently, during the agony known as the Iraq war, it becomes easy to be fixed totally on the present - the present being defined as that era beginning 19 March 2003, to now - and that is folly.


Noting that awareness of the past is a two-edged sword, meaning it is incumbent upon Arabs to learn as much as they can about the West, the fact remains that since the fall of the Arab empire in the 11th century, Arabs have not been in control of their own destiny, and, to a large extent, that condition exists today, Bush's attack on Iraq being a case in point.




After the Seljuk Turks took control of the eastern Mediterranean lands (now known as Palestine) and Mesopotamia (Iraq), Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade to gain control of the Holy Land in 1096.


The Western army created four colonies, including one in Jerusalem. Using the euphemism, crusaders, European armies continued their pious invasions of the Middle East (applying the modern term), the last major incursion, the Fourth Crusade, taking place in 1204, at which time the "crusaders" plundered Constantinople (Istanbul).


The vast majority of Americans are clueless regarding the past of faraway lands, as well
as their own.

The Seljuk Turks were followed by the Mongol empire (1219 to 1500), and the Mongols were replaced by the Ottoman Turks during the 1500s.


At the height of the Ottoman empire, 1566, their control over Arab lands stretched from Mesopotamia through the Holy Land into North Africa from Egypt to Tunisia.


The Ottoman empire maintained its grip on modern-day Iraq and Palestine until the end of the first world war, at which time those lands fell under British rule. Iraq achieved its "independence" in 1932. 


Egypt and Suez


Meanwhile, the largest Arab nation in the world, Egypt, did not fare much better. As stated, she was conquered by the Turks as well. In 1798, Napoleonic France gained control of it, and the emperor's troops were tossed out by British and Turkish forces in 1801.

This was followed by a brief period of autonomy under Muhamad Ali, an Albanian. However, the fate of Egypt was sealed in 1869.


Built by the French, the Suez Canal was opened. In 1875, Great Britain took control of the canal, and, in a manner of speaking, control of that vital waterway remains in the hands of the West to this day.


In 1882, Britain occupied EgyptGamal Abd al-Nassir nationalised the canal in 1956, but a war that year involving France and Britain clearly illustrated that Egypt really does not control the Suez.


Today, for example, the canal and access to the Red Sea and Arabian Sea is largely in the hands of the American Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Fleets, as is the Persian Gulf. There could well be some Arab resentment about that.


The fact remains that since the fall of the Arab empire in the 11 century, Arabs have not been in control of their own destiny.

Arabs living in Arabia, changed to Saudi Arabia in 1932 in honour of the ruling family in the kingdom, have been largely independent, using the generic meaning of the term, since the days of the Muslim empire.


Now that last statement assumes that Arabs in the kingdom (Saudi Arabia) can experience independence while the United States has bases in Dhahran, Jedda, Riyadh and four other locations, with still other locations that are "classified". There could well be some Arab resentment about that.

Recalling that Egypt's fate was sealed in 1869, the fate of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations was sealed in the 1930s. Oil was discovered.


The Middle East possesses the world's largest easily accessible reserves of black gold, Saudi Arabia ranking first, Iraq second. Western oil companies moved in.


Arab lands were now doomed to dominance by the industrial West, which needed that oil for its cars, planes, ships, and factories. There could well be some Arab resentment about that.


Mother of all insults


The greatest ignominy, by far, perpetrated by the West upon the Arab people is the formation of the state of Israel.


Indeed, the creation of the Jewish state fomented Islamic "terrorism", as we know it today. Arab nationalists, frustrated by defeat in wars against Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, turned to "terrorism" and every target in the West was open game, Munich Olympics in 1972, Achille Lauro in 1985, World Trade Centre in 1993 and, of course, 2001.


Actually, over the years, the target list has become a very long one. Many in the West respect the state of Israel, but that is not the point.


For Americans to fully appreciate the scope of this mother of all insults, please allow a ridiculous scenario.


Let us assume that the Arab League had the power to carve a nation out of the United States, say in Montana, meaning no disrespect to the inhabitants of that great state, and populate it with our deadliest enemy - members of al-Qaida. Would that not create a bit of a stir on the part of Americans? There could well be some American resentment about that.


How did this happen? That story is equally sordid. In 1917, the British treasury was depleted by the war, and Britain was facing defeat.


Balfour Declaration


Chaim Weizmann, an activist within the World Zionist Organisation and the first Israeli president, offered both financial hope and improved weaponry to Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour.


Arabs in the kingdom (Saudi Arabia) can experience independence while the United States has bases in Dhahran, Jedda, Riyadh and four other locations, with still other locations that are "classified".

The result is the infamous Balfour Declaration that stated equivocally that His Majesty's government favoured, "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done, which may prejudice the religious and civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".


Balfour was equivocal, because he later added in a private memorandum in 1919: "For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.


"The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs, who now inhabit that ancient land."


Birth of Israel


This uniquely bad form by Britain was followed by the UN adoption of the Balfour Declaration after the second world war.


On 14 May 1948, Israel came into existence under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion. There could well be some Arab resentment about that. After the second world war, the British and French empires collapsed.


The vacuum was filled by the United States. Currently, American CBG's (Carrier Battle Groups) roam the high seas, totally dominant and unrivalled.


That made the US a target. Knowing this and aware that vibrant Arab nationalism has been around for more than 200 years, I nearly cried when Bush invaded Iraq.


That made our young, our future, enmeshed in a fiery cauldron so far from home and targets for Arab revenge. There are some who feel that the US goal in Iraq is the creation of a democracy.


Bush's goals or justification for war has changed over the years, and this new one was adopted after his February 2005 State of the Union address.


Role of religion 


Once again, history becomes a casualty. Never in the history of mankind has democracy flourished at the point of a gun. Also, an absolute requirement for a democracy is education, a secular education, not a Bible-waving, Quran-waving education. Education slanted by religion breeds prejudice.


Religion belongs in the home, church or mosque, and the innermost thoughts of the individual.


Let's just say that both Christianity and Islam are two of the great religions of the world and get on with it - meaning governance.


Does more than 900 years of foreign domination, the lion's share of it by Western powers, justify atrocities? Emphatically no. There is no purpose served by killing 25 people and wounding 50 others at a funeral.


However, the Iraqi resistance fighter is a soldier, and soldiers are strong adherents to reality. One reality is that continued attacks on Iraqi policemen and national guard units only prolong the stay of the American occupation forces.


At some point, the soldier will come to the bargaining table, and I am clueless at to what will happen there.


However, centuries of Western domination are kind of hard to forget and that will remove any holier-than-thou attitude American negotiators may have.


Once a man's grievance is recognised, that can go a long way towards understanding.


Sandy Shanks is an author and columnist. He lives in Southern California.