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No Hurras For Al-Hurra by Amir Butler

No Hurras For Al-Hurra

By Amir Butler

Al-Jazeerah, March 11, 2004

Of all the lessons that could be drawn from the horrific events of September 11, the one that the Bush Administration has most readily digested is that America has a serious image problem in the Muslim world.

Just as there is a simplistic reasoning that says September 11 was caused by a hatred of American values and democracy, there is a simplistic belief that Muslim attitudes towards America can be changed with a healthy dose of what is euphemistically called "public diplomacy".

In the last two years, the United States has launched several 'public diplomacy' initiatives: Hi, a glossy magazine that features little news but plenty of glowing reviews of American culture, and Radio Sawa, a 24-hour Arabic language station that hopes to salve angry Arab hearts with Eminem and Britney Spears.

The launch this month of al-Hurra (meaning "the free one") completes America's multimedia assault on the citadel of anti-American hate. Costing $62 million dollars in the first year the station hopes in the words of President Bush, to "cut through the hateful propaganda that fills the airwaves in the Muslim world".

In the first interview to be broadcast on al-Hurra, George W. Bush promised Muslim and Arab viewers that America is committed to "spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East". Whilst the President was waxing lyrical about bringing democracy to the Muslim world, his vicegerent in Iraq Paul Bremer was threatening to veto any Iraqi move to adopt Islamic law as the basis of its government. Clearly, America's export-grade freedom isn't what Muslims want; it's what they fear.

Blinded by a messianic zeal to spread democracy in the Middle East, the Bush Administration cannot see that Arab anger and the "bad press" it regularly receives in the Middle East owes itself to one simple truism: America is judged not on what she says but what she does.

The idea that anti-Americanism lies at the heart of America's problems in the Middle East is as naïve and as twisted with hubris as to suggest that September 11 was merely a reaction of "bad people" to a "good country". Anti-Americanism isn't the source of Muslim hostility to America, it's a reaction to American interference in the Muslim world. As one Saudi scholar asked rhetorically after September 11: why does the average Saudi have hostility towards America but views Japan and China favorably when, culturally and religiously, the Saudi Muslim is closer to the Christian American?

The answer is self-evident: humans - regardless of their race or religion - resent foreign interference in their affairs. It doesn't matter if the interference is couched in the language of human rights, democracy and liberalism - the more that America involves itself in the Middle East, the more that anti-Americanism increases.

For this reason, Al-Hurrah is not being met with any hurrahs in the Muslim world; it is merely adding fuel to the already raging fire of anti-American sentiment. It is seen as the latest attempt by the United States to impose its ideology and values on a people who just want to forge their own future based on their own values and systems. A few days ago, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman as-Sudais, the influential Imam of the Makkah, voiced what most Muslims believe when he launched a stinging attacking on the channel accusing it being setup only to spread "intellectual chaos and confusion" in the Muslim world.

Past experience shows that "public diplomacy" efforts in the Muslim world have the opposite effect to what is intended. The more America asserts its culture and values, the more that the Islamic culture is seen as being under attack. The more than the Islamic culture is perceived as being assailed, the more that Muslims will both assert their values and reject the other.

Al-Hurrah, Radio Sawa and Hi are all driven by the same messianic vision to "free" and "democratize" the Middle East that drives the rest of America's foreign policy arsenal. However, as America tries to force the square political pegs of secularism and liberalism into the round holes of Muslim society, it increases the likelihood of terrorism rather than reduces it.

As a 1997 report from the Defense Science Board on DOD Responses to Transnational Threats observed:

"As part of its global power position, the United States is called upon frequently to respond to international causes and deploy forces around the world. America's position in the world invites attack simply because of its presence. Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States."

America, like all societies, deserves to be safe from terrorism and fear. The solution isn't more taxpayer-funded adventures in 'public diplomacy' which, with their naïve assumptions about the nature of anti-American sentiment, are condemned to failure from the outset. Nor is the solution fighting more wars to impose the Gods of secular democracy on people who see acceptance of secularism as apostasy and a rejection of their faith. It's a self-destructive formula that brought about September 11 and will almost certainly bring about further terrorist attacks.

The solution lies in an honest reassessment of America's foreign policy and the realization that America's fundamental problem isn't anti-Americanism or a hatred of America in the Arab media. The problem is a foreign policy that seems to serve increasingly foreign interests at the expense of America's own national interest.

Foreign policy has only one purpose: as the legendary conservative Senator Robert Taft, said "to protect the liberty of the people of the United States". "No foreign policy", he wrote, "can be justified except a policy devoted without reservation or diversion to the protection of the American people, with war only as a last resort and only to preserve that liberty."

If America wants the rest of the world to like her then she should stop trying to force them to be like her; and if America doesn't want terrorism to return from abroad, then America's troops abroad should return to America. It's time to stop defining national interests based on foreign policy, but to make the foreign policy the slave of the national interests. It's time for a foreign policy called realism.

Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC). He can be contacted at

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