Ever since America declared a war on terrorism, it has found itself face-to-face with an Arab world containing a rapidly rising level of anti-American sentiment. America is looked upon as an aggressor with imperialistic goals for the region. On November 11, the Iraqi foreign affairs minister Naji Sabri sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in response to the newly drafted U.N. Resolution 1441, which demands that weapons inspectors be re-admitted to Iraq. The letter read that Iraq objects to “The aggression of the United States of America and its single-handed infliction of injustice and destruction.” Although Iraq is an extreme case, it seems plausible that any other Arab regime would have as much to say if the U.S. was pressuring them as much as it is currently pressuring Iraq.
Other than the broad concepts of “aggression” and “single-handed infliction of injustice and destruction,” I would be curious to know what exactly the Arab world believes the U.S. wants within the region. Does it have colonial desires? Absolutely not. Just look at Afghanistan; we diminished our involvement as quickly as we could. Is it oil? I would say (unfortunately) yes, but if you really don’t want us to have it, don’t sell it to us.
These have all been voiced as “concerns” of the Arab world, but the largest one, not yet mentioned, is that of a desire to impose “Western culture” on Arabs. This is where the problem arises. America does not want to impose Western culture on the Arab world. We have no burning desire to a see an industrial or technological revolution. What America wants to impose on the Arab world as well as the rest of the world is “moral culture.” This is what the Arab world has defined as “Western culture.” So, to the question of whether America is trying to change the Arab world’s lack of moral culture, then the answer is a resounding yes.
In certain places in the Arab world, scholars are sentenced to death for speaking ill of Islam. Some Islamic extremists want to tell women how to dress, ban them from schools, jobs, public office, force them to remain in abusive marriages, and advocate stoning as a punishment for adultery. In most of the nations in the Arab world, freedom of the press is a fantasy and most if not all of the newspapers are state-controlled. The practice of religions other than Islam is illegal and political opponents are regularly assassinated. Does America want to change this? Absolutely. This is not about Western culture; it is about universal human rights that should exist in every culture regardless of religion, region, economic ideology, or government structure. Large segments of the Arab world have rejected the idea of this free and tolerant culture.
It seems so difficult to imagine why the Arab world so vehemently rejects these ideas, when the Islamic world reached its golden age during a time when it was open to the ideas of the Jewish, Christian, and Greek cultures living in its midst. It made incredible contributions to the fields of mathematics, science, and medicine. This is not to say that great minds are not being born in the Arab world, they definitely are. They just decide it usually better to leave the home countries and pursue their studies at European and American universities.
This is a phenomenon that is just in its infancy. If America intends to fully follow through with its war against terror, eventually it will face more Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Syria. The fact that the Arab world is presently such a hotbed for terrorism and extremism is a direct result of these problems. Just as the Cold War, the battle between capitalism and communism, defined the second-half of the twentieth century; so will the War on Terrorism, the battle between our openness and the intolerance favored by many in the Arab world, define the beginning of the twenty-first century. As The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman flawlessly stated it when addressing the leaders of the Muslim world, “unless you have a war within your civilization, there is going to be a war between our civilizations.”