The Current | February 26, 2001

Arab nations pose tough challenge for America

by Josh Renaud

Recently, Arab leaders from many different nations condemned the joint U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq. The growing anti-America sentiment in these Arab nations has been covered by the media a lot lately.

When I was in Israel just a few months ago, I was exposed to things that made me believe America and the Arab world may soon be at odds.

My group had the great fortune of meeting and talking with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Because of the continuing violence, the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks dominated many of these discussions.

For lunch one day, we met a Palestinian professor at a restaurant in Jerusalem. Nafez Nazzal, who is closely connected to the Palestinian Authority, was an eloquent speaker, clearly passionate about his people and their plight. He launched into a look at the recent history of the region from the Palestinian perspective—one which differs greatly from the Jewish perspective.

As Nazzal continued speaking and began fielding questions, there was definitely tension in the room. I got the impression that he didn't hold our group of aspiring American journalists in high regard. Maybe it was because we were Americans. Maybe it was because we were journalists. Perhaps it was because we were detached from the conflict going on in Israel, and he felt we didn't know much about it. Maybe he was just having a tough day.

At one point, Nazzal rose from his chair and exclaimed, "The Jews get compensation from the whole world! Why not my people? They uprooted us, we will not forget. We are human beings and by hook or crook, we will live in our land." A momentary hush fell across the room. The conversation quickly picked up again. I marveled at Nazzal's intensity. On the one hand he was polite, but at times he seemed to hold us in disdain. I wondered what he really thought about us and the things we represented.

Later in the trip we met an Israeli journalist who described his belief that America's enemies in the future might not be Russia and China, but the Arab countries, allied together.

To some people, this might seem unlikely. Wasn't it just 10 years ago that America gathered a coalition of Arab countries and invaded Iraq? Don't we have allies in the relatively moderate Arab nations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

Perhaps so.

But consider the differences between the "new" values of our post-modern, cultural-relativistic America and hardline Islam. Not all Arabs are hardline Muslims, that's true, just as not all Americans are secular humanists. But I believe it's clear that the chasm between America and the Islamic Arab nations is widening.

And then look again at the headlines. Egypt chastises President Bush. Arab leaders critical of American foreign policy. OPEC decreases production, despite American demand. Mobs burn American and Israeli flags.

After eight years of Clinton's approach to foreign policy, which many Arab leader believe was one-sided, it will be interesting to see how the Bush administration deals with this volatile region.