Exploring the roots and reason of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, two television specials, "Searching for the Roots of 9/11," hosted by The New York Times' Tom Friedman on the Discovery Channel, and "Why U.S.?" on the Discovery Times Channel, aired on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, respectively.
The specials explored the thoughts, sentiments, hopes, aspirations and anger of students, writers and others in several Arabic countries. One young Arab, while bemoaning the loss of "innocent lives," said that he and most Arab Muslims relished America's Sept. 11 "punch in the nose." One young female Arab student spoke of her resentment of how "American schools look down on us." One theme -- repeated again and again -- suggested that the resentment of America's dominance, power and exportation of its dominant culture converged to create the atmosphere that provoked 19 young Muslim men to hijack planes and crash them.
One Arab bitterly complained about America's "support" for Arabic dictators who deprive them of basic human rights. Several spoke of their yearning for democracy and accused America of hypocrisy for enjoying domestic democracy while propping up totalitarian governments that deprive their citizens of the basic rights enjoyed by Americans.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute, of course, came up repeatedly, with one Muslim suggesting that a small "Jewish lobby" dictated American foreign policy, resulting in her "one-sided" support for Israel.
The New York Times' Tom Friedman, host of "Searching for the Roots of 9/11," asked: To what extent do you Arab Muslims hold yourselves responsible for your poverty and your lack of civil rights? One student agreed that, yes, he held Arabs, in part, culpable for living under corrupt regimes that maintain power through force and intimidation. Put another way, Friedman asked, why do you hold Americans responsible for the inequality, poverty and lack of rights in your own country? On the one hand, you complain about American interference, and on the other, you imply that you expect America to secure -- for you -- these rights and a better life. Which way is it?
In Iraq, for example, the United States military suffers almost daily casualties as the coalition partners struggle to put together a representational government in Iraq -- presumably the type many Arabs claimed they desire. Doesn't this demonstrate America's wish for the very type of government many young Arabs claimed they want? What of America's willingness to sacrifice lives on behalf of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia?
The specials showed scenes of American cola-vending machines and American fast-food signage, such as an apparently vandalized Kentucky Fried Chicken sign. Would the lot of the Arab world improve if U.S. business interests simply pulled out?
America helped to save the world from fascism and communism without becoming an imperial power. Yet, in the Arab world with its lack of free press, people -- from schoolchildren to adults -- receive a steady diet of America bashing and American hatred, as well as the "indictment" of American support for the "racist, Zionist" state of Israel.
Arabs complaining about evil America fail to confront this conundrum. With "the great Satan" so thoroughly infused with evil and ill will, why doesn't she use her unparalleled power to simply destroy her enemies? America could, if she wished, simply nuke its enemies, and since America presumably seems indifferent to international public opinion, what would hold her back? None of the Muslims interviewed showed the least concern about the loss of innocent Israeli lives by homicide bombers. If homicide bombing reflects acts of desperation by impoverished, disenfranchised people, why not use the same method to dislodge your own rulers, whom you claim to despise? No one posed that question.
One Arab, for example, complained bitterly of the decades-long rule of the Saudi royal family, and another of Hosni Mubarak's Egyptian government. Yet "punching America in the nose" made more sense to them than punching their own, presumably despised, governments in the nose.
Watching the specials, while attempting to keep an open mind about the plight, yearnings and hopes of the Muslims interviewed, one still reduced their anger to a single word -- irrational. One Muslim, for example, said he yearned for the day when the flag of Islam "flew over the White House"!
If American "interference" in the Muslim world created this hostility, how would a "Muslim flag" over the White House solve the problem? Do the Muslim critics of American policy truly care more about the plight of the Palestinians outside of their own country? Did Egypt or Jordan create a Palestinian state when, pre-1967, they held the Gaza strip and the West Bank, respectively?
A suggestion. On the third anniversary of Sept. 11, Al-Jazeera should run specials with Arabic hosts traveling throughout America. Suggested title: "Why Americans See Our Hatred Toward Them as Irrational."