The Rising East


Muslim hatred
of America gives rise
to a clash of civilizations

In his wonderfully provocative essay on the "Clash of Civilizations," Samuel Huntington asserted that conflicts between cultures rooted in religion and ethnic bonds rather than between nation-states "will be the battle lines of the future."

The Harvard don pointed particularly to the strife between the Judeo-Christian West and Muslims of Islam going back 1,300 years to the Moorish invasion of Spain and said in 1993 that the Muslim clash with the West "could become more virulent." He quoted a Muslim writer, M.J. Akbar, as saying that the West's "next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world."

Pro-Taliban supporters held a sign proclaiming the world's hatred of the United States during a rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, seven days after the September terrorist attack.

Two recent Gallup polls, one in the Islamic world, the other in the United States, lend credence to Huntington's argument. The first shows that Muslims from Indonesia to Morocco detest Americans as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased," said Gallup Poll editor Frank Newport.

Astonishingly, despite evidence piled up in the last five months, the poll reported that an overwhelming majority of Muslims do not believe Arabs mounted the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11. They contend that Israelis or even the Americans themselves launched the suicidal attacks that took 3,000 lives.

This poll appears to undermine the contention of moderate Muslims and their American sympathizers that only Islamic extremists are the enemies of America. Even so, two-thirds of the Muslims said the attacks were not justified -- but a third of the Kuwaitis, from whose nation the United States drove the invading Iraqis in 1991, applauded the attacks.

The second poll focused American attention on Iraq and Iran after President Bush lumped them with North Korea in an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union Address. In early February, the pollsters found that more than 85 percent of Americans had unfavorable views of Iran and Iraq, that the United States should prevent them from developing weapons of mass destruction, and that Saddam Hussein should be removed as ruler of Iraq.

"Americans are firmly behind the general concept of attacking the 'axis-of-evil countries,'" Gallup concluded in a report.

The reasons for Muslim loathing of America seem to be several, the first being frustration and self-denial with their own failures. Many Muslim nations are ruled by corrupt tyrants who have either done little to produce economic progress or squandered the riches that exported oil brought them.

A Muslim writer, Fareed Zakaria, wrote an incisive article in Newsweek shortly after Sept. 11 seeking to explain Muslim anger at America. He asserted that many Muslims "feel that they are under siege from the modern world and that the United States symbolizes this world."

A second element is the Muslim irrational hatred for Israel and Jews, a mindless craze they transfer to America as Israel's ally. Another Muslim writer, Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar, an activist with the controversial Council on American-Islamic Relations, writes: "The United States' blind complicity in the Palestine-Israeli dispute probably serves as the biggest slap in the face to the Muslim world."

A third cause should be laid at the feet of the U.S. government for failing over many years to explain to Muslims who Americans are and what we stand for. Disbanding the U.S. Information Agency and closing American culture centers in the Muslim world is but one example of this failure.

Even so, trying to accomplish that may have been a lost cause because many Muslims have been led by their manipulative leaders and equally dishonest press and TV commentators to believe the worst about America. Witness their absurd notions about who was responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11.

Should Americans care what Muslims think? It would be tempting to write the animosity off as the product of warped minds that are beyond persuasion. Muslims can threaten Americans with terror but not much more and, as Afghanistan has shown, America's enemies will pay a price for it.

A longer and cooler view, however, says that Americans should be faithful to their own principles, among them a belief that human rights, benevolent government and a decent standard of living are universal birthrights. Moreover, practical politics and security posture argue that Americans need to excise the source of the anger.

As Zakaria wrote in News-week: "If the West can help Islam enter modernity in dignity and peace, it will have done more than achieve security. It will have changed the world."

Richard Halloran is editorial director of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin