Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More than an Image Problem in the Islamic World

Yesterday's discussion with Andrew Kohut and Richard Wike raised an interesting point: the United States is not viewed in many parts of the Islamic world (or for that matter in other regions as well) as being interested in the promotion of democracy or human rights but instead using this rhetoric to advance their own interests. As a result, things many Americans think we should get "credit" for in the Islamic world--Bosnia, Kosovo, etc.-are discounted--in other words, the U.S. didn't do these things to help Muslims but to advance U.S. interests.

I'm also trying to get my thoughts around a remarkable passage I came across in Steve LeVine's recent book The Oil and The Glory. Based on his interviews, he says that in the 1990s, U.S. diplomats in Pakistan were portraying the Taliban and its takeover of power in Afghanistan as "the will of the people." If that's the case, it would therefore not be surprising to me why Pakistanis might see our later opposition to the Taliban as not being based on concerns for democracy, but pure power politics--and why this might contribute to the trends Kohut and Wike have tracked. But this is just a thought.

A certain Friday Prayer leader at Tehran University in Iran observed as much: "Taliban was your own creature...". And "Your" here refers to US.

I do not think there is any one among Muslim people that takes US claims of support for Democracy at face value:

- not the Iranians with the historical memory of US-UK Coup in 1953,

-not the Turks with Casper Weinberger congradulating the Turkish Generals of the fine job that they were doing overthrowing a freely elected government and yet, at the same time, condemning the coup in Poland;

-not the Egyptians with us supporting the "Laughing Cow" at the tune of 7 billion a year

- not the Algerians when US-EU endorsed the abrogation of the electoral victory of ISF

- not the Palestinians when US-EU tried to destroy the freely elected Hamas Government

- not Azeris when US supports a dynastic change in governmen

This Democracy bit is for the domestic consumption in US - it is like a Muslim state saying they fight for Islam. To each side his own kitsch.

More than this is waste of time - Power is subject matter; that's all.
I would say that the Muslim probably have their own priorities. Even if they really admitted that the American support of Kosovo and Bosnia had had purely idealistic motives, their attidudes wouldn't change much. I doubt if they care more about Kosovo than they do about the Middle East.
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