"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cultural Contrasts: Here and The Arab World

Recently a Kennedy Center spokesman said that the organization will stage a festival of Arab culture in 2009 to bring little-known artists onto the world stage and provide a counterpoint to the violence many Americans associate with the Middle East region.

Michael Kaiser, the center’s president, said: “We don’t know enough about what other people are about. We read government and politics. That doesn’t say anything about what they like, what they find beautiful. Also, the idea starts from my rather naïve belief that arts create peace.”

Ambassador Hussein Hassouna, the Arab League’s representative in Washington said, the festival “is very much needed at this time.”

Rochelle Davis, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, contends, “We have so many stereotypes – seeing people performing dances and songs breaks down our ideas about how they are all evil.”

This report from the Kennedy Center was printed at about the same time an Egyptian television series promoting anti-American hate propaganda aired in the Palestinian Authority and much of the Arab world. The popular series presents the U.S. as the leader of imperialist forces around the globe and as such, responsible for serious problems in Arab nations.

The series, produced by an Egyptian government owned and controlled company, reflects a critical component of propaganda in the Middle East, which is to blame the failings of Arab regimes on imperialist America and thereby deflect the anger of Arabs away from corrupt leaders and regimes.

The conclusion of the series is that resistance (read: terror) is justified in order to defeat the United States. After all, series’ talking heads note, U.S. behavior in “this region” is part of a pattern of oppression starting with American policy towards the Indians.

What should be apparent to even casual observers of the public scene is the contrast between well meaning, but naïve American cultural overtures and the cynical and propagandistic anti-American views circulating in the Arab world. Here we are using culture as a way to understand Arab societies and they are using culture to promote hate and violence against the United States.

It might well be asked: Why isn’t the Arab League funding American cultural festivals in their respective countries? It is the Arab nations that are most in need of cultural reform and it is the Arab people that are being systematically misled about American foreign policy intentions.

Since 9/11 the Arab publicity machinery has been working full time to convey the impression Israeli agents destroyed the World Trade Center. In fact, a popular Egyptian music video makes this claim quite directly. Such cultural nonsense begs the question of who attacked whom? Which nations need to learn about tolerance?

I don’t have any quarrel with American cultural commissars organizing a festival to display Arab culture. What I don’t understand is the lack of reciprocity. It seems that most of the Arab world is content to fight the Crusades on the cultural front, with the U.S. as the exemplar of the Christian invader and we are content in promoting sweetness and understanding. There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

Where is the Arab leader who tells the story of American scientific and medical break-throughs that have dramatically influenced life extension and the reduction of morbidity in the Arab world? Where are the Arab cultural figures who are prepared to explain American contributions to art and music? Why isn’t the Arab League doing in Alexandria and Damascus what the Kennedy Center is doing in Washington?

Of course, sensible people know the answers to these questions. The problem is that in a war of ideas sensible approaches are often a casualty of intimidation and fear. That is why culture has become a battleground for survival and, why, I might add, we are engaged in an uphill struggle.



Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

3 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"The conclusion of the series is that resistance (read: terror) is justified in order to defeat the United States."

I couldn't say whether that ios the series actual conclusion, I would say that any fair reading of the history says that terror is a natural consequence of our actions there (which is different than saying it is justified).



"Here we are using culture as a way to understand Arab societies and they are using culture to promote hate and violence against the United States."

You left something out: here we are trying to use culture to understand them SO that we will stop using violence against them. There is no shortage of blood spilled by us and our proxies in the middle east. It is precisely because of that that there is so much anti-american sentiment.

Stop attacking them and they will (eventually) mellow out.

tbmbuzz said...

any fair reading of the history says that terror is a natural consequence of our actions there

Frankly, "naive" is a more apt description than "fair". If your logic is true, then EVERY nation and culture in the world would be waging terror attacks against the U.S. A more realistic view is that Islamic terror is a natural consequence of their own "screwed upedness".

What U.S. "actions", by the way? If it were not for the U.S. and the improvements to the world as a consequence of the existence of the U.S. the Middle East would be even more frigged up than it already is as the most underachieving culture by far over the past millennium.


Stop attacking them and they will (eventually) mellow out.

When was Islamic culture ever "mellow"? When Islam and its proponents stop attacking everyone else, then maybe we can talk. But then it wouldn't be Islam, would it?

Tlaloc said...

"If your logic is true, then EVERY nation and culture in the world would be waging terror attacks against the U.S."

How does that stand to reason? The US has certainly been meddlesome but not nearly so much in other regions as it has in the middle east (with the possible exception of latin america where we aren't exactly beloved).



"A more realistic view is that Islamic terror is a natural consequence of their own "screwed upedness"."

No not really. There is nothing particularly screwed up about their religion or culture. The religion is virtually identical to early christianity. The culture is identical to neighboring areas that don't conduct terrorism.

Furthermore terrorism is seen in non-islamic cultures. Indeed suicide bombing was started by the Tamil.

What is different about the middle east as compared to europe is that europe had no outside powerful force threatening it. It instead had internal warfare and troubles and eventually these brough about the reformation and renaissance.

The middle east on the other hand has never had a chance for such an event because they have constantly been dealing with the predations of outside powers (the US, the Brits, the Russians). A people united by a common foe are much easier to goad into extremism.

Case in point: the US after 9/11.



"What U.S. "actions", by the way?"

Arming Israel and blocking all attempts to stop it's genocidal campaign against the palestinians. Overthrowing the Iranian government and re-installing the Shah Monarchy. Establishing Saddam Hussein, arming him, and preventing any UN attempts to punish him for using WMD on the Kurds. Arming and training the fanatical Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to be terrorists aginst the Russians (hello Al-qaeda!).

Should I go on or are you getting the picture? The vast majority of what has happened in the last 100 years to the Middle East has happened due to us and the Brits and the Russians.

Israel grabbing the Suez canal? Thank the Brits who were pissed off the Egyptians nationalized it. Iran-Iraq war? Thank us and the Russians who used them as gladiators in our cold war. Rise of the Ayatollah? That's all us. We chose to put a despot in power who was hated and seen as an american puppet (accurately) so he got overthrown by the radical Islamicists.

Are you getting the picture yet?



"If it were not for the U.S. and the improvements to the world as a consequence of the existence of the U.S. the Middle East would be even more frigged up than it already is as the most underachieving culture by far over the past millennium."

Gee, you think they'd be thanking us as they get gassed by the dictators we put over them! Ungrateful wretches!

Seriously, do you have any idea what we've done there?



"When was Islamic culture ever "mellow"?"

When have they ever been left alone? Never.



"When Islam and its proponents stop attacking everyone else, then maybe we can talk."

That's like saying when the palestinians stop attacking Israel maybe Israel will think about being nice back. Problem is: Israel started the fight. They are absolutely responsible for being the first to lay aside the sword and they are ultimately responsible for the ongoing carnage. They broke it they bought it.

We broke the middle east.