An American-Arab war?

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Amman – Never in recent history have Americans and Arabs looked worlds apart. The war on Iraq is driving a deep wedge between two people who today view each other with a potent mixture of hatred, anger and suspicion. Arab perception of the US has vacillated throughout the second half of the past century with America being viewed increasingly as a staunch supporter of Israel who cares less for the justice of Arab causes. But the suspicion was punctuated by periods when moderate Arabs sensed a change of heart in the United States. After the first Gulf war President George Bush Sr. called for a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on UN resolutions. A political process, sponsored by Washington, was launched and peace treaties were signed between the PLO and Jordan on one hand and Israel on the other. It looked like a political resolution to the Palestinian question was at hand and that the United States was finally playing the role of an honest broker.

That positive perception reached its zenith during the Clinton era. The Palestinians were slowly regaining some of their rights and the road to a final settlement was beginning to clear up. But a series of events starting with the break-out of the Intifada and the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel and culminating with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States shattered both parties’ views of each other. America’s attack on Afghanistan launched the first wave of anti-Americanism in Arab and Muslim worlds, and not surprisingly it coincided with a rise in the phenomenon of Islamophobia among Americans. Arabs and Muslims became targets of ethnic attacks in the United States as most Americans were trying to cope with the trauma of 9/11.

Now the war on Iraq is driving Arabs and Americans further apart as Arabs see gruesome images of civilian casualties in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns and villages. Very few people now believe that war will be short and easy and the credibility of the war’s objectives has all but crumbled. This is slowly being viewed as an Arab-American war and soon it will be described as an American-Muslim conflict. Sounds familiar? Osama Ben Laden must be following all this with glee. Of all people it is President George Bush who is proving him right.

Among the casualties of this insane war are Arab moderates, millions of them. Since 9/11 they have been trying to explain to Americans that Ben Laden does not speak for Arabs and Muslims and that not all Palestinians want to blow themselves up to kill Jews. Even before the start of the Iraq war, those moderates tried to warn Americans that Iraqis will not greet their soldiers as liberators and that the war will polarize Arabs and drive them to entrenchment, to choose sides. No one in the Arab world wants to side with the Americans, not now, not after all the killings. This war is proving to be a public relations fiasco for the so-called coalition which is now being portrayed as raping Iraq to steal its oil and wealth.

The longer American and British soldiers stay in Iraq the uglier the conflict will get. Iraqis are now blowing themselves up to kill enemy soldiers. This trend will become a nightmare for the leaders of the coalition. An Israeli-like occupation of Iraq will wipe out any remaining lines of understanding between America and the Arab world. Arab emotions are raging high and the voice of moderation has been muffled by the cries of Jihad and sacrifice.

Who stands to benefit from the Arab-American rift? What good does America hope to achieve out of this messy affair that it now finds itself in? Arabs are searching for answers but in these apocalyptic times no one can think soberly. So much hatred now brews in the hearts of young Arabs. America was once a source of inspiration and admiration for millions of Arabs, today it is an enemy that must be fought and destroyed!

Mr. Osama El-Sherif is the Editor-in-Chief of The Star

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