The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?

As we close in on the ten year anniversary of 9/11, I thought it was time to reread and reflect on Fareed Zakaria's Magnum Opus, The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us? First published by Newsweek on Oct 15, 2001, this essay was hauntingly prescient. Over the last decade, many of us have directly observed this hate, and our country remains deeply embattled in the Middle East. As we look towards where we should go in the next decade, we must figure out where we have been. Fareed wrote,

"To the question "Why do the terrorists hate us?" Americans could be pardoned for answering, "Why should we care?" The immediate reaction to the murder of 5,000 innocents is anger, not analysis. Yet anger will not be enough to get us through what is sure to be a long struggle. For that we will need answers. The ones we have heard so far have been comforting but familiar. We stand for freedom and they hate it. We are rich and they envy us. We are strong and they resent this. All of which is true. But there are billions of poor and weak and oppressed people around the world. They don't turn planes into bombs. They don't blow themselves up to kill thousands of civilians. If envy were the cause of terrorism, Beverly Hills, Fifth Avenue and Mayfair would have become morgues long ago. There is something stronger at work here than deprivation and jealousy. Something that can move men to kill but also to die."

Much more at Newsweek

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Mark,

For your reading regarding 'why they hate us' :

The Fate of the State by MARTIN VAN CREVELD in the spring 1996 edition of Parameters magazine:

http://www.carlisle.army.mil/USAWC/Parameters/Articles/96spring/creveld.

Steve

Just to add a (slightly off-topic) comment on this subject. It is in my experience that while Americans say they do not care what the people of the world think of them they really do yet seem unable to grasp the simple fact as to why. There is a level of brash arrogance exhibited by US State Department and other overseas staff that quite frankly beggars belief (the CIA). To compound and exacerbate this there are the major policy shifts every eight years (and sometime every four years) when Administrations change. Take away the aid money and in some cases the security shield and the USA will sadly find itself very lonely in the world. I say sadly because I for one am sad that the US has squandered the international opportunities it has had since say the 1900s to not only do good in the world but also to finesse the style of their international conduct.

Here is an example (not of middle-eastern terrorists but) of two enemy generals meeting at peace talks and establishing (wrongly in my opinion) who the real enemy was.

From the following book:

At the Front - A Generals Account of South Africas Border War
Jannie Geldenhuys

Chapter 17 - The United States - A Common Enemy

"On one occasion a Cuban asked me if we had flown to New York by South African Airways. I told him no, and described the long route via Europe where we had to change over at various places, and how we had to make use of different airlines. So he wanted to know why we did not use SAA. I told him that SAA did not have landing rights in the States. He was surprised: 'Neither do we! Then he said that he supposed that he visited the States quite often. I told him that I had neither the money nor the motive to visit the USA. This visit was an exception, and in any case, being an officer in the SADF, I was not entitled to an American visa. He got very excited: 'Neither are we! He said it was exactly the same with the Cubans - they had no landing rights and were not allowed visas either. Then he carried on about all the other things that the Americans denied them and did to them. So we and the Cubans had a common enemy - the United States of America. Just imagine that!" (page 277 paperback edition)

Note: General Gelddenhuys was Chief of Defence Staff in the South African Defence Force (SADF)

This has got to be a problem that only Americans themselves can address and it is how they can they can invest so many soldiers lives and a trillion dollars in money (they don't have) in Iraq only to receive no thanks and relief that the US forces are finally leaving with many saying 'good riddance'. Same will happen in Afghanistan.

This is an indication of somebody who is disgruntled with his lot in life. Perhaps he hasnt reached the heights of wealth, popularity, self-actualisation he was expecting after living in the United States. He put that post on his bedroom wall of who he imagined he could be and never quite got there. I dont know. Thats not the fault of the U.S. Its government, like its citizens, does not pretend to be the perfect bastion of humanity, freedom and liberty. It acknowledges mistakes, stands up to be criticised, mis-understood, mis-represented and has stepped into assist more nations in their time of desperation than almost any other nation. When it does it is criticised and when it doesnt it is criticised.

Jason, I am, however, curious about what you seem to be saying here. Are you implying that the most likely reason for a person to highlight perceived 'flaws in the American narrative' is their own unresolved sense of personal failure viz 'The American Dream'? What about people who complain specifically about the United States Government? Would you say that they too are, for the most part, a sorry pack of disgruntled losers buckling under the weight of their own inadequacy?

Thanks again for setting me right.

Jason, thanks for your thoughtful response. If you like, it is less a matter of 'setting you right', than indicating to you the clarity of your own mind. On the other hand, I could be wallowing deludedly in my own "inscrutable" hogwash. Either way, peace be upon you.

Backwards Observer

You are right. I should have clarified what I meant with my off-hand remark about China. I was referring to the Chinese Government rather than its 1+bn people. No matter how much one tries, it is hard to imagine what it must be like to live under a regime that beats freedom out of you in almost every aspect of your life.

The 'we' I refer to are those of us who uphold freedoms, liberty, law of contract and other fundamental principles of an open democratic society.

Thanks for the reference to the interview.

Regarding Platos Republic, we must remember that it is like a bunch of guys imagining the creation of a society in theory. I guarantee even if this Republic could be created the moment it started Plato and his mates would be shocked that it all fell away with the fragility of social discipline, incentives, competition, talent, failure etc.

Im not sure I am qualified to enter into the Sun Tzu v Clausewitz clash. What I am sure of is that while in theory even leaders with the best intentions would know that following either of these titans of warcraft would be better than the course of action they are following in reality given all the influences, variable, geo-political balance of considerations and weighing the best and worst consequences. Either way I totally disagree with van Crevelds last answer "as to the U.S, I do not see that it follows any particular set of principles except hypocrisy: meaning, the heart-felt need to dress up its extraordinary hunger for power with fine-sounding phrases about freedom, democracy, women's rights, etc.

This is an indication of somebody who is disgruntled with his lot in life. Perhaps he hasnt reached the heights of wealth, popularity, self-actualisation he was expecting after living in the United States. He put that post on his bedroom wall of who he imagined he could be and never quite got there. I dont know. Thats not the fault of the U.S. Its government, like its citizens, does not pretend to be the perfect bastion of humanity, freedom and liberty. It acknowledges mistakes, stands up to be criticised, mis-understood, mis-represented and has stepped into assist more nations in their time of desperation than almost any other nation. When it does it is criticised and when it doesnt it is criticised. Some of its leaders have made colossal mistakes others have set the frameworks for global stability. Somewhere within all this is part of the reason why 'they hate us so much as the original post by Mike Few asks.

Thanks again for setting me right.

Jason

Unfortunately we have been inconsistent in our behaviour.

Jason, although I understand that he inspires a mix of opinions, you may or may not find this interview with Martin Van Creveld interesting:

Sonshi.com: You have lectured or taught at virtually every strategic institute in the Western world, including the US Naval War College, and have already written 17 books. What first got you interested in writing and teaching about military history and strategy, and what keeps you continuing to do so?

van Creveld: For an answer, look up the introduction to Plato's Republic. Here, Socrates says that the imaginary city he and his interlocutors are about to construct will act like a magnifying mirror for looking into the human soul. With war, things are similar. More than any other human activity, war subjects men--both as individuals and in large groups--to the most extreme conditions. By so doing it brings out the human soul in all its baseness and all its glory.

Sonshi.com: It has been said there are two major camps in the US military leadership: Those who follow the principles of Clausewitz and those who follow the principles of Sun Tzu. Do you agree in general? If so, which of the two ideas do you think will apply more in future wars? If not, what doctrines or sets of principles do you see the US military leadership following?

van Creveld: I doubt whether the U.S military leadership has followed either Clausewitz or Sun Tzu, or else it would hardly have gotten itself involved in an unwinnable war in Iraq.
In the future as in the past, both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu will undoubtedly have a lot to offer. As to the U.S, I do not see that it follows any particular set of principles except hypocrisy: meaning, the heart-felt need to dress up its extraordinary hunger for power with fine-sounding phrases about freedom, democracy, women's rights, etc.

http://www.sonshi.com/vancreveld.html

And this is just the Middle East..we havent even mentioned China. At least we know where people in the Middle East stand - they are not silently two faced like China.

Jason, are you saying that China's one billion plus people are silently two-faced? Do you think this could be because they have historically and currently lack a tradition of "freedom of speech"? Could you imagine that this has given rise to a "different value system"?

However, we can accept that different people have different values. What we find deeply perplexing is how people still hate us no matter what we do.

When you say, "we can accept that different people have different values", who is the "we" of which you speak? In another comment thread, there seemed to be dissatisfaction because a PLA general criticised America. Now, you seem to complain that China is silent.
Would it be unfair to note that Westerners seem to value an opinionated and incoherent verbosity predicated on petulant generalisations and an almost infantile and logically deficient short-hand? Clearly, it would, would it not?

For too long we have been kidding ourselves that we can make other people love us. If only we build more schools, donate more money or refurbish another medical clinic.

For me, as long as they dont hate us that much that they want to kill us or allow others to do this from their home.

"Americans tend to think that deep down we all have the same values. Americans believe that all these terrorists, if you scratch beneath the surface, are looking for religious equality and justice. That's complete and utter nonsense. Americans can't face the reality that different people have different values." (Ibn Warraq; Why I am Not a Muslim. 1995)

Ibn Warraq is correct for the most part. However, we can accept that different people have different values. What we find deeply perplexing is how people still hate us no matter what we do. We value-load the support we provide.

This does not mean we give up attempting to explain who we are and neutralise the hate with the people. Machiavelli said it is better to be feared than loved. I think it is better to be respected. Even better when the respect is underpinned by an unequivocal strong response to any threats. Machiavelli mentions that "fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails."

Unfortunately we have been inconsistent in our behaviour. We attack in Libya and stay out of Syria. We strike in Iraq but remain limp with N.Korea. We condemn actors in favour of the Palestinian cause for acts of brutality yet remain mute when Isreal does the same. Our multi-national bastions of human rights and freedom such as the U.N. remain limp-wristed and shackled by nations with no interest in freedom.

And this is just the Middle East..we havent even mentioned China. At least we know where people in the Middle East stand - they are not silently two faced like China.

Jason

@ SWJED, you have made what I think is the POINT, we are able to accept others, different, strange and "foreign" ways of thinking. We can isolate it and recognize it. Not everyone can do this, as your friend has done. But, our culture makes it a norm and a laudable thing. The culture of the Middle East is unable and unwilling to invite the concepts other than their own. That is part of their narrative and core system of beliefs. Doddy Fiyade still thinks Princes Diane was killed because she was either pregnant by or marrying a Muslim, because that is what his culture would do. Even after living for so long with the Infidel, he just cant accept that by and large, we don't care.

Indeed, we have sought democracy or at least a more democratic Middle East;

"Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East -- countries of great strategic importance -- democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free."
from:
Speech by President George Bush to mark the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington on 6 November 2003.

I thought we were treading very close to war with Egypt over democratic reform, but no one noticed, after all, it was GWB

Good points made by Bob T. A few quick scattershots.

"The reason is, the persistent anti Israeli propaganda directed at Arab people for decades becoming culturally entrenched." He alluded to this, but remember the purpose of that propaganda, and the anti-American and anti-Iranian propaganda: to deflect attention, criticism, and outrage away from the domestic regime to outside forces, blaming them for the regime's shortcomings.

We did support the regimes for too long, but the nation-building projects set us up as the worst of both worlds: the regime by proxy and the foreign demon in one targetable package. We need to let the Arabs work things out for themselves, providing support, but not doing it for them.

Beware of narratives that overstate the power of the internet. Satellite TV has far more power, but the messages there still echo the conspiracy and victimization narratives. Internet is powerful, but the market penetration, especially of social media, varies. It is highest in the Gulf and lower in the Levant and Egypt/N. Africa. I forget the numbers, but you can search for a Brookings Doha study on it. (I think it was Brookings Doha). Add to that the reality that, after a lifetime living in a propaganda state surrounded by conspiracies, rumors, and a narrative of victimization, "the truth" is not necessarily what we think it will be perceived to be. This was brought home in numerous interactions I've had with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, etc, but none more than in talking with an Iraqi professor. The conversation occurred in the Gulf on a college campus at lunch. He was a science PhD from a strong U.S. university, had dual U.S.-Iraqi citizenship, raised his kids in the U.S. and taught for over a decade at U.S. universities, in addition to running his own business. Despite all of these factors, his political/current events worldview was heavily colored by conspiracy theories and the like that made no sense to me, and I am capable of listening to a lot and giving it credit as plausible, but not reality. This was neither. This encounter drove home for me that, in at least some people, you can't get away from the mindset, no matter how educated, intelligent, and far from the tree you get. Another example with a slightly better ending was a Saudi friend who went to college in the U.S. and ended up working there. He told me that in college he got in a discussion about women driving, which quickly escalated to an argument. As each of his logical supports was kicked out he realized that he'd either have to start yelling or re-examine his beliefs. To his credit, he did the latter. As he told me, though, when you go your whole life with everyone around you saying that women shouldn't drive, it just makes sense. If you raise your kid telling him that the sky is purple, he'll think the sky is purple. These things are far more pervasive and lasting than we think, especially when you add ignorance and hatred to the mix. Change occurs, but we're talking about a lot of change and should not expect instant results.

Nice comment Bob T, made me think and these days that is a good thing. I've always worried that with our political inertia we constantly seem to be a dollar short and a day late. Maybe recent events and our actions in Libya and Amb. Ford's actions in Syria are signs of a new approach. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Two sentences stick out here:

" In my view, America's greatest sins toward the Arab world are sins of omission. We have neglected to press any regime there to open up its society."

Incredible that years after this was written, the west continued its business as usual approach to Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc. Our foreign policy in the region has been so ill conceived it's no wonder we missed the Arab spring. The great tragedy is, we had the chance to give that to them. Instead, we propped up corrupt idiots because we feared the masses- the Muslim Brotherhood etc. And yet, the more I look at "the masses" in the middle east, they are there for the taking- take Libya now for example. We have now sent a clear message to them and millions of Arabs that we are there to help them against the autocrats. And so far, it has battered Al Qaeda's narrative more than a 1000 drone strikes- their long held condemnation of Arab regimes has been undermined by the roar of NATO jets. Even Al Jazeera is giving positive coverage. If only we had reached out before. Obama's Cairo adress was commendable, as was his message to the Iranian people via Youtube. Is it too little too late?

Also

" the tragedy of the Arab world is that Israel accords them more political rights and dignities than most Arab nations give to their own people. Why is the focus of Arab anger on Israel and not those regimes?"

The reason is, the persistent anti Israeli propaganda directed at Arab people for decades becoming culturally entrenched. What was a primary driver for the Arab spring? The fact that if Government X knows it's school repair programme is years too late, there's only so long they can broadcast another t.v show about the evils of Israel before people direct their anger at the government.

Also, in the 1960's you had Saut Al Arab, the Cairo based propaganda hub popular across the region, spitting out anti Israeli venom.

You maybe had one or two state controlled news agencies. Now you have the middle class online, and facebook, youtube etc. It's awe inspiring that the middle classes in Egypt, Libya etc, were able to utilise facebook far more effectively and faster than you average seedy Al Qaeda website telling you how to make a bomb or the best type of underpants to put on a sheep.

What does a lot of this boil down too? A failure to win over the Arab people, because we supported their sleazy regimes for too long, helping them unconditionally as they jailed dissidents. "Democracy? What democracy supports Mubarak the killer?" asks your average Arab. "Exactly." Says the extremist. "Come to our meeting on Sunday and we can share our complaints."

If it wasn't for the internet, you'd see a lot more extremism. At least now kids in Cairo and Tehran can download the music of Syrian techno musician Omar Souleyman. At least now, the outside world know about the uprising in Hama, when before the Syrians could hide it from the world.

Only now can we hope that the work of Obama, and people like Ambassador Robert Ford who recently flew into Hama, as well as the security forces of our nations, have not and will not labour in vain.