Ominous Rumblings From Muslim World

Ten years after American forces pushed the Iraqi
army out of Kuwait, the Kuwaiti people are telling
American reporters they have come to prefer the people
murdering Americans. "I hate the American government,"
one member of the Kuwaiti parliament told CBS reporter
Mike Wallace on

"Sixty Minutes"
last week. That, in a nutshell, is
what we get for a foreign policy devoted to spreading
democracy and do-good instead of pursuing our own
national interests.

The reason the Kuwaiti apostle of democracy hates us,
he said, is that we support Israel against Palestine and
through our military aid to the Jewish state allow the
Israelis to kill and repress Palestinians. The
Palestinians are Arabic and, for the most part, Muslims,
and the Kuwaiti therefore feels a strong identity with
them. He`s not alone.

The New York Times, a few days before the
"Sixty Minutes" segment on anti-Americanism in the
Persian Gulf

that Americans forced Saddam Hussein to
disgorge in 1991, carried a story along similar lines.
It reported on one Kuwaiti family that decided last year
to name its new-born son after one of the most popular
figures in the country: Osama bin Laden. (NYT,
November 16, 2001,For Some Kuwaitis, the Ardor for
America Cools
by Douglas Jehl 

Pay archive.

It also reported on why bin Laden is so popular. "It
seems the Americans only want to support Israel and
attack the Muslims. And if this is a war between
Christians and Muslims, we ought to fight." The American
bombing in Afghanistan has seemed to confirm these views
among many Kuwaitis, especially since most of the
Afghans being bombed had nothing to do with the Sept. 11
attacks on American targets.

One Kuwaiti businessman, who spent years in the
United States and is not anti-American, told the Times,
"I have never seen resentment toward the United States
as much as I`ve seen in the last few weeks." The Kuwaiti
government, plugged back into its sockets by U.S. power
after the Gulf war a decade ago, has been tepidly
supportive of President Bush`s "war on terrorism," but
the Kuwaiti people are less than tepid.

"In conversations around Kuwait," the Times reports,
"in offices and shops and the nighttime political and
social gatherings … ordinary people said their good
feelings toward the United States were eroding every

Ten years ago, the U.S. government told Americans
they were fighting Iraq to stop aggression and support
freedom—in a country that didn`t even have a parliament
back then. We heard a great deal about how Iraq`s troops
committed mass rapes and murders in Kuwait and how all
the atrocities stopped once the United States imported
Truth, Freedom and Justice at the point of bayonets.

There were, of course, more mundane reasons for the
Gulf war—not the least the need to secure American and
Western access to oil resources—but it`s hard to get a
civilian population excited about stuff like that. It`s
easier to crank them up to fever pitch by casting the
war as a conflict between Good and Evil. Most Americans
probably believed that, just as they believe that`s why
we`re bombing Afghanistan now.

Not everyone else sees it that way, of course, but
that`s not quite the point. The larger and more
important point is that in fighting what we want to
think are conflicts between Good and Evil, we expect the
people we help to love us for it. Probably they should,
but the fact is they don`t.

They don`t love us because they are evil or morally
inferior but because, as part of a different
civilization and a different set of kinships and
loyalties, they can`t help but identify with their own
people—Palestinians and Afghans—more than with those who
aren`t their people—Christians, Jews, Americans and

The response we get for helping people who are not
part of our civilization is not unlike what Rudyard
Kipling tried to

us about: "Take up the White Man`s Burden —/and
reap his old reward:/ The blame of those ye better,/ The
hate of those ye guard."

Kipling, like most imperialists, was willing to live
with the hatred and ingratitude Westerners receive for
their efforts to help other peoples, but most Americans
aren`t imperialists and they don`t much care for the old
reward they`re getting.

Right now, there`s
something of a debate going on in this country as to
whether the United States should be an empire or not.
Before we decide, we need to think about what empires
involve. They`re not all victory parades and shiny
uniforms; they also involve the hatred, justified or
not, that many, not just in Kuwait but throughout the
Arab world, feel for America today—and don`t imagine we
won`t pay a price for that hatred sooner or later. "The
silent, sullen peoples," Kipling also wrote, "shall
weigh your Gods and you."


November 26, 2001