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RESPONSE TO TERROR | NEWS ANALYSIS

Islamic World's Hatred Dwarfs Its Admiration for America

January 06, 2002|DAVID LAMB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

QUETTA, Pakistan — Sattar Chisti is a Taliban kind of guy. His heart burns with passion for Islam, and his mind seethes with the injustices of the West. Osama bin Laden? A wise man, a true believer. The World Trade Center? Everyone knows Bin Laden wasn't responsible. The Jews were.

For an hour, hunkered down in his spice-laden cubicle in Quetta's teeming market, Chisti, 36, speaks of his grievances against the United States in the same soft, calm tones Bin Laden uses.

"I'm 100% sure America wants to destroy Islam," he says.

Still, he is happy to play host to an American visitor.

"Let me pour you another cup of tea," he says.

There are millions of voices like Chisti's in the Islamic world, from the mosques of Cairo to the coffeehouses of Quetta, a ramshackle border town full of fierce, bearded faces and veiled women scurrying to stay out of sight. In each, one hears misgivings about the West that range from suspicion to hatred and are rooted in wounds, ancient and modern, reopened by the war in Afghanistan.

Americans have asked in the aftermath of Sept. 11, "Why do they hate us?" The answer is, they don't. They are admiring, even envious, of the treasures in a free society such as America and that are missing in countries that are often feudal and repressive: the right to choose, opportunity, prosperity and the rule of law. But they do hate U.S. policies they see as based on arrogance, self-interest, military aggressiveness and a willingness to inflict harm on Muslims in the Middle East and, now, Afghanistan.

U.S. Support for Israel Galvanizes Muslims

It is nearly impossible to ask anyone, be he fundamentalist or moderate, how he views the United States without hearing the words "Israel" and "Palestine." The unswerving U.S. support for Israel in the occupied territories is, the thinking goes, the symbol of all that has gone wrong. It is the issue that galvanizes the Muslim spirit and is more deeply felt than any other grievance, be that sanctions on Iraq, U.S. troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia or the mistaken bombing of Afghan villages.

"The whole region has become radicalized and criminalized because of U.S. actions, particularly in Palestine," said Agha Murtuza Pooya, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "You blame the Palestinians for the violence, but never the Israelis who kill Muslims to protect a few thousand settlers living on land that's not theirs. If you understand this policy, please explain it to me, because I don't."

"The collapse of the Taliban doesn't change our movement," said Maulana Jalic Jan, a mullah in Peshawar, Pakistan. "The Islamic movement is now in every part of the world. But if the United States changes its policies, we will offer friendship to America. There will be no problem."

That's probably an oversimplification. Blaming the United States for the world's injustices will always be convenient for those wanting to deflect focus from the lack of unity and the societal shortcomings in the Islamic world. It is a world where kings and generals have given the masses no outlet to vent their frustrations and where the demands of modernity perplex those trapped in a medieval mind-set dating to the prophet Muhammad's time.

Many religious scholars believe these shortcomings help explain the appeal of fundamentalism and Bin Laden's message. Bin Laden does not rant and rage. He speaks gently with the surety of a teacher. He offers the disenfranchised masses something to believe in as participants, not mere spectators--the protection of Islam. For them, the mosques become a refuge from failed societies beset by poverty, illiteracy, oppression and joblessness.

"It's only the deeply religious people that I'd call anti-American," said Dervish Durrani, a college professor in Quetta. "Certainly no one believes the United States is playing a fair game in Palestine, but that doesn't mean most of us are anti-American. I think America went to war in Afghanistan to wipe out terrorists, not kill Muslims."

The United States' edgy relations with the Islamic world today belie a long history of friendship.

The first country to recognize the United States was Morocco, in 1777. The treaty of friendship that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams signed with Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah III remains the longest uninterrupted accord in U.S. history. Oman and the United States signed a treaty of amity and commerce in 1883, promising "perpetual peace."

In 1956, President Eisenhower was instrumental in restoring Egyptian sovereignty over the Suez Canal after an attempted takeover by Britain and France in collusion with Israel. In 1957, a young American senator, John F. Kennedy, stunned everyone by siding with Algeria in its war of independence against France.

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