Muslims Abhor the Double Standard

Since Sept. 11, we have repeatedly heard In the wake of the terrible attacks on Sept. 11 September, we hear repeated suggestions in the media that the Muslim world "hates American values"-a view that In fact, this view has it that is dangerously wrong. In fact, the vast majority of Muslims or even Islamist political parties in fact do not challenge most American values, but query whether the United States is constant to its own values, especially the spread of democracy.

If you travel around the Muslim world, it quickly becomes evident that there is immense respect for a great variety of American values. Muslims admire U.S. democracy, a feature conspicuously lacking in their home countries, where any whisper of opposition under brutal dictatorships frequently results in jailing, torture and even execution; where there are no elections, no civil liberties and often considerable racial or religious discrimination.

Even the most conservative Muslim countries send their kids by the millions to the U.S. for college education. Muslims admire the standards of living in the U.S., but more important appreciate a society in which talent can succeed regardless of background and class. Ethnic and religious differences in the U.S. are handled more successfully than in their homelands.

Yes, many Muslims are disturbed at what they view as Western sexual laxity and the vulgarity of media-a concern shared by many Americans as well-and many hold a more traditional view of women's role in society, as does most of the developing world.

Yet Muslims want the freedoms to choose for themselves. The deep tragedy of the Middle East is that most of its citizens feel bitterly frustrated, alienated, imprisoned and fatalistic about their inability to control their own destinies.

Imagine you are an Iraqi: one son killed in Saddam's aggression against Iran, another in his attack on Kuwait, the father tortured to death in an Iraqi prison for speaking out against the regime and your house bombed in US air strikes against Saddam. What hope can one have, what control over one's life and future other than to seek an external enemy?

Most Muslims crave a change in governance, the right to remove corrupt, incompetent or brutal presidents-for-life or often unresponsive royalty whose highest priorities are the welfare of the royal family.So it is not our values at all to which Muslims are hostile; it is their perception of our unwillingness to share these values that brings forth anger. They accuse the U.S. of maintaining a double standard: Our values are fine for home consumption but are not for export. Washington regularly promotes democracy in Latin America and Africa but rarely if ever in the Muslim world.

A former assistant secretary of State for the Middle East has said on more than one occasion that democratization "is not on the American agenda" in the Middle East. The reason? Because Washington finds it more efficient to support a range of dictators right across the Arab world as long as they conform to U.S. foreign policy needs.

Sure, oil matters, but every anti-American dictator in the region has always sold it with pleasure. Of course Israel's security must be preserved, but that doesn't give it carte blanche to perpetuate three decades of harsh occupation of the West Bank. Washington views democratization as too "soft" a goal-messy and inconvenient, yet its absence is the root cause of most problems and ultimately the pressure cooker of rage against the U.S. itself.

How long can we ignore this festering sore? Do we doubt that good governance makes a huge difference? Of course democracy is not a panacea or a plug-in appliance, it takes time. But the time to start the process is now, before things get even worse.

Actually the most promising democratic experiment in the Arab world today is in Kuwait where America in fact did insist on democratic reform after Saddam was expelled.

The U.S. needs to stand firm for its own values and help extend them to the Muslim world, even if entrenched and unpleasant regimes don't like it. Such a gesture by Washington would bring a sea change in the way Muslims view the U.S.

This is no war over values; it is about American failure to share with others those beliefs that helped to make this country great. Where is our vision? There will always be a handful who hate us for their own extremist reasons, but when we help prop up the entrenched bad governance across the Middle East, it is the extremists who reap the discontent.

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Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

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