Blaming the Messenger Hurts America's Image

With the lessons of history staring him in the face, the president of the United States insists on blaming his nation's disastrous image on the Arab Press. According to this op-ed article from the Jordan Times, 'America's occupation of Iraq at the heart of the Arab world earned it the designation of colonial master.'

By Ramzy Baroud

December 19, 2005

Original Article (English)    

U.S. President George W. Bush once again blamed Arab media for his country's image problem.

"I recognize we got an image issue, particularly when you have television stations, Arabic television stations that are constantly just pounding America - saying America is fighting Islam, Americans can't stand Muslims, this is a war against a religion,” Bush commented following a speech in Philadelphia on Dec. 12. [SEE VIDEO]

It's disturbing to think that the president truly believes that Arab and Muslim contempt for his government stem from Arab media detractors rather than his administration's misguided policies. Simply put, Arab and Muslim nations' disdain for the Bush Administration is a natural human response to colonization, military oppression and the degrading regimes they bring about.

Before offering his impulsive remarks, Bush should have investigated the history of the Middle East, something over which his clique often claims mastery. If he had, he would have found that the region's past is permeated by an utter contempt for foreign occupiers, and an unyielding struggle to force them out. Indeed, America's image problem has little to do with newspapers and 24-hour news channels. But it has much to do with the Washington's dangerous insistence upon ignoring the roots of the West's fallout with Muslims, not necessarily as a religious group, but as colonized and exploited nations.

For centuries and in a myriad of ways, the Muslim-dominated Middle East has captured the West's imagination. Yet, as is often the case, the disparity of power and wealth dictated the course of Western behavior - and reaction - then mostly from European nations. Up until the second half of the 20th century, much of the Middle East - not to mention other regions that were viewed as lands of equally "inferior” races - fell victim to untold exploitation, degradation and, often, brutal violence.

'The Price of Iraq Policy' [Al-Jazeera, Qatar]

Since most Middle Eastern nations attained their independence, little has been done to make up for the causes of hatred; to the contrary, much was done to extenuate the animosity.

In the second half of the 20th century, colonialism was brought to an end, with Palestine perhaps the most tragic exception; but colonialism's logic - that of political and economic hegemony - hardly changed at all. The Arabs, after all, still had plenty to offer the now U.S.-dominated West, which persisted in seeing what Arabs had to offer through purely colonial-colored lenses: spoils, plain and simple.

Clearly, European imperialism devastated Middle Eastern cultures. Any positive contributions to local cultures were mostly unintentional and often cosmetic.

In the years after World War II, the conventional colonialist regime was forced to change to alternative methods that would allow Western countries to safeguard their economic interests in the region. Militarily weakened and unable to tame their fractious colonies, yet reluctant to treat their former subjects as equal partners, Western nations were compelled to devise a new colonial stratagem. Arab nations, for example, were subjugated by local Western-sponsored elites, who were corruptible and coercive. Many Arab intellectuals have rightly argued that a real end of Western imperialism never materialized. Direct and indirect intervention in Arab affairs - with the same arrogant expectations - continued to mar the relationship between the West and Arabs.

Nixon and Eisienhower Won Points With Arabs During the Suez Crisis, 1956.

The United States in particular, joining the colonial club at a later stage, was not always viewed as a colonial menace. Washington's strong stance against the British-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt in 1956 [Suez Canal crisis RealVideo] placed it in a somewhat different category.

However, America's colonial status, bashful and reluctant at first, was forcefully shaped during the Arab-Israel war of 1967. Only then did the United States' devout and resolved support for Israel fully actualize. Since then, Washington's political, financial and military commitment to Israel has further damaged Arab and Muslim perceptions of the United States.

Therefore being anti-Israel - for obvious reasons a common feeling among most Arabs and Muslims - was tantamount to being anti-American. The failure of Arab regimes to take a strong stand against both added to the tension. The fury and bitterness espoused by early colonial experiences lingered unaddressed. To pretend that extremism and terrorism are irrelevant to this debate, as they plague many parts of the Arab and Muslim world, is to ignore the roots of the violence and endanger innocent lives everywhere.

As if its much despised involvement in creating misery in the Middle East weren't enough, America's occupation of Iraq at the heart of the Arab world earned it the designation of colonial master. Moreover, the fact that the war on Iraq took place largely as a result of a neoconservative plot - a dedicated pro-Israeli group - and amid the cheers of Israeli leaders, Arabs were left, as reflected in their media, with no option but to view the United States as an official enemy of the Arab people - as belligerent as former European colonialists and twice as lethal.

'Bush's Popularity' [Ad Dustour, Jordan]

It appears too late for Bush to appreciate this attempt to explain the roots of his country's image problem. Indeed, in his Philadelphia speech he seemed heedless of history, its complexities and its many lessons. It is the media that should be blamed for his problem with Arabs and Muslims, he insisted. With such a misconstrued perception, hope for a serious change of course in American foreign policy will have to be shelved long enough for reason to prevail or for history to repeat itself.

The writer, a veteran Arab American journalist who teaches mass communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus, is the author of the forthcoming book "Writing on the Palestinian Uprising: A Chronology of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London)”. He is also the editor-in-chief of He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


WindowsVideoAl-Majd TV, Jordan: Dr. Ahmad Nawfal, Jordanian Professer of Religious Law, on Western Beliefs in the End of the World, November 13, 00:02:53, MEMRI

"Reagan is one of those who believe in this, and now Bush has passed Reagan by light years in his belief in this."

Dr. Ahmad Nawfal, Jordanian Professer of Religious Law,
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