February 22, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 348

Former Libyan PM on 'The U.S. and the Complexities of the Arab Mind'

February 22, 2002
Special Dispatch No. 348

In a recent article in the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat, former Libyan prime minister Abd Al-Hamid Al-Bakkoushcriticized anti-U.S. sentiment among Arabs. Following are excerpts from the article:

The Arab Propaganda Battle Against the U.S. is a Failure

"To begin with, I would say that the U.S. has policies that have damaged, and continue to damage, some Arab interests. I have no intention of defending these policies. However, while we are entitled to criticize this great modern American power - even to hate her - denying the might of the U.S. only damages us."

"The U.S. is a country of power and means, with the greatest capability in the modern age. It influences policy across the world. Therefore, it would be wise to regard [the U.S.] as an international reality, to learn its policies, and to demonstrate the required realism in our relationship with her."

"Have we done this? Absolutely not! Since the days of Abd Al-Nasser, in the early 1950s, we have waged an amazingly fierce propaganda war against America. This leader [Nasser] made the war of words against America a reason for revolutions and rebellions against any monarchic regime with any connection whatsoever to America."

"[Nasser] made fighting America a major element of Arab foreign policy. Many governments used the media to implant in our minds hostility towards all things American - to the point where we became suspicious of the patriotism of anyone less than enthusiastic about hating Americans."

"Naturally, there was a reason for the rivalry with this leader of the West [the U.S.], as it was America who aided in the establishment of the state of the Jews in Palestine, and then never ceased strengthening it. This American behavior, in and of itself, justifies opposition to American policy on this matter. But our zealous behavior and our broadening of the disagreements with the U.S. were never a successful policy."

"Yes, America was our opponent on the Palestine issue… but as a people ruled by social fragmentation, weakness, and confusion - it would have been better had we not declared an all-out war on everything Americans represent - as we have."

"Our extremely naïve leaders have waged wars against America, while brandishing media swords and shooting from the cannon of speeches. Obviously, political battles with words lead to failure and confusion, and nothing more. Thus, we spent a fair amount of time voicing blazing slogans against America. We turned to anyone with a quarrel with [the U.S.], from the U.S.S.R. to the Dominican [Republic]. We were, all the time, doing our best to clear our minds of any realistic policy. We reached a point where we portrayed countries that were [nothing more than] gangs as Paradise and despots such as Castro and Idi Amin as heroes of liberation and the struggle against colonialism."

"We indulged in the fantasy - and perhaps still do - that hostility towards America heads our list of priorities. We defined an Arab citizen as either loyal or traitorous according to his outward hostility to the Americans."

"We did all this while ignoring the fact that America, which we hate, is an international and powerful reality, whose influence over many of our vital interests we cannot escape. We ignored the fact that it would be wise to view America with a realism that can protect our interests."

Anti-U.S. Incitement Has Caused Us (Arabs) Damage
"Osama bin Laden was not the first to threaten to destroy America. Many among us preceded him, threatening to bring disaster upon it to the cheering of the masses. Ideological and religious leaders, and not only rulers, still use their tongues and their pens to destroy and humiliate America – even though this naïve anti-American policy has caused us only damage."

"Perhaps it is time we realized that wisdom dictates that we treat the leader of the West realistically."

"Realism does not mean submission to the goals of another, rather, it means treating it in a way compatible with our means so as to minimize damage. America has many interests in our region that it needs to protect… It is a country with a right to protect its interests just as we have. Although the U.S. is an elusive power, it is not a despotic power that cannot be influenced. Perhaps most of the things we complain of… stem from our own flaws."

We Must Rid Ourselves From Our Fanaticism
"It is the Arab policy that sowed strife amongst Arab countries. It was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that created the need for direct American protection."

"This is the Arab political reality that began the day some leaders instilled within us the intoxication of victory, and the fantasies of brotherhood with the U.S.S.R. and of leadership of the nonaligned states bloc."

"We should not have joined the anti-American groups when we excel at nothing. Confronting the U.S. when we do not have the means for confrontation cannot be called wise. We must rid ourselves, as much as possible, from our [present] political thought, from our fanaticism..."[1]

[1] Al-Hayat (London), February 12, 2002.

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