After decades of political, economic, and military relationships between the Middle East and the United States, both sides still find it difficult to understand each other.
While America has sought to make significant diplomatic inroads with many nations in the Middle East even through wars and regional crises, Arab people’s perception of the U.S. is that of a corrupt tyrant country that cares little about Arab interests and support suppression and dictatorship in their countries. America's close relations with Israel have even made it worse for many Arab people who still refuse to recognize the existence of Israel and condone anti-Semitism.
The popular Arab Spring movements and fall of dictatorships across the Middle East shows a growing bias against tighter relations with the U.S. Continuous anti-U.S. protests in Afghanistan, Tunisia, and Syria are a proof of that. But who should be responsible for the political and economic situations in these countries? Arab countries should communicate better with their own people to change this bias into concrete collaboration with the U.S.
Anti-U.S. feelings in the Middle East often stem from ideological schools of thoughts. Many Islamic clerics condemn America’s support of Israel. They condemn the War on Terror which tore up many Muslim communities across the Arab world. Islamophobia in the U.S. didn’t make it easier for the two cultures to work with each other and has actually pushed many Muslims to extremism.
Yet, while aware of this lack of communication between the two worlds, Arab and Muslim governments do little to bridge the gap.
In fact, many Arabs know little about America or the culture. Most of them couldn’t care less either. But the government is not doing anything to illustrate a truer image of the United States, one that depicts liberty and democracy.
In Tunisia, for instance, American news is almost absent from any kind of mainstream media. Besides, few Tunisian university programs offer U.S. history programs or curricula. In the past former Tunisian dictator Ben Ali’s regime put several restrictions on American NGO’s to open branches in Tunisia and therefore communication between the two societies was reduced further.
Many argue that it is the U.S. that puts itself in that position and that it is up to it now to fix relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. But, how about Arab governments take initiative first?
In these circumstances, government should know best. It appears that communication is the key to help the youth understand America’s interests in Middle East and work with them so it benefits both parties equally.
Arab governments should also control their faith groups, organizations which often incite hatred against the U.S. based on misinterpreted religious beliefs.
Middle Eastern governments should also encourage more internships and partnerships with for their citizens in the U.S. Governments should devote sufficient funds to help organizations and individuals grasp successful economic models from the U.S. Consequently, Arab governments should rely less on U.S. foreign aid and more on the competitiveness of their markets.
Relations between the Middle East and the U.S. are important, yet complicated. They reflect misunderstanding and unbalance of powers. Luckily, the Arab spring now is offering both sides a new opportunity to revise their old misconceptions about each other and act ahead towards better relations.
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