Term Paper: Attack in 2001

Pages: 10 (3433 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Topic: History - Israel  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … attack in 2001 was in some ways a complete surprise to most Americans, though the country really should have expected that something like this would happen in time. The World Trade Center had been attacked before in 1992, showing not only the desire on the part of Islamic extremists to cause such damage but also what sort of target they were likely to choose. Those who monitor these types of attacks knew that these groups would try again and that it would appeal to them to attack the same target they had failed to bring down last time, which is what they did. For most Americans, though, the specific group Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, might have been less well-known, though again, intelligence agencies were aware of both. The public immediately began to ask what the government would do to protect them and also asked why these groups wanted to hurt the United Stats at all.

Consider first the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, into which the U.S. has become enmeshed as a major target for terrorists and religious zealots of all stamps. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have put armies of Muslims against armies of the West. Some people think that this was predicted by Samuel P. Huntington's 1993 essay "Clash of Civilizations." Huntington predicted that one source of conflict would be between the countries of the West and the countries of Islamic culture:

In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia (Huntington, 1993, p. 33).

Even though it seems that Huntington is looking for trouble between the West and Islam, in fact he makes the point that the West should "develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations" (Huntington, 1993, p. 49). That has not happened. Many in the West think that all Muslims are in terrorist groups. That is why it is important to look at the facts that explain the policies that different Muslims have.

The truth is that Muslims do not necessarily hate the West. During the Dark Ages of Europe, Muslim philosophers preserved Greek thought because they wanted to explore it as well as Islamic theology. The people of the West during the Dark Ages were not interested. Two important Muslim philosophers and preservers were Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Ibn Sina desired "to find a formula by which religious dogmas and philosophic principles can be reconciled" (Affifi, 1958, p. 159).

Firestone (1999) notes the way the religious war has been treated but also finds that there is little scholarship on the concept in spite of its prevalence. The Crusades were one example of the "holy war," a term coined by in his monograph by that name published in 1901. Firestone notes that there have been some "Some scholarly studies... written also on holy war in the context of the medieval Christian Crusades, particularly as a possible deviation from the Western concept of the 'just war'" (Firestone, 1999, p. 3). In the Muslim context, the holy war is known as a jihad. The word actually means "striving" and has nothing directly to do with war, but it has been taken over by those who want to give a religious tinge to their war against the west and against Israel in particular, as is noted by Esposito (1983) when he writes,

Events in 1973 provided a new source of pride and served as a positive motivation for Islamic revivalism. The ignominious Arab defeat of 1967 was reversed by the October War. While the Israelis were ultimately victorious, the Arab world felt vindicated by Egyptian successes in the war which many believed had been saved for the Israelis by the United States... This was the Ramadan war (the sacred month of fasting during which the war occurred); its code name was Badr, a famous early Islamic victory led by Muhammad; its battle cry Allahu Akbar (God is Most Great), the traditional Islamic call to the defense of Islam; those who died in this holy war (jihad) were not simply patriots but martyrs (shahid)(Esposito, 1983, p. 13).

The term has become synonymous with war against the West, supported by terrorists, and complete with promises of great rewards in the afterlife.

One part of American attitudes toward the Arab countries of the Middle East derives from Americans knowledge of, sympathy with, and often relationship to Israel, but McAlister (2001) is right to go beyond this to consider "the meanings of the region for audiences not generally assumed to have an obvious affinity with its inhabitants" (p. xiii). The essential vision Americans have long had of the Middle East derived from readings of the Arabian Nights and film recreations of fantasy life from that period. A new image began to mesh with this after World War II with the creation of Israel, a new state surrounded by militant Arab states intent on recapturing the land given over to Israel. This also came at a time of disengagement by the colonial powers that had ruled much of the Arab world for a century or so, meaning that these Arab states were reacting on the one hand to having control over their own territory while also seeing Israel as a new threat to their sovereignty and power.

McAlister (2001) rightly shows how different images pertain to different parts of the Arab world, with the Arabian Nights image fastened to Saudi Arabia, while the pyramids and mummies are the image for Egypt. The modern version of Egypt has little to do with the world that produced the pyramids and the mummies, but this is still the central image the world holds of that nation. Americans gain much of what they believe about the world from movies, but they also gain direct understanding through cultural and business ties with different parts of the world. McAlister traces some of the investment made in that part of the world after the war and show how this contributed to an understanding of the people and their lives. Throughout, she also recognizes that the attitude Americans have of themselves shapes how they view the world, so that the Third World nations of the Middle East, no matter how wealthy they may become from oil discoveries, are always seen as backward in comparison to the United States and Europe. This attitude creates resentment in the people of the Middle East.

The author traces the shift in perceptions over the time since the end of World War Ii and shows how the Muslim world was adopted by African-American groups, how the discovery of oil and the development of oil wealth altered the view taken and the way the government treated the Middle East, and how American support of Israel affected attitudes in the middle East even more, giving any American involvement with Israel an aura of anti-Arabism to the people of the Arab countries. McAlister (2001) begins her discussion with the way western attitudes were formed about the Middle East in the past before showing how these attitudes were in part reinforced, in part altered, in the period after the war. The attitudes of today do have their roots in the past, and whatever may have happened since World War II has been grafted over earlier perceptions and do not stand on their own.

Of course, certain specific events are seen as key to the current relationship between the west and the Middle East, most notably the creation of Israel, certain specific wars with Israel, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of militant Islam, and the development of oil in the Middle East. Still, these events as well must be seen as coming on top of earlier attitudes toward the Middle East in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. The Gulf War was another major force shaping current attitudes toward the Middle East and within the Middle East toward America, with the war in Iraq a new element to be considered, again serving to deepen certain attitudes from an earlier time. The attitude that McAlister (2001) identifies is orientalism, the image of the "Orient" expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship and as seen in popular media during any given era. McAlister writes well and has shaped her argument in a logical and chronological fashion at one and the same time. In the popular media, such an attitude serves as a kind of shorthand that also has pernicious effects. The use of the Arab as a villain seems to have increased in recent years in a way that shows that Americans have an antipathy to Muslims, fueled, no doubt, by certain events on the international scene, but serving to demonize an entire people so that the moment an Arab shows up on screen, the audience assumes that he or she is a terrorist intent on destroying… [END OF PREVIEW]

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