Selling an image
By Salama A Salama
The US is selling its policy as one might a commercial product. It's the form that matters, not the function.
Karen Hughes, the US envoy to the Middle East and Muslim countries, clearly hopes to patch up the US image. Her brief is to promote US policy as one might any new consumer durable. She hopes to overcome the hostility Muslim and Arab nations feel towards US policy -- a hostility that is on par with that felt by the US towards Osama Bin Laden.
This is not the first time America goes on a charm offensive. Since the September 2001 attacks the US administration has been trying to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs. Curiously, the US is hoping to get the media on its side. Once the Arabs get the true picture of the US goals, goes the thinking, they will become more sympathetic. This is why the US created Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra TV. It has allocated $85 million to get such media off the ground, in the hope of reversing the tide of resentment it faces in the region, a tide that keeps rising the more Arab-owned satellite TV stations tell their audience of US conspiracies and skewed policies. But you can't stifle the truth with bias. Our public may have been sympathetic to the human side of America, but even this is no longer true. What the US should be doing is changing policy, not dressing it up to look better. We may look gullible but we're not. The Americans should offer deeds, not words. Even if Hughes has the sympathetic ear of our leaders the Arab public will remain sceptical.
Tensions have grown tremendously in the region, and anger breeds violence, just as resentment breeds terror. We have not seen the Americans lift a finger to make the Gaza withdrawal part of the roadmap. We have not seen the Americans do anything to ensure the creation of a Palestinian state. What the Americans did was exactly the opposite. They supported Sharon in his bid to exclude Hamas from the political equation, and the result was turmoil in Gaza. The situation is hardly better in Iraq, where a civil war is brewing and partition looms on the horizon.
In Lebanon the US has used the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri to isolate Syria, which it blames for the infiltration of resistance fighters into Iraq. The US bid to overthrow the Syrian regime is far from helpful. The Americans claim to be spreading democracy and freedom in the region when what they are doing is spreading chaos. They are tearing everything down so as to re-build it in a way that makes Israel happy.
This is the picture we see in the region. This is the picture etched in the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims. We notice the harassment that millions of Muslim Americans had to deal with. We notice the indefinite detention of hundreds of suspects in Guantanamo. We notice the horrors committed in Abu Ghraib. We notice things that no one -- not even Hughes -- can justify.