Americans aren't used to being hated, and although we recognize with embarrassment the "ugly American" stereotype, we feel as if we should be loved and respected anyway. Yet here we are. The Muslim world is inflamed with hatred against us. It's a fact we must learn to deal with, yet so far one hears almost no discussion of what we should do psychologically. The prevailing obsession with homeland security sidesteps the issue by making it a military and police matter. Actually, being hated is more complex than that.
We have reacted to being hated by returning the feeling. No one is more unpopular in the U.S. today than the stereotyped Islamic male screaming anti-American slogans on the Arab street. But for our own sake we must assume a higher standard; in fact, the only way to be loved is to exhibit kindness and love to our potential enemies. This is what morality, religion, and psychology all teach.
It asks too much for us to love our enemies, but we could come much closer than we do.
1. We don't have to hate someone simply because they hate us. Officially we don't hate Arabs, but this is something of a sham. Given the present air of contempt, condescension, and arrogance with which we treat even the Iraqis were are supposed to be saving, we have to face those feelings and at the very least try to resist them.
2. The next step is to try and understand those who think they are our enemies. With understanding comes a real effort to respect them. We don't have to respect fanatics, of course, but there is a vast, moderate Arab world being neglected because we tacitly label everyone as a fanatic sympathizer.
3. We have to draw boundaries that cannot be crossed. In this way we ask for respect in return. Violence against Americans is one obvious boundary, but we need to recognize that anti-American demonstrations on the evening news are not the same as violence. Tolerance for Arab hostility in its peripheral forms is part of being a democratic society.
4. We need to realize that Arab society is entitled to its view of the world and history, no matter how much it deviates from our version. We don't have a patent on the truth. We have caused real injury in their world, just as we have caused real benefits.
5. We need to incorporate Arab-Americans into mainstream life. This involves, at the very least, giving them assurances of their civil liberties, right to a speedy trail, habeas corpus, and all the other rights that the Bush administration has callously removed. Arab-Americans rightfully feel targeted as a group, this targeting is both unjust and unfair. We need to accept their legitimate opposition to Al Qaeda and jihadism.
6. We need to raise Palestinian autonomy to a higher priority, equal to the priority we give Israel. Because of the right-wing domination in Israeli politics, Sharon's deliberate incitement of the second Intifada, and religious zealotry in that country equal to the Islamic zealotry on the other side, it's no longer tenable to hold Israeli interests as the only ones worth valuing. We need to show tolerance for the anti-Israeli rhetoric that dominates Arab politics and not use it as an excuse to exclude Arabs from a realistic solution to the Palestinian question. By making Israel always right and the Palestinians always wrong, we have inflamed the hatred directed at us.
I realize that this last point will arouse anger among many pro-Israel readers, but what other course is there? Being hated isn't helping Israel, as they aren't helping themselves by their unilateral policies toward the Palestinian land they occupy by military force. We have to stop using Arab hated as our main excuse for mistreating them in return. Israel has already gone down that long, tragic road. The world won't abandon anti-Americanism until we find a new path.