The question in the title refers to Western, especially American, perceptions of the Middle East and the Muslim world. I don’t accept the assumption, but I’m sure to many Americans, doped up as we all are these days on the decontextualized and historically illiterate soundbytes of the mainstream media, the unethusiastic reaction (to say nothing of resistance) of Muslims around the world to American policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere seem not only exceedingly ungrateful, but downright irrational.
It is not so surprising or irrational-seeming, though, if you consider history and the power relationship that has characterized Western/Muslim relations for centuries. Juan Cole captures the heart of the problem in his recent comments on an interview with outgoing Iranian President Khatami:
It seems to me that this is the big problem that most American have in
understanding the Middle East. They cannot conceive of a situation in
which they had been under the thumb of foreigners for the past 200
years, so that national independence is a value in its own right, which
might even be more important than democracy or human rights.
American patriot Patrick Henry famously declared, "Give me liberty or give me death." These sentiments probably seemed highly irrational to the Brits (a fact that receives scant attention, if any, in history class in American schools is how, by the standards of Britain’s other sundry colonies, American colonists had little to complain about), but were perfectly rational to the American colonists who felt that they were being dominated, rightly or wrongly, by a tyrranical foreign power.
When George W. Bush preaches about spreading freedom, he should remember that the core of freedom is determining one’s own affairs, even if it means making some mistakes along the way. No matter how many benefits we bring to Iraq, so long as we are imposing our agenda, we will be opposed and fought.