Why do they hate us?

Sept11Give credit to Michael Slackman and Nadim Audi of The New York Times. For their story about Egyptians’ perceptions of the 9/11 attacks, the two reporters were not content to flip through their rolodexes and call a bunch of experts. No, they interviewed ordinary Egyptians on the street. The fruits of their shoe-leather reporting were mostly ripe.

As you might imagine, the reporters discovered that religion shaped Egyptians’ attitudes toward the attacks. One attitude was a pathetic paranoia about Jewish people:

First among these is that Jews did not go to work at the World Trade Center on that day. Asked how Jews might have been notified to stay home, or how they kept it a secret from co-workers, people here wave off the questions because they clash with their bedrock conviction that Jews are behind many of their troubles and that Western Jews will go to any length to protect Israel.

“Why is it that on 9/11, the Jews didn’t go to work in the building,” said Ahmed Saied, 25, who works in Cairo as a driver for a lawyer. “Everybody knows this. I saw it on TV, and a lot of people talk about this.”

Another related attitude was misgivings about the United States’ motives in invading Afghanistan and Iraq:

Hisham Abbas, 22, studies tourism at Cairo University and hopes one day to work with foreigners for a living. But he does not give it a second thought when asked about Sept. 11. He said it made no sense at all that Mr. bin Laden could have carried out such an attack from Afghanistan. And like everyone else interviewed, he saw the events of the last seven years as proof positive that it was all a United States plan to go after Muslims.

“There are Arabs who hate America, a lot of them, but this is too much,” Mr. Abbas said as he fidgeted with his cellphone. “And look at what happened after this — the Americans invaded two Muslim countries. They used 9/11 as an excuse and went to Iraq. They killed Saddam, tortured people. How can you trust them?”

Slackman, the writer of the story, deserves a pat on the back for including these quotes in the story. By letting his subjects speak at length, he presented their point of view with a brusqueness that rarely appears in American news pages.

Yet Slackman and Audi also committed a sin characteristic of U.S. reporters, and European ones too for all I know: they failed to identify the religion of each interview subject. While the speakers’ ethnicity and occupation are noted, their religious background is not. This information might have shed light on why the interviewers detest America and Israel. Are their views based on ethnicity, religion, or a combination of both?

Also, the speakers refer to their side in different terms. Some talk about Muslims, others about Arabs. This is confusing. As tmatt noted, some Arabs are Christians.

And the reasons for the speakers’ disgust of Jews and the United States are unmentioned. Do they hate Jews partly because of Israel? Do they fear the United States partly because it has a large Christian majority?

Asking interview subjects about their religious background and attitudes is not easy. It invites stares and uncomfortable silences and, no doubt in some parts of the world, worse responses. But the questions are key in determining whether a speaker has a Regensburg lecture view of humanity or a Lion and the Unicorn one.

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  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ Raider51

    Hmmm…

    I opened this post fully expecting it was going to be about the media – wondering why they hate fundamentalist Christians, faithful, observant Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, American Jews who stand up for Israel and other religious people who faithfully try to live out their faith.

    It seems like the last month has brought an explosion of hate from the media and I, for one, would love to know why.

  • Jerry

    There detail is welcome, as you said, but where are the statistics to show how common this attitude is? I know those are available elsewhere, but that story should have included that fact.

    And we should not be surprised at the attitudes there. They are no different than we are. Ask people about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and you’ll find rumors taken as fact as well as lies being deliberately spread.

    There is a fundamental psychological principle involved here: it’s much easier to believe a lie that reinforces your view of the world than to believe a truth that challenges it.

    Add to that the cynical lying on the part of those who want power or to promote hatred and you have the current state of affairs.

  • Jay

    Jerry,

    Except for opinion surveys, reporters don’t have a way to gather reliable statistics. So they do man-on-the-street interviews and hope to find something that appears representative with some deeper explanation than you would normally find in a multiple-choice telephone survey.

  • tony

    Raider51,

    It’s not hard to explain why people dislike Christian fundamentalists: they’re quite judgmental of other people.

    Christians don’t get the concept. You can’t get buy-in from people when you criticize them. Christians are a little cold-logic on this, thinking the point is to be right. Being right ought to solve everything. But that’s wrong. The point isn’t being right, the point is getting buy-in. That’s what all those verses about authentically loving your enemy, which Christians ignore, are about.

    Jesus says a lot about this. You should look it up.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Raider51 and Tony,

    No more; talk about Palin and evangelicalism and the culture wars elsewhere. Your replies on topics not related to my post will be deleted. So will all those who attempt to shoehorn other topics.

  • tony

    Mark,

    I think you’re being a bit hasty. These posts actually are on topic. They’re not about Muslims and Arabs and the attending reactions to events of 9/11. But at a deeper level the discussion you seek to engage is about how fanatical religious belief causes people to do and say troubling things. What is that nexus between belief, a world view, and a desire to make things better (perhaps perfect). Is it fear?

    Don’t you find it interesting that Raider51 read your title and assumed it was about him/her? Don’t you find our religious/culture wars quite interesting when you consider a similar phenomenon occuring in the Muslim world. Perhaps you’re too close to it here and find it tedious or boring. That would be too bad. There are some PhD dissertations in there.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Tony,

    I do find it interesting. I also find it off topic. As I wrote before, off-topic replies will be deleted.

  • http://wwrtc.blogspot.com Art Deco

    Given their preponderance in the population in question (per the Egyptian government, 94% of the total), one would generally assume that one identified as an Egyptian was Muslim. Egyptian Christians are generally referred to as ‘Copts’ rather than Arabs, as if they were a separate ethnos (whether or not an anthropologist or sociologist would identify them as such).

    None of the views expressed were at all surprising. I have heard them out of the mouths of co-workers fond of Michael Moore’s faux-documentaries and seen them uttered in fora like this by folk devoted to the works of the Rockford Institute and folk who fancy themselves exponents of Catholic Social Teaching.

    You will note in the article two features of the statements they quote: a feeling of being slighted by the United States (favoring Israel, etc) and ill assumptions about the motives of the United States.

    Arguments about the posited material benefits to the United States of seizing Iraqi oil cannot survive back-of-the-envelope calculations which begin with the proportion of American national product accounted for by extractive industries multiplied by the share of the world’s proven reserves of mineral weatlh to be found in Iraq. I have had occasion to point this out to Americans who think in similar fashion to these Egyptians, but the point is dismissed out of hand. I have also had occasion to ask Americans antagonistic to Israel what was their conception of an equilibrial political settlement therein; they begged the question.

    I will offer an alternative hypothesis that might apply to Americans and Egyptians who hold to baffling viewpoints: that what they say is in part (or in whole) derivative of how they conceive of themselves in relation to their world. Islamic affiliation is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to entertain ambient feelings of injury or to hold to the attitudes these people express.

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