Suppression of Human Rights

excerpted from the book


U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism

by Stephen Zunes

Common Courage Press, 2003, paper


Human Rights: Transforming a Moral Issue into a Political Tool

Human rights violations by foreign governments and their lack of democratic institutions generally get the most attention in the United States when a given administration has called attention to them in order o mobilize domestic and international opinion against a regime the U.S. government opposes. However, every administration in recent years has aIso had to address, at least to some degree, the less expedient phenomenon of responding to public and Congressional pressure regarding the lack of democracy and human rights in allied countries. Oftentimes, such official responses would constitute little more than lip service and damage control, but-since at least the 1970s-it has been difficult to ignore completely. Most of the pressure has stemmed from grassroots movements, ;sometimes amplified by sympathetic segments of the media and members of congress. The resulting debates have covered world regions ranging from East and Southeast Asia, to Eastern Europe, to Latin America and to Africa, and have been particularly vehement regarding regimes that directly receive arms and economic assistance from the U.S. government.

Yet despite this surge in debate over human rights policy, the very -region that receives the largest amount of American arms and aid has been notably absent from the public debate: the Middle East. Not only has there been mostly silence from traditional human rights advocates in Congress, there has not been much in the way of grassroots pressure, either. This relatively docile response is not because the problem is small. A large majority of countries in that region lack democratic institutions and engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations. In addition, three major recipients of U.S. aid-Morocco, Israel and Turkey-have conquered all or parts of neighboring countries by force, engaged in ethnic cleansing, and continue to subjugate the population of these occupied territories in defiance of the Geneva Convention and the United Nations.

Despite the poor human rights situation in the Middle East, with the exception of certain intellectual circles and the most committed human rights activists, there has been little effort among American activists to support pro-democracy movements in the Middle East. These struggles have not captured the imagination of the grassroots organizations in recent decades to the extent of human rights movements in Latin America, southern Africa, the Philippines, or even East Timor. While established human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have generally given a proportional amount of attention to human rights abuses in the Middle East, it has not resulted in the same level of popular activism as have similar movements regarding other parts of the world. This gives the United States little incentive to change its policy of supporting repressive governments.

In other parts of the world, even where there may have been widespread repression, the United States has insisted that competitive elections and other legal structures are an adequate indicator of democracy. This is why even in the case of El Salvador in the 1980s-where, despite formal competitive elections, government-backed death squads murdered tens of thousands of dissidents-the country was labeled a "democracy" by the U.S. government and much of the American media. The Middle East is more problematic, however, since some of America's closest allies are absolute monarchies without even the pretense of democratic institutions. As a result, successive administrations and the media have frequently labeled such governments as "moderate," even if there was nothing particularly moderate in their level of despotism. The term is used primarily in reference to governments that have been friendly to the United States and its foreign policy goals in the Middle East; it has also been used in reference to governments that have been relatively less hostile towards Israel and U.S.-led peace initiatives. In either case, there is virtually no correlation between this label and a given government's record on democracy and human rights. This is how Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist and misogynist theocracy that engages in widespread human rights abuses, is labeled so frequently in the United States as a "moderate" Arab regime.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, most Middle Eastern states do have elections. They are usually formalities, however, the primary purpose of which is to ratify the existing leadership. The smaller emirates of the Persian Gulf, that generally eschew any kind of formal elections, traditionally maintained legitimacy through the majlis system, which provides for the direct petitioning of grievances to royalty. In addition, monarchical succession was not automatic to the eldest son or any single member of the royal family; the successor was chosen by a consensus of tribal elders based on his qualifications. It was the British, who dominated the Gulf region during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that helped ossify the sheikly system to a largely inherited position. With the addition of strong American backing in subsequent years, several of these Arab monarchies have evolved from their relatively open traditional tribal governing structures to ones more closely resembling modern bureaucratic authoritarianism. As a result, human rights abuses have increased in a number of these countries and the legitimacy of these governments is being challenged to a growing degree from within. Popular resentment cannot help but expand beyond the regime in question to its chief foreign patron as well.

As with other parts of the world, the U.S. government will often downplay the human rights abuses of its allies and exaggerate the abuses of its adversaries. To cite some recent examples: in the State Department's annual human rights report, the description of the Sultanate of Oman was changed, as a result of pressure from department superiors, to downplay the authoritarian nature of the regime. For example, in the 1991 report, Oman is described as "an absolute monarchy;" a more recent report simply refers to the sultanate as "a monarchy without popularly elected representative institutions.'' More recently, the 2000 human rights report noted how Egypt's military courts "do not ensure civilian defendants due process before an independent tribunal." However, thanks to pressure from above, all references to these unfair tribunals were dropped from the 2001 report even though they continue. The State Department has even allowed Israeli officials to review and edit its human rights report on Israeli practices in the occupied territories prior to publication, substantially toning down the original analysis. Even Iraq had its lack of democracy and poor human rights record downplayed by U.S. officials during its invasion of Iran in the 1980s. Only after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was the record corrected and Iraq's violations prominently exposed.

One of the more striking examples of the U.S. government's lack of concern for human rights regards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is recognized in U.S. courts (and elsewhere) as "customary international law" and as the "authoritative definition" of standards of human rights. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration, perhaps the most famous part of the document, guarantees the right of individuals to leave and return to their own country. The Clinton Administration, in a break with previous administrations, ended U.S. support for its universal application, such as in the annual confirmation of United Nations General

Assembly Resolution 194 guaranteeing the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Even before the United States formally reversed its stance, American officials rarely mentioned it, emphasizing only the first part (the right to leave) regarding Soviet Jews or other victims of oppression in Communist countries. When the issue involved allied governments, however, the right of return was notably omitted.

Rampant double standards also fuel resentment of the United States. American officials have condemned Iraqi repression of its Kurdish minority-at least since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Meanwhile, just to the north, the United States has armed the Turkish armed forces in their repression of its Kurdish minority. Strict enforcement of reactionary interpretations of Islamic law by Iranian authorities are highlighted as examples of the perfidy of that regime, while even more draconian measures enacted in Saudi Arabia are downplayed or even rationalized as inherently part of their culture. The right of self-determination for Kuwaiti Arabs while under Iraqi occupation was vigorously defended, but not the right of Palestinian Arabs under Israeli occupation or Sahrawi Arabs under Moroccan occupation. Martial law in NATO ally Turkey during the 1980s was largely supported, while martial law in the Warsaw Pact nation of Poland during that same period was strongly condemned and resulted in U.S. sanctions. The United States has publicly advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein so the people of Iraq could choose their own leaders, but this right to choose their own leaders is something virtually no other Arab people have ever known, including those who live under regimes supported by the U.S. government.

U.S. aid to Israel has generally increased as the government's repression in the occupied territories has worsened. Similarly, aid to Morocco increased as that country's repression in occupied Western Sahara and even within Morocco itself continued unabated. The United States largely welcomed the 1992 military coup in Algeria that nullified that country's first democratic elections. American forces failed to stop widespread repression, even Iynchings, of Palestinian residents of Kuwait immediately after the country's liberation from Iraq; these anti-Palestinian pogroms, in reaction to some Palestinian residents collaborating with Iraqi occupation forces, constituted collective punishment based on ethnic origin, a particularly serious violation of international law.

Rather than encourage democratization in the Middle East, the United States has reduced-or maintained at low levels-its economic, military, and diplomatic support of Arab countries that have experienced substantial liberalization in recent years. For example, Jordan received large-scale U.S. support in the 1970s and 1980s despite widespread repression and authoritarian rule. In the early 1 990s, when it became perhaps the most democratic country in the Arab world-with a relatively free press, opposition political parties, and lively debate in a parliament that wielded real political power within a constitutional monarchy-the United States suspended foreign aid. Similarly, aid to Yemen was cut off within months of the newly reunified country's first democratic election in 1990.26 The official explanation for the cutoff of U.S. support for these two countries was because of their failure to support the United States in its war against Iraq. However, the reason these governments could not back the American war effort was because their leaders-unlike those of their more autocratic Arab neighbors that supported the war-needed to be responsive to their citizenry, who generally opposed the war, because they had relatively open political systems. By contrast, American support for dictatorial regimes-such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf emirates that backed the U.S.-led war effort-increased during this period.

As Newsweek magazine observed, in reference to Pakistan, "It may be a good thing that Pakistan is ruled by a friendly military dictator rather than what could well be a hostile democracy." As British journalist Robert Fisk noted, "Far better to have a Mubarak or a King Abdullah or a King Fahd running the show than to let the Arabs vote for a real government that might oppose U.S. policies in the region."

Even with repressive regimes the United States does not support, calls for a change in government do not mean the United States is necessarily interested in democracy. For example, despite public announcements of support for democratic change in Iraq, Richard Haas, former Director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council, observed, "Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime."

Despite worldwide trends toward democracy and greater individual freedom throughout the world, the United States has helped perpetuate the rule of absolute monarchs in the Persian Gulf through billions of dollars in military sales and generous arrangements for economic investments. Many Arabs oppose these corrupt royal families to the point that they were not sorry to see the Kuwaiti government temporarily overthrown by Iraqi forces in 1990. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has demonstrated outright hostility towards democratic trends in neighboring Yemen-the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula-with no apparent American objections.

In recent years, the United States has rationalized its support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia as a regrettable but necessary means of suppressing the Islamic opposition. In many respects, this policy closely parallels the decades of support during the Cold War of repressive right-wing governments in the name of antiCommunism. The result is similar, however: the lack of open political expression only encourages large segments of the oppressed populations to ally with an underground-and often violent and authoritarian-opposition movement. In Islamic countries, that often means extremist Islamic groups. As Hafez Abu Saada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said, "Politics is prohibited in this society in general, but the government can't close the mosque." Furthermore, the lack of a free press means that for many Muslims who do not believe the official media, the only alternative source of information comes through the Internet and other anonymous alternative sources, exposing them to extremist propaganda, including conspiracy theories, without any credible countervailing sources of information.

Rather than disliking American democracy, most Middle Easterners are envious of it and are resentful that the American attitude seems to be that they are somehow not deserving of it. The anti-terrorist coalition the United States has built for its military response to the September 2001 attacks-centered around alliances with the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the military regime of Pakistan and the crypto-Communists that rule Uzbekistan-has been labeled "Operation Enduring Freedom." It's an irony lost on few Middle Easterners.


Supporting Repression in Islamic Countries

Saudi Arabia

One of the many ironies in U.S. Middle East policy is that a nation founded in one of the world's first republican revolutions is now the major of the world's few remaining absolute monarchies. For the past twenty years, the United States has been on record that it is willing to use military force to repel not just external aggression against U.S. allies in the Gulf, but internal challenges as well. There is little question that U.S. economic and military support has kept the hereditary rulers of the Middle East in power as despots far longer than a more natural evolution of social change would have otherwise allowed. When U.S.-trained SANG forces pushed an anti-regime uprising in 1981, President Ronald Reagan declared " I will not permit [Saudi Arabia] to be an Iran," referring to the successful uprising that had ousted the U.S.-backed Shah two years earlier.

The most important American ally in the Islamic world is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is run exclusively by a royal family that allows no public dissent or independent press. Those who dare challenge the regime or its policies are punished severely. There is no constitution, no political parties and no legislature. It was under such an environment of repression that bin Laden and most of his followers first emerged.

Support for these family dictatorships has been a prevailing theme of U.S. policy for several decades, a view shared by the British when they were the dominant outside power. According to Harold Macmillan, who served as prime minister in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it is "rather sad that circumstances compel us to support reactionary and really rather outmoded regimes because we know that the new forces, even if they begin with moderate opinions, always seem to drift into violent revolutionary and strongly anti-Western positions." More bluntly, F. Gregory Gause III, a contemporary specialist on Saudi Arabia at the University of Vermont, noted how "The truth is the more democratic the Saudis become, the less cooperative they will be with us. So why should we want that?"

British-based journalist and author Dilip Hiro describes how the United States does not support democracy in the Middle East because "it is much simpler to manipulate a few ruling families-to secure fat orders for arms and ensure that oil price remains low-than a wide variety of personalities and policies bound to be thrown up by a democratic system." In particular, says Hiro, elected governments might reflect the popular sentiment for "self-reliance and Islamic fellowship."

Indeed, to link arms transfers with the human rights records of America's Middle East allies, for example, would lead to the loss of tens of billions of dollars worth of sales for American arms manufacturers, which are among the most powerful special interest groups in Washington. It could also risk the hundreds of billions of dollars that the Saudis have invested in the American economy. With the exception of Israel, none of America's allies in the region could really be considered democracies, yet none require democratic institutions in order to fulfill American strategic objectives. Most observers acknowledge that close strategic cooperation with the United States tends to be unpopular in Arab countries, as are government policies that devote large amounts of public expenditures towards the acquisition of weapons, most of which are of American origin. Were these leaders subjected to the will of the majority, they would likely be forced to greatly reduce arms purchases from and strategic cooperation with the United States. In short, democracy among Middle Eastern countries is seen as potentially damaging to American policy goals.

Uzbekistan and Central Asia

Central Asia offers a particularly ironic twist in U.S. policy. In some cases-such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan-the United States has allied with old-line Communist Party bosses from the Soviet era who are still in power as a means of countering the growth of Islamic movements in those countries. (This contrasts with previous decades, when the United States supported such Islamic movements to counter the Communists.) This comes despite the fact that, in part because of the strong Sufi influence, most Islamic movements in Central Asia-with the notable exception of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)-are actually fairly progressive and moderate as compared with some of their Middle Eastern and North African counterparts.

In the case of Uzbekistan-the United States' closest ally in the region-the radical orientation of its Islamic opposition is a direct result of the Karimov regime's imprisonment and torture of nonviolent Muslims who dared to worship outside of state controls. Attacks by the dictatorship's armed forces against the IMU have resulted in widespread civilian casualties, not just within Uzbekistan, but also in neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Amnesty International documented widespread human rights violations during the 2001 counter-insurgency campaign, where "villages were set on fire and bombed, livestock were killed, houses and fields destroyed." However, the U.S. State Department saw the Karimov regime's actions quite differently, declaring "The United States supports . the right of Uzbekistan to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from the violent actions of the IMU, and commends the measures in the course of the current incursions to minimize casualties and ensure the protection of innocent civilians."


The United States has traditionally justified its support for authoritarian regimes on the grounds that the alternatives would be worse: during the Cold War, the fear was from forces of the left and, more recently, it has come from anti-American Islamists. However, the United States is also quite willing to support Middle Eastern governments that suppress liberal democratic movements. A particularly vivid example of this lack of concern for democracy involves Egypt, by far the largest Arab country. In May 2001, the increasing authoritarianism of U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak was demonstrated in the quick conviction of Dr. Saad El-Din Ibrahim and twenty-seven associates in what was widely seen as a serious blow against Egypt's burgeoning pro-democracy movement. Dr. Ibrahim and his colleagues served with the Ibn Khaldun Center for Developmental Studies, a think tank dedicated to the promotion of civil society in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. In 2000, the Egyptian government shut down this internationally renowned center, known for its study of applied social sciences in Egypt and the Arab world. Its monthly publication, Civil Society, had been an important source of information and analysis for scholars across the globe. The Center had also engaged in the monitoring of elections and providing workshops in civic education. For these activities, Dr. Ibrahim was sentenced to a seven-year jail term. The closure of the center and the jailing of its staff was clearly intended to deter other academics from pursuing similar research and related activities, thereby limiting the free exchange of ideas crucial to advancing political pluralism in Egypt and other Arab countries. The convictions were the latest in a series of repressive government measures against other Egyptian scholars, democrats, and human rights activists, as well as gays and feminists. The Ibn Khaldun Center advocated just the kind of liberal democratic values that U.S. foreign policy supposedly upholds, yet there was little reaction from the Bush Administration until August 2002, when it was announced that no additional foreign aid allocations would be considered until his release. This did not affect current foreign aid, however, and no additional allocations were under consideration anyway.

Egypt's corrupt and autocratic government is the second largest recipient of U.S. economic and military assistance in the world, surpassed only by Israel. Concerns by pro-democracy groups in Egypt and human rights organizations in the United States that such aid is only making further repression possible have been rejected by the State Department, which still insists such aid is necessary to "push the peace march forward." As long as the Mubarak regime knows that U.S. aid will flow regardless of its violations of internationally recognized human rights, there is little incentive for political liberalization. The growing anti-American sentiment in Egypt stems not as much from U.S. support for Israel as it does from U.S. support for Mubarak's dictatorial rule.


Turkey is another Middle Eastern country where the United States has aided conflict and repression. For over fifty years, the Turkish republic has received large-scale military, economic, and diplomatic support from the United States. It was U.S. support of the pro-Western government of Turkey in the late 1940s-along with its neighbor and historic rival Greece-against perceived Soviet-instigated communist threats that many historians point to as the origins of the Cold War. At NATO's southeastern flank, Turkey's strategic location relative to both the former Soviet Union and the Middle East made that country, after Israel and Egypt, the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid-primarily military-in recent decades. Direct grants of armaments were phased out only as recently as 1998; arms sales to and ongoing strategic cooperation with Turkey continues.

Turkey has yet to acknowledge its genocide against its Armenian population over eighty years ago in which over one million civilians were slaughtered. In order to appease its Turkish client, the U.S. government has refused to publicly acknowledge that the genocide even took place, despite the widespread historic documentation of the atrocities.

The fifteen million strong Kurdish minority, located primarily in the eastern part of the country, has suffered enormously under Turkish rule. There have been periods when simply speaking the Kurdish language or celebrating Kurdish festivals has been severely repressed. In addition to being denied basic cultural and political rights, Kurdish civilians have been the primary victims of a Turkish counter-insurgency campaign ostensibly targeted at the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist-led guerrilla group fighting for greater autonomy. The Turkish regime has capitalized on the PKK's use of terrorism as an excuse to crush even nonviolent expressions of Kurdish nationalism. The United States has been largely silent regarding the Turkish government's repression but quite vocal in condemning what it sees as Kurdish terrorism.

The Clinton Administration justified its eleven-week bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999 on the grounds that atrocities such as the Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanians must not take place "on NATO's doorstep." Ironically, similar ethnic-based repression on an even greater scale had been already taking place for a number of years within a NATO country. During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States supplied Turkey with $15 billion worth of armaments as the Turkish military carried out widespread attacks against civilian populations in the largest use of American weapons by non-U.S. forces since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Most of this took place during President Bill Clinton's first term. Over 3000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and over two million Kurds became refugees in an operation where more than three-quarters of the weapons were of U.S. origin. The fifteen-year war cost over 40,000 lives.

The Kurds are a nation of more than 25 million people divided among six countries. Their struggle for self-determination has been hampered by the sometimes bitter rivalry between competing nationalist groups, some of which have been used as pawns by competing regional powers. While Iraqi repression against the Kurds has at times received coverage in the U.S. media, the situation for Turkish Kurds during the past decade has been even worse, but has gone relatively unnoticed since the human rights abuses have been committed by a strategic ally of the United States. Human Rights Watch, which has also criticized the PKK rebels for serious human rights violations, has documented how the U.S.-supplied Turkish army was "responsible for the majority of forced evacuations and destruction of villages.''

On several occasions, thousands of Turkish troops have crossed into Iraqi territory to attack Kurdish guerrillas and civilians there as well. These incursions have taken place in areas that, since 1991, were declared by the United States to be "safe havens" for the Kurds. These Turkish attacks have been far greater in scope than Saddam Hussein's 1996 forays into Iraqi Kurdistan that resulted in large-scale U.S. air strikes in response. By contrast, when it came time to respond to Turkey's assaults, President Clinton stood out as the only international leader to openly support the Turkish regime. According to then State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, "Turkey's an ally. And we have no reason to question the need for an incursion across the border."

The United States provided a major boost for Turkey's fight against the Kurds in 1998 when the Clinton Administration successfully pressured Syria to expel PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. In February the following year, the United States assisted Turkish intelligence agents in locating Ocalan in Kenya, where he was kidnapped, brought to Turkey and initially sentenced to death. Despite what most observers saw as prejudicial treatment, the Clinton State Department refused to question the fairness of the proceedings. Since then, a cease-fire, a more moderate PKK leadership and a lessening of Turkish repression has given some hope for a peaceful settlement to the conflict, though hundreds of nonviolent Kurdish dissidents remain in jail.

The denial of the degree of Turkish repression has continued under the Bush Administration. In an interview on July 14, 2002 with CNN Turkey, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz declared that "one of the things that impresses me about Turkish history [is] the way Turkey treats its minorities."

Such pandering to the Turkish government was rationalized during the Cold War as necessary to back a key ally that bordered the Soviet Union. Today, while this veneer is gone, the policy continues.

Supplying Repression from Israel

Israel has by far the strongest democratic institutions of any country in the Middle East. Unfortunately, such respect for individual freedom and human rights is largely restricted to areas within its internationally recognized borders and primarily to its Jewish citizens. Indeed, Israeli occupation forces in the Palestinian-populated West Bank and Gaza Strip are perpetrating some of the worst human rights violations taking place in the Middle East today. As an important American ally, however, criticism of U.S. support for Israeli repression is extremely difficult within mainstream political discourse in the United States.

However, U.S. support for Israel in the face of its poor human rights record is a major source of anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Human rights violations by the Israeli government have traditionally upset Muslims more than comparable or even worse human rights violations by Islamic governments. This comes in part because many Muslims see Israel as a colonial-settler state created in the interests of Western imperialism. There is also concern over the religious significance of Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam, being under what they view as a foreign occupation. The economic and political burdens from the Palestinian Diaspora on other Arab countries, combined with anger over the trauma from exile and the oppression of occupation experienced by the Palestinians, has made this perhaps the single most important issue in international politics for most of the world's Muslims. Added to this is the tendency for some Muslim governments, particularly in the Arab world, to use the plight of the Palestinians as a means to distract their populations from domestic concerns.

Many United Nations reports and resolutions critical of Israeli human rights violations, while in the most part valid, have lacked credibility because these efforts were supported by some of the world's most tyrannical states. Even in the United States, some groups that raise concerns about Israeli human rights violations have been noted for the failure to also criticize Arab regimes that violate human rights. Such organizations may sometimes attract followers who do not uphold a universal concern for human rights, but carry a hidden-and sometimes not-so-hidden-anti-lsrael or even anti-Semitic agenda.

As a result, many Americans sympathetic with Israel are concerned that making even legitimate criticisms of Israel's human rights record may in some ways encourage anti-Semitism or lead to accusations of harboring such motivations. When a number of peace and human rights organizations, politicians, and academics with a strong universal commitment to democracy and human rights have raised the issue of human rights violations by Israel or the subject of democratic rights for Palestinians, they have been subjected to unfair denunciation. As a result, critics of Israel's human rights record and of U.S. complicity in Israeli repression in the occupied territories are even more on the margins of political discourse than are those who criticize U.S. support of its repressive Arab allies. In addition, because Israel's leadership has publicly endorsed Western values regarding democracy and human rights and has created exemplary democratic institutions for its Jewish citizens that surpass any other Middle Eastern country, it is hard for many Americans to understand why the human rights policies of a democracy in a region dominated by dictatorships should be challenged. Furthermore, while there are certainly widespread Israeli violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights against Arab populations under their control, Israel's most egregious violations of human rights generally fall under the Geneva Convention, which is less likely to be cited by those raising issues of human rights.

Understanding "Our Commitment to Freedom"

To those in the Arab and Islamic world, U.S. defense of Israeli repression against their Palestinian brethren is perhaps the most sensitive of a whole series of grievances regarding American callousness towards internationally-recognized human rights in the Middle East. Yet it is the U.S. support of repression by regimes of Islamic countries that Muslims know the best. Morocco and Turkey, like Israel, have utilized American weapons in the occupation and repression of other peoples. Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Islamic countries have suffered under autocratic rule maintained, in varying degrees, through American military, economic and diplomatic support.

In a major White House speech on U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in June 2002, President Bush insisted that democratic governance and an end to violence and corruption must be a prerequisite for Palestinian independence. This came across as particularly ironic, given that his administration-as well as previous administrations-has so strongly supported a series of violent, corrupt and autocratic regimes throughout the Middle East and beyond. Millions of people watched the president of the United States demand that the Palestinians create a democratic political system based upon "tolerance and liberty" while at the same time befriending other Middle Eastern governments that are among the most intolerant and autocratic regimes in the world. It was ironic that President Bush specifically criticized the Palestinian Authority's lack of a fair judicial system. It was the same infamous State Security Court he criticized, which has carried out some of the worst human rights abuses, that was established with strong U.S. support and was once praised by Vice President Al Gore when he visited Jericho in 1994.

Until the extent of the repression and the American complicity in the repression is recognized, it will be difficult to understand the negative sentiments a growing number of ordinary people in the Islamic world have towards the United States. Therefore, self-righteous claims by American leaders that the anger expressed by Arabs and Muslims towards the United States is because of "our commitment to freedom" only exacerbates feelings of ill-will and feeds the rage manifested in anti-American violence and terrorism.


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