Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of US Arab Relations 1820-2001 by Ussama Makdisi. A Summary by Colin Chapman

A Summary by Colin Chapman

It’s impossible to understand the present American policies regarding Israel and the Middle East without understanding the previous history of US – Arab relations. Here is a book which explains what Americans (and especially American Christians) need to know about this history.It has three major themes:

  1. The attitude of Arabs towards the US in the 19thcentury was overwhelmingly positive

‘Christian and Muslim Arabs were able to draw a picture of the US as a benevolent great power that was neither imperialist nor covetous of the resources or lands of the Ottoman Empire.’ (3)

‘American missionaries, not soldiers, constituted the first face of America to Arabs …’ and they built up a ‘reservoir of good will.’ (3)

  1. The crucial turning point came as a result of American involvement in the creation of Israel

‘Readers will note that this book tells two stories: the story of the strong and growing Arab faith in American, and then the story of a sudden, even more biter disenchantment with it. The pivot is 1948 and the crucial US role in helping to create and then defend the exclusively Jewish state of Israel in what had been historically a multi-religious land… More than any other single factor, the presence of Israel has altered the course of US-Arab relations and explains the narrative of this book… the interpretative key with which to understand the relentless dynamic of post 1948 US-Arab relations.’ (4-5)

‘The broken promise of US – Arab relations is the result of a chain of actions and reactions that stretches back to at least the First World War and to the betrayal of the principles of Wilsonian self-determination with which many Arabs had become familiar and to which they were deeply devoted. Anti-Americanism as a distinctly Arab phenomenon began with the US support for the creation of Israel. The evidence is overwhelming. Blunt warnings were issued at the time – and since then – by countless Arab politicians, military leaders, intellectuals, novelists, filmmakers, and artists. In addition, US consuls, ambassadors, educators, and missionaries in the area clearly recorded the depth of Arab resentment and disillusionment with America; as individuals and as a group, they had carefully listened to, and urgently registered, what Arabs had been telling them in unequivocal terms…’

‘It is the American decision to privilege Israel over the Arabs in 1948 and the subsequent, strident reiteration of this privilege that have precluded the possibility of a less fraught American relationship with the Arab world. This is, and has always been, an inevitable trade-off. A very clear trajectory of US – Arab relations was profoundly altered in 1948; so too, of course, was the Arab world. There is a reason why every Arab and, since the revolution in Iran, every Iranian and perhaps every Muslim opponent of the United States inevitably turns to the question of Palestine, for it continues to exemplify Western injustice against the Arabs more completely than any other issue.’  (355-7)

  1. It’s not America’s values that people in the Arab world oppose, but America’s policies

‘Virtually every poll taken of Arab opinion since 2001 affirms a central point of this book: that anti-Americanism has been, and generally remains, an expression of profound Arab opposition to US bias and support in favour of Israel, rather than hostility to American culture and values.

‘In September 2004 the Pentagon’s own 102-page Defence Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication report state that “US policies on Israeli-Palestinian issues and Iraq … have damaged America’s credibility and power to persuade … Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel against Palestinians rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States. Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”’ (359-60)

What follows is a summary of each chapter with quotations of key sentences and paragraphs.On the assumption that many readers are familiar with the main facts of what happened – eg in the Suez crisis in 1956 and the Six Day War in 1967 – most of the quotations focus on Arab responses to these events and to American policies.

Chapter 1. Reclaiming Bible Lands   [work of American missionaries in 19thC]

After what seemed the failure of the aggressive evangelism of the first American missionaries (1820 – 26) in Lebanon, who were critical both of Islam and of the eastern churches, a new generation of missionaries (from 1830s) developed ‘a new mission’ which was ‘less belligerent and more successful’, placing more emphasis on education and other forms of service.

– Strong reaction of the Maronite patriarch to the evangelism of the missionaries led to the imprisonment and death in prison of As‘ad Shidyaq, the first convert to Protestantism (1826).

– The earliest missionaries were motivated by millennialism, believing in the necessity of the restoration of Jews to Palestine before the Second Coming of Christ.

– Commercial treaty in 1830 between US and Ottoman Empire led to appointment of an American consul in Beirut.

– New leadership of mission under Eli Smith and Cornelius van Dyke, a doctor (1840)

– Medical services started, and a school for girls. Established a press which became ‘a leading Arabic printing press in the eastern Mediterranean.’

– New Arabic Bible translation initiated by Smith, and completed by van Dyke, who had mastered Arabic and had much greater openness towards Arabs.

These new missionaries came to present themselves as ‘avatars of modern science, technology and spirituality … apostles of progress as well as of Protestantism’ (48). By 1850 they had established mission work in many major cities and villages across the region. Beirut had become ‘the undisputed Arab jewel in the American missionary crown’ (38). By 1850 Protestants were recognised in the Ottoman Empire as ‘an autonomous and protected religious community’ (43).

– 1868. Syrian Protestant College founded under Daniel Bliss and William Thomson, ‘the first institution of its kind in the Arab region’ (52). ‘This new institution would take the missionaries in new and ultimately secular directions’ (52), creating ‘a new kind of secular American presence in the region’ (52).

Chapter 2. The Arab Discovery of America

The positive attitude of Arabs towards America in the 19thC were largely formed in response to the work of American missionaries working in the region.

– The idea of ‘a benevolent America’ … ‘was built squarely on the back of the very recent missionary encounter.’

– ‘… American missionaries played a role in the revitalization of Arab culture that would be retrospectively called the nahdaor ‘renaissance’ (61)

– [Concerning responses to the death of Cornelius van Dyke in 1895] ‘The sympathetic portrait of Van Dyke painted in the Arabic press was a metaphor for US-Arab relations of the nineteenth century. An American, then, more than any other foreigner, came to embody a cultural revolution for a small but influential group of Christian and Muslim Arabs in Syria and Egypt. They trusted him not because he was an American per se, but because he showed that it was possible to embrace modern life without imperialism or sectarianism.’ (77)

A further reason for positive attitudes towards America among Arabs in the 19thC was the perception that America, unlike Britain and France, had no imperialist ambitions in the Middle East. Some Muslims, however, were concerned about the impact of Christian missionary activity.

– ‘the positive idea of American among educated Arabs rested on its anti-imperialist mantra’ (84)

– [By end of 19thC] ‘Ottoman government and Muslim religious leaders grew thoroughly alarmed by the danger posed to Muslim and Ottoman identity by missionary education.’

– Rachid Rida ‘expressed the genuine ambivalence that Muslim Arabs felt towards the missionaries …’ He ‘came to embody the modern Arab Muslim search for reform that struck a balance between the emulation of foreign knowledge and the preservation of Muslim independence.’ (87-8)

‘But for all the evident Muslim alarm at missionary activity, there was virtually no hostility to America itself to be found anywhere in the Arab world.’ (92)

Arabs immigrants to the US expressed ‘the wonder and alienation that defined the Arab discovery of America’ (94). Some came to ‘discover in America a promised land’ (53). Some were more critical of what they saw in the US, and others (like Khalil Gibran) became more critical of the countries from which they had come.

– ‘From nothing, sustained integration and mutual transformation had created an Arab imagination of America as a major Western power that was non-imperialist.’ (102)

– ‘From the very beginning, the impetus for the earliest repudiation of America came from either those who were threatened by the missionary message or those who were disenchanted by the profound gap they experienced between their idealization of “America” and its vastly more complex reality.’ (56-7).

– ‘Their emphasis on American innocence and lack of imperial ambition in the region obscured the fact that the US was, in its own right, an expansionist power that had trampled many nations and peoples whose lives and dreams were inconsistent with its own. And missionaries, for the most part, had cheered this expansion along… As much as the American missionaries had consistently and loudly proclaimed that they had no imperial intentions and that they were citizens of a nation that had no territorial designs on the Ottoman Empire, they had equally supported the idea of British colonial rule in Egypt and were overwhelmingly opposed to equality with the Arabs.’ (124, 84)

– ‘Like most other immigrant communities, the Syrians understood that there was a powerful and apparently unshakable racial orthodoxy at work in America. Their job as not to criticize it. It was simply to fit in.’ (97)

– Syrian writers like Rihani and Gibran who emigrated to US were ‘appalled by the corruption of their native church and the sectarianism that permeated Syria; they became committed anticlericalists and explicitly championed religious toleration… Unlike the missionaries, neither Rihani nor Gibran venerated American culture or held it up as a model to be embraced simplistically by their own native society. They criticized, instead, specific facets of their culture without indicting the whole of it.’ (101)

Chapter 3. Benevolent America  [the benevolent face of America expressed in the humanitarian response to the Armenian genocide and in President Woodrow Wilson’s appeal to the principle of self-determination]

The Armenian genocide, beginning in 1894-96 and culminating in 1915, because of the strong appeals made by American missionaries working among Armenians, led to an outpouring of sympathy and humanitarian assistance from the American public. It also ‘crystallized American missionary antipathy to Muslim rule.’

– ‘American missionary compassion for the Armenians created the first genuine humanitarian movement for a foreign people in the US.’ (105)

After the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of a new world order, based on the principle of self-determination, aroused great hopes among the Arabs. But his support for the Balfour Declaration went against his insistence on self-determination. 

– [President Wilson in a speech to Congress on 1918]: ‘An evident principle runs through the whole program I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak … Unless this principle be made its foundation, no part of the structure of international justice can stand. The people of the United States could act upon no other principle; and to the vindication of this principle they are ready to devote their lives, their honor, and everything they possess.’ (125)

‘[President Wilson] … had raised enormous expectations among Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Arab nationalists that he had no hope or real intention of fulfilling.’ (126)

‘The problem with Wilsonian idealism ran deep. The American president had held aloft noble ideals without paying enough attention to the details. The British and the French cherished the details and dismissed the noble ideals… An Arab-American surgeon of Palestinian origins …, Fouad Shatara, pleaded with Secretary of State Lansing to understand the broader Arab concern with the Balfour Declaration, namely, how flagrantly Zionism in Palestine contradicted Wilson’s own principle of self-determination.’ (127, 131)

At the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919 there were deep disagreements about the future of the Middle East. At the suggestion of Howard Bliss, President of the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut, it was agreed that a ‘Mixed Commission’ should visit the countries of the Middle East to find out the aspirations of the people. This commission, which came to be known as the King-Crane Commission, visited the region for 42 days in June and July and presented its report in August 1919.

‘It laid out in extraordinary detail precisely what the people of Syria, including Lebanon and Palestine, desired in their overwhelming majority: independence, a unified Syria, a single democratic government, an American mandatory – if absolutely necessary because people had more faith in the United States than in Britain and France – and an immediate end to the settlements in Palestine of Zionists, whose “title” over Palestine they rejected … There was no way to reconcile honestly the principle of self-determination with Zionist colonization of Palestine.’’ (140, 142)

The findings of the Commission were completely ignored by the great powers.

‘As many American officials in Paris had foreseen, the King-Crane Commission was doomed before it began. The commissioners had raised Arab hopes, only to dash them. They acted not in the deliberately misleading manner of the British, but out of a self-regarding conviction of what it meant to be “American.” … Politically speaking, the commission was a failure, except in one respect. Henry King and Charles Crane had accomplished their principle objective: to furnish Wilson, and the Western powers, with the information they needed to make an informed decision. They had witnessed and recorded the sentiments of Arabs against foreign colonialism and Zionism, and for national freedom. For this reason, their report was suppressed – or at any rate, deliberately ignored. So too were the Arabs of Palestine and Syria.’ (146)

Even before 1919, some American Christians were voicing their support for the emerging Zionist movement. In 1891William Blackstone, a Christian Zionist, published a petition or ‘Memorial’, entitled “Palestine for the Jews”, and addressed to the US President. Effectively ‘it announced the birth of American Zionism.’ (116)

‘Without most of them even realizing it, they were proposing to ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the region by advocating the “return” of Jews from Europe to Palestine. They were advocating yet another ruinous national contest in a region already rife with them. They were taking a wrecking ball to the edifice of American benevolence that American missionaries had worked so hard to construct. It was a signal of things to come.’ (117)

Chapter 4. Betrayal  [the consequences of American support for the partition of Palestine at the UN in November 1948]

Arab nationalists had great hopes of America when they met in Damascus in July1919 and when Faysal was proclaimed king of a united, independent Syria in March 1920. But the British and French disregarded the wishes of the Arabs, and at the San Remo Conference in April 1920, carved up Syria. Faysal’s small army was defeated by the French in a battle at Maysalum in July 2910.

‘Christian and Muslim Arabs were subject to popular American indifference, if not total ignorance… America had little interest in, or sympathy for, Arab nationalist aspirations’ (154-5).

In the months and years leading up to the UN vote on the partition of Palestine in November 1947, several well-known academics who knew the Middle East well warned the US government very clearly about the implications of supporting the vote for partition.

Philip Hitti, the Lebanese Christian historian, described as ‘a man shaped by his exposure to American missionaries in Lebanon’, who ‘represented a genuine Arab embrace of America that grew directly out of the missionary age’, speaking in 1944: ‘He opposed US support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine on the grounds that the vast majority of the land’s inhabitants were Muslim and Christian Arabs. A Jewish state could be imposed upon them only by force. In Hitti’s view, this was unfair, unjust, and undemocratic. He also said that such a state would inflame wider Arab and Muslim passions and that it was utterly hypocritical to solve European anti-semitism at the expense of Arabs. Above all, he warned, American support for the creation of a Jewish state would needlessly squander a century of goodwill that American missionaries had built up…’ (182)

Albert Hourani, the Lebanese-British historian, speaking to an Anglo-American committee meeting at the YMCA in Jerusalem in March 1946: ‘Hourani was able to point out the obvious injustice of colonial Zionism without resorting to bigotry … Like every other Arab, he pointed to the underlying hypocrisy of Western humanitarianism that sought to alleviate the suffering of European Jews at the expense of the Arabs. Hourani stressed the “injustice of turning a majority into a minority in its own country” and the “injustice of withholding self-government until the Zionists are in the majority and are able to profit by it.” More pointedly, he reminded the commissioners that the Zionists were not aiming to solve a humanitarian crisis or a “refugee problem for its own sake, but to secure political dominion in Palestine, and that their demand for immigration is only a step towards dominating Palestine.”’ (189)

Bayard Dodge (President of AUB), Daniel Bliss(grandson of the founder of AUB) and other Americans with experience in the Middle East, writing in the New York Times, urged the American government not to agree to partition. ‘These Americans made it clear that they understood the plight of the Jews, but feared that American support for Zionism would undermine a century of goodwill built up by their forbears … Dodge perhaps grasped how little the missionary project had affected negative American Christian attitudes towards the Orient – or rather, how much missionary zealotry against Islam had played right into a Zionist determination to remake the Holy Land and thus, ironically, jeopardized American cultural institutions such as AUB. The patrician Dodge watched as the missionary community he embodied was stripped of its last pretensions to represent a benevolent American to the Arabs and the deserving Arabs to America … The American missionaries and educators, who had been at the heart of the American encounter with the Arabs, found themselves impotent to stem the tide of Western conviction about the necessity of a Jewish state in Palestine.’ (195-6)

American support for Zionism and the partition of Palestine had very significant consequences. ‘These were but the first sparks of what would in time become a smoldering Arab rage against Western, and especially American, arrogance and imperialism.’ (200)

‘President Truman was aware of Arab objections, but he wanted to believe that they were not insurmountable … His interest in winning Jewish votes, his readings in the Bible, and his sympathy for the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution coloured his view of Zionism.’ (191)

‘The Arabs were humiliated. To an extent – but only to an extent – they brought catastrophe upon themselves because they had held out for the principle of self-determination without actually knowing what to do when the principle was repeatedly trampled underfoot by Western powers. They had no plan B. Yet the joy in the United States over the creation of a Jewish state was accompanied by an almost perverse blindness to the wreckage of an Arab society entailed by the creation of Israel.’ (202)

‘No single issue dramatized more clearly the fault lines in the unequal relationship that bound Arabs and Americans together or exemplified more generally the subordination of the Arabs to the West. No single issue revealed more sharply the ambiguity within the American missionary view of he Arabs, nor shed light as powerfully on how damaging was a Western Christian and Jewish Zionist view that separated the Holy Land from its historical and contemporary living Arab environment. No single issue exposed more obviously the naivety at the heart of the foundational Arab view of America.’ (166)

Chapter 5. Picking up the Pieces  [consequences of American foreign policies in the period between 1945 and 1967]

Three examples of how American foreign policy was perceived during this period by people familiar with the Middle East:

Charles Malik, Lebanese Foreign Minister, and Chair of the UN General Assembly from ’58-‘59, in a confidential dispatch to the Lebanese government in 1949 on the state of US – Arab relations: ‘He admitted that the corollary of American official and political support for Zionism was an American “denial” of the Arabs. He also believed that it was foolish to assume that American economic interests in the Middle East, particularly oil, would in any way counteract what he regarded as Jewish influence in America. Israel’s success on the battlefield had allowed its American supporters to triumph in the domestic battle to shape America’s foreign policy towards the region. The Arab world, indeed, had been revealed “in its weakness, its impotence, its confusion, and in the disarray of its ranks.” Far from rallying the Arabs, Palestine had simply exposed their insignificance. The Americans knew that they could support Israel and still extract oil from the region. Their overriding strategic objective was not cultivating the goodwill of the Arab world, but maintaining their control over, and excluding the Soviets from the oil fields of the Middle East. The United States could count on Turkey, Iran, and Israel as allies.’ (207)

CIA report on Iraq(1951): ‘A CIA report on Iraq from 1951 had noted … a rapid transformation of “admiration” for the United States “as the one world power which would abide by the principles of right and justice” into a view of it as the “most hypocritical of nations” because of US support for Zionism. Another intelligence report about Egypt in 1953 reiterated the same point. “Egyptians,” it said, “do not regard the US as a colonial power, but US support of Israel has made them profoundly suspicious and resentful of US policy in the area.” The shock of Israel’s colonization of Arab lands went directly against the decolonizing spirit of the age. The United States no longer seemed radically different from older European colonial powers.’ (209)

William Eddy, who had been involved in ‘American diplomatic service, intelligence and oil work’ (1953): ‘… anti-Americanism as a problem was due almost entirely to American policy over Palestine.’  (233)

In October 1956, when Britain and France conspired with Israel to invade Egypt to stop Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal, General Eisenhower forced them to withdraw.

‘Rather than fighting imperialism, the US became the new face of imperialism to many Arabs. American officials would protest the label of imperialism vociferously, but there was no denying that a new age of American power had dawned in the Middle East.

‘The ultimate lesson of Suez was deceptively simple. Any threat to America’s newly acquired domination of the Middle East was to be repelled, whether it emanated from the British hubris and Israeli overreach manifested during the Suez war or from Nasser’s secular pan-Arabism advocated in its aftermath.’  (254)

‘In the end, either US policy would have to change substantially or the Arab world’s secular nationalism, which was built on powerful notions of independence and anti-Zionism, would have to be tamed. The Americans were unwilling to give up on Israel; the Arabs were still unwilling to give up on the question of Palestine. The stage was set for widening confrontation.’  (257)

Chapter 6. Raising the Rag of Liberty  [Consequences of the Six Day War in June 1967 for the Arabs and for American policies in the Middle East in the period until 1973]

Nasser played a major role in the build-up to the 1967 war.

‘Gamal Abdel Nasser … bore ultimate responsibility for stumbling into a conflict with Israel for which he was ill prepared, and then watching helplessly as the Israelis destroyed his army and airforce in just six days in June 1967… Nasserhad merely provided the Israeliswith a pretext to deliver a staggering blow to secular Arab nationalism and to the hopes of a generation of Arabs.’ (259, 263)

‘The magnitude of the Israeli victory underscored the fact that only the US, and not the Soviet Union, could be expected to restrain the Israelis. If the Arabs wanted even a partial return of territories seized by Israel, they would have to come to the White House and settle the Arab-Israeli conflict on American terms. The onus was on the Arabs to sue for peace, not on Israel to give up its newly acquired territories. US officials hoped that the Arabs would now abandon their challenge to US dominance in the region.’ (265)

‘American Zionists … successfully framed for many Americans the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict as essentially an Arab rejection of Jews and as rank anti-Semitism rather than as an Arab struggle for self-determination.’ (267)

‘The paradox of American support for Israel … deepened profoundly following the Six-Day War. As Israel confronted the implications of its success, the Arab states were traumatized by their failure. Unable to go war against Israel successfully, they were unprepared as yet to make peace on American terms.’ (277)

The defeat of 1967 encouraged Palestinian resistance movements like the PLO and the PLFP to turn to violence.

‘… the crushing defeat of Egypt in 1967 galvanized Palestinian guerrilla factions to take their destiny into their own hands … Thus was the age of Palestinian violence born – out of two decades of oppression at the hands of Israel, frustration at the lot of Palestinians in the Arab world, and almost total disinterest of the West in the Palestinian experience. The defeat of the Arab states in 1967 was the catalyst for action, but colonialism was the root cause.’ (280, 284)

‘The PLFP may have insisted that its guerrillas were not criminals but freedom fighters, and that they bore no malice towards their captives. In reality, the Palestinians faced a contradiction from which they could not escape. If they did nothing, the world would continue to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. If they fought the Israelis directly, they would be crushed; if they hijacked airplanes, they were outlaws; and if they killed, they were fanatics. They wanted the West to understand the history and the rights of their people, but the methods they chose isolated them from the very people they tried to reach.’ (286)

‘The result of the 1967 war all but assured the demise of the original, benevolent Arab interpretation of America.’ (290)

Abdullah Tariqi, Saudi oil expert and former minister of petroleum and mineral affairs ‘was yet another in a long line of Arab reformers who noticed the enormous gap that separated American professions of democracy and freedom from the reality of US actins in the region … Inspired by Nasser, Tariqi understood that he struggled against the tribalism and nepotism of the Saudi monarchy as much as against a powerful American oil company … For Tariqi, the answer … to the question of why the Americans had such contempt for the Arabs was both economic and political … Not only did the Arabs possess vast quantities of proven oil reserves, but their oil was the cheapest to extract and refine in the world. As a result, the US actively worked for a quiescent, divided Arab world, just as it had promoted dictatorships in Latin America … The US, in a word, was opposed to what Tariqi regarded as progressive political movements such as Nasser’s because they carried within them the potential for a new balance of power. In this view, then, Israel was not a state of the Jews as much as it was “a 100% American base,” utterly dependent on the US and at the same time an extension of US influence in the area.

‘The implications of this analysis were evident to Tariqi. The problem was not Israel as much as it was the US. Once again, Palestine revealed itself as a bedrock of modern Arab attitudes towards America.’ (291-3)

Chapter 7. Reaping the Whirlwind  [from the October War of 1973 to 2001]

 During this period ‘… the outright identification of the US with Israel also became more extreme than it had ever been before.’ (301)

‘The downward spiral in US – Arab relations quickened pace in the last decades of the twentieth century. The themes that had first emerged in 1947 and 1948 intensified dramatically: The US alignment with Israel strengthened, and aid to it increased exponentially, making Israel, remarkably, the single largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world by the mid-1970s. Arab disillusionment with America also deepened, as did the negative stereotyping of Arabs in America. The difference between Eisenhower’s time and those of subsequent administrations, however, lay in the final fracturing of even the appearance of a united front against Israel. Yet the decline of secular Arab nationalism widened rather than diminished the rupture between Arabs and Americans. The historical decision of the US to support oppressive, unpopular regimes in the Middle East, while also doing little to oppose Israel’s anachronistic colonialism in the Arab territories it occupied during the 1967 war, ensured that the US victory over secular Arab nationalism would create its own terrible dynamic. Nasser may have fallen, and with him the dreams of a generation, but pax Americana helped usher in an age of defiant religiosity, resistance, and cynicism. Having sown the wind, the US now reaped the whirlwind.’  (299)

After the October War in 1973The Arabs used their oil embargo as a weapon against the West.

‘… it was America’s blatant support of Israel that forced his (Faysal’s) hand. The Arab oil weapon, which Abdullah Tariqi had long seen as the most “potent” Arab weapon in the struggle against colonialism, was unleashed reluctantly, but the consequences of its employment were immediately felt. Oil prices shot upward nearly 70 percent.’ (303)

‘Although the groundwork for the demonization of the Arab had been laid before the 1973 war and drew on a panoply of racial stereotypes that had previously encompassed Jews, blacks, and Turks, the intense American antipathy to the Arabs was a direct consequence of the Arab-Israeli conflict… Anti-Arabism in the US … was a phenomenon based upon the mystification of the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict; anti-Americanism in the Arab world remained a phenomenon based upon a reasonably accurate understanding of the consistent US role in the creation and promotion of Israel at the expense of the Arabs.’  (306)

By encouraging Egypt to make its own separate peace with Israel, Secretary of State Kissinger was working to detach Egypt from the Arab world and bring it under western influence. In his own words, ‘We have to find a way of splitting the Arabs.’ Sadat responded because of his own ‘ambition of bringing Egypt firmly into a US orbit.’ (312) Sadat hoped that the Camp David Agreement of 1978 would not only lead to Israel returning Sinai to Egypt, but also further the cause of the Palestinians. But in the end recovering Sinai was more important to him than helping the Palestinians.

Kissinger ‘focused … on drawing Sadat into a separate peace with Israel … Almost overnight Sadat had become America’s man.’ (307)

‘Sadat hoped that Carter could push Israel to relinquish its hold on Sinai, even if he was unable to loosen the Israeli control over the West Bank and Jerusalem. So it was that Sadat decided to make his historic trip to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977, to address the Israeli Knesset … Sadat hoped, despite all the evidence before him, that somehow he might be able to link the liberation of Sinai with freedom for the Palestinians in the West Bank … [Concerning the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in March 1979] Everyone, including Sadat, comprehended that these talks were a fig leaf for Egypt’s abandonment of the Palestinians to their fate.’ (313, 314-5, 317)

The rise of Islamism can be seen as a response bothto western imperialism andto the complete failure of Arab nationalism. ‘The age of secularism was made to give way to Islamism in various forms’ (349).

[Re Iran’s defiance of the Carter and the US in 1979-80] ‘… what Albert Hourani, Philip Hitti, and William Eddy had each warned about a half-century earlier. Western imperialism would create its Islamist antithesis. If the US exploited Arab military weakness to impose a colonial Israel on the Arabs, Khomeini exploited America’s moral weakness over Palestine.’ (325)

‘The downward spiral in US – Arab relations accelerated even more under President Clinton … Arab autocracies allied with the US understood that, among ordinary people across the Arab world, dismay at the US double standard over Iraq and Israel was almost universal.’ (339)

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and its subsequent occupation of the south led to the creation of Hizbullah.

‘With US approval, Israel had crushed the secular PLO, only to discover that it had cleared the ground for a more determined, more capable, more religious, and certainly more ruthless form of resistance to take its place.’ (331)

The sanctions imposed on Iraq from 2000 and the invasion in 2003 were seen by Arabs as a further example of American double standards:

‘Iraq had been in plain violation of UN Security Council Resolution 660 passed in August 1990, which had demanded its immediate withdrawal from Kuweit. But so too, as every Arab knew, was Israel in violation of UN Security Council resolutions on multiple counts, the most pertinent of which was Resolution 425, related to its initial invasion of Lebanon in 1978, and Resolution 476 from 1980, which demanded that Israel cease all attempts to alter the character of occupied East Jerusalem…

‘In the Palestinian territories, a popular and relatively nonviolent uprising or intifada, against the Israeli military occupation between December 1987 and 1990 garnered considerable sympathy for the Palestinians on the world stage, including America itself. Yet the US government contented itself with issuing halfhearted calls for restraint even as Israel crushed the intifada. No sanctions were placed on Israel. And yet when Arabs pointed to the blatant  double standard in the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions in the Middle East, the US went out of its way to deny publicly any linkage between the two situations and to insist that it was an “honest broker” in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

‘But there was, and remains, an obvious linkage. As President Dwight Eisenhower said at the height of the Suez crisis in 1956, “There can be no peace – without law. And there can be no law – if we were to invoke one code of international conduct for those who oppose us – and another for our friends”. The initial, festering wound of Palestine was now compounded by the war on Iraq and the sanctions regime imposed upon it. Arab anger at American hypocrisy reached a boiling point.’  (337-8)

At the Camp David summit in July 2000, Clinton failed to get the Israeli prime minister, Barak, to come to an agreement with Arafat.

‘Arafat, however, balked [over the offer put forward by Clinton and Barak]. He felt that the Palestinians had conceded enough and would not consent to this final deal that so egregiously “ended” the conflict on terms so manifestly unjust. Camp David represented a humiliation too far. A furious Clinton turned on Arafat and, despite his prior assurance, blamed him publicly for the failure of the summit. In truth, Arafat and his aides did have themselves to blame. They had allowed themselves to be led to Camp David. And having sacrificed international law and UN-affirmed rights in favour of what he thought was pragmatism as the basis for his feeble authority, Arafat had little to offer when both rights and law were inevitably brushed aside by Israel and the US. Arafat had been coddled and feted by the West, and especially by Clinton, with the full expectation that at the end of the day he would sign away his people’s rights. When he did not, he was simply discarded. The “moderate” Arafat had run his course – a quintessentially tragic Arab figure in a modern American age that had been ruthlessly unkind to the Arabs.’  (347)

Israel was forced to withdraw from Lebanon in May 2000, boosting the popularity of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah:

‘In May 2000, harassed and harried, Israel finally pulled out of Lebanon. For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel was compelled to withdraw from occupied land without preconditions. The Shi‘a Hassan Nasrallah became a new Arab hero, and he marked the occasion with a famous speech before one hundred thousand people in Bint Jbeil … The message Nasrallah delivered then was cutting in its sharpness. He and his people put no stock in the international community; they had no faith in the UN, which had done nothing to enforce its own resolutions in the case of Israel; they had no faith in America, which they recognized had enabled and justified their torment for decades; they had no faith in the West …’ (348-9)

The book ends with Makdisi’s assessment of how western and especially American policies have affected developments in the Middle East up to 2001, drawing attention in particular to the rise of violent expressions of Islamism.

‘Hizbullah’s triumph at the dawn of a new century was thus accompanied by a new wager that Islamist politics would succeed in bringing freedom to the Arabs where a secular Arab nationalist politics had clearly failed. Nasrallah turned on its head the US and Israeli assumption that the historic failure of Arab states to defeat Israel would inevitably lead to a victor’s peace. For over fifty years, anti-Americanism had been tied inexorably to the question of Palestine and to the visible role played by the US in legitimating, financing, and protecting Israel at the expense of the indigenous Arab population. Yet rather than resolving anti-Americanism by resolving its obvious root cause in a manner that could win Arabs over to America – that is, by supporting the struggle for a just, secular solution that encompasses the rights and security of Palestinians and not simply those of the Israelis – the US during and after the Cold War had banked on Arab exhaustion and Israeli strength.

‘Indeed, since 1967 at least, US presidents have believed that the Arabs must eventually accept Israel regardless of how it treats the Palestinians, and that the resistance of Arab states to Israel will wither in the face of Israel’s apparently insurmountable military strength and the US commitment to that strength. To a large extent, this belief has been vindicated at the level of Arab regimes. Sadat was the first Arab ruler to embrace openly the American vision of the Middle East. But this major American and Israeli victory was only partial, and the price paid to achieve it was extraordinarily high, for it involved sacrificing the possibility of a pro-Western Arab world in favour of pro-American Arab dictatorships. The age of secularism was made to give way to Islamism in various forms.

‘As Nasrallah stood in Bint Jbeil to mark a historic Israeli defeat in May 2000, it was clear to him that Arab faith in America had been shattered. He knew that both Sunni and Shi‘a Arabs resented US policy because it had enabled, justified, and protected Israeli colonialism. Hizbullah drew strength from this fact. So too did Hamas. Their Islamist politics, however, was fraught with enormous problems. Both movements appropriated the mantle of freedom from their Arab nationalist antecedents, but they rejected their secularism. They drew instead on an unvarnished religiosity, a deep belief in sacrifice, and a commitment to continue by modern means a long-standing rejection of Israel. But to what end? Hizbullah may have chased Israel out of Lebanon, but Israel remained powerful, and the Palestinians were no closer to liberation than they were before. American aid continued to pour into Israel. The gulf between people and rulers expanded in the Arab world; democracy and freedom of expression remained stifled; and militant Islamists continued to gather strength, exploiting and acting upon the loss of faith in the West that has permeated Arab societies.

‘Without fully realizing it, Nasrallah spoke on the cusp of an even more violent era, the latest and most cataclysmic instalment of a struggle between America and Arabs whose ultimate end remains uncertain but whose origin can be dated with fair accuracy. Fateful British and then American decisions, first to colonize the Arab world and then to partition Palestine, and the Arab reactions to these decisions fundamentally altered the Arab relationship to the US. Each new episode of destruction and death compounds the tragedy of US – Arab relations, obscuring its origins and creating new points of conflict that, in turn, have led, and will continue to lead to further tragedy.’ (349-351)