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Reason Foundation

Arab street still wants freedom

Ted Balaker
April 26, 2004, 4:37pm

Since 9/11 nearly every American media outlet has asked: Why do they hate us? One of the issues addressed in this interesting "myth-versus-fact" article in Foreign Affairs is how terrorists view the modern, western economy: [M]ilitants often couch their grievances in Third-Worldist terms familiar to any contemporary antiglobalization activist. One recent document purporting to come from bin Laden berates the United States for failing to ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate change. Egyptian militant leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has decried multinational companies as a major evil. Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, once told a friend how angered he was by a world economic system that meant Egyptian farmers grew cash crops such as strawberries for the West while the country's own people could barely afford bread. In all these cases, the militants are framing modern political concerns, including social justice, within a mythic and religious narrative. They do not reject modernization per se, but they resent their failure to benefit from that modernization. How does the terrorist worldview compare to the "Arab Street"? Al Qaeda represents the lunatic fringe of political thought in the Islamic world. While al Qaedaism has made significant inroads in recent years, only a tiny minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims adhere to its doctrine. Many sympathize with bin Laden and take satisfaction at his ability to strike the United States, but that does not mean they genuinely want to live in a unified Islamic state governed along strict Koranic lines. Nor does anti-Western sentiment translate into a rejection of Western values. Surveys of public opinion in the Arab world, conducted by organizations such as Zogby International and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, reveal strong support for elected government, personal liberty, educational opportunity, and economic choice.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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