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The historical enigma of Arab-American relations

Jan 03,2018 - Last updated at Jan 03,2018

Up to 1699, the year that witnessed the culmination of the centuries-long Ottoman threat to Europe, when the Treaty of Karlowitz between the Ottoman Empire and Austria, Poland and Venice was signed, it was through hostility and suspicion the West (including America down the road) tended to view the Near East (or the Middle East as some prefer to say), producing unflattering representations that amount to a “distorted image” of the region and its people that dominated most Western thinking until the end of the 19th century, and even still it has not completely lost its influence.  

By the late 19th century, mutual relations had long been aggravated by such views that went all the way back to the polemic and popular literature of the Middle Ages. Indeed, a slanted conception had persisted in the European, and, later, American literary traditions.  When the Ottoman Empire was at the gates of Europe, the Turks formed a new threat and, as an enemy, they were viewed as fierce, and inhumanity of the foe was emphasised above all else. An indelible image of the new barbarian, connoting absence of morality and ethics, was strongly established ever since.

Many attitudes towards the region followed stereotypical patterns of thought, which relate to religion, power and politics.  The change of opinion in these “archetypes” from the 11th down to the late 19th century was slight.  With the rise in power, the West’s penetration of the region forced it to form new views, but the new came alongside the traditional tension: The new situation has encountered the traditional conflicts of ideas between the two hemispheres, and thus the centuries-old attitudes led to a widespread misunderstanding of this diverse and complex group of nations and peoples, and simultaneously to a coetaneous reluctance to change the situation.

The Western world needs to know how the Arab and Islamic street is thinking and what its grievances are. Such grievances have been aggravated to horrendous extents as to lead to the present political skirmishes. The present debacle in mutual relations is, primarily, political in nature, not religious, nor is it cultural. 

However, momentary, localised disruptive factors should not be allowed to ruffle a would–be strategic, long–term understanding between the two worlds, or cancel present, past or future improvements in their relations. Let’s consider the following questions and find answers for them: How have Western views of the region evolved over time? What is the socio-political role of ideological movements in the Middle East throughout history? How does oil influence political processes and decisions in the West? How does the Arab street respond to globalisation and Western cultural influences? What is the impact of religious and political discourse on tensions in the region and on the future of Arab-American relations?


In His Majesty’s words “It is only by stabilising the entire region, giving people hope instead of fear and destruction that we will truly address these and other

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