Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters
Based on the Latest Zogby Polls
Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010, 248 pages
As James Zogby says, what the Arab voices are saying to us certainly matters. However, Zogby’s Arab Voices
largely ignores the most ominous Arab (and other Muslim) voices – those of crowds from London to Aden screaming in unison “Jihad, Jihad” and “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”– including those on Hajj
pilgrimage to Mecca. This book purports to be aimed at clarifying Arab and Muslim attitudes regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, and the War on Terror including the Iraq war. But it ignores the voices of the Arab/Islamic world’s majority proclaiming the erroneous belief that the 9/11 attacks were actually perpetrated by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, not Arab terrorists. Arab Voices
is based on approximately twenty Zogby International polls of Arab world respondents mainly about attitudes toward the United States and Israel.
Dr. Zogby, who has a Ph.D. in comparative religions from Temple University, is founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and writes a weekly column appearing in several Arab newspapers. He was born in 1945 in Utica, New York, to Lebanese Maronite (Catholic) immigrant parents. Zogby, seemingly perpetually aggrieved by U.S. Middle East policy (he has long lobbied against what he perceives as the country’s Israel-centric policy) and Israel’s responses to Arab aggression and terrorism, here utilizes opinion polling performed in the Arab world and the United States by Zogby International which is headed up by his brother and colleague, John.
James Zogby’s powers of persuasion have served him well in effectively advocating for his Middle East positions as a member of various important national advisory boards and the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Zogby also has a twice-weekly television program Viewpoint with James Zogby, a live call-in discussion broadcast on the left-wing advocacy TV channel, Link TV (via satellite providers), and throughout the Middle East by Abu Dhabi Television.
But persuasion in this book weakens under scrutiny. The work begins with Zogby recalling, as an Arab-American leader, his angst in 2001 confronting the fact of the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks on America perpetrated by Arabs. He recalls telling American audiences that there was “no, justification, period” for the attacks. “I was angry at the terrorists who had violated the openness and freedom of my country,” wrote Zogby. He was occupied with additional concerns in the wake of 9/11: “I catalogued hundreds of documented hate crimes against Arab Americans, Muslims, and those thought to be Arabs and Muslims … This backlash was profoundly disturbing and quite frightening to Arab Americans.” But Zogby’s assertion deserves to be put into perspective. Official FBI statistics show that for anti-religious hate crimes, anti-Jewish incidents consistently and significantly outnumber anti-Muslim incidents. For example, the FBI Website tabulation of anti-religious hate crimes for 2009 shows that 72 percent of the victims were Jews, only 8 percent were Muslims. Even in 2001, the worst year for anti-Muslim hate crimes, there were still more than twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as anti-Islamic incidents. FBI statistics for anti-religious hate crimes in 2001 show that 56 percent (1,196) of the 2,118 victims were Jews, 26 percent (554) were Muslims.
Zogby’s themes in the book center around what he perceives as America’s five sometimes contradictory myths about the Arab world: that it’s monolithic; that there is no Arab world; that Arabs are angry (“single-minded focus on attacking America and the West.”); that Islam’s “intolerant religious beliefs” dominates the world view of Muslims (he blames this myth largely on “pro-Israel advocates.”) (page 97); and that Arabs fear modernization and progress.
Zogby tries to discredit these alleged myths through use of polling results, anecdotal incidents and statements of opinion. For example, to disprove the notion that there exists a “single-minded focus on attacking America and the West,” he resorts to an anecdote aimed at softening the image of Islamic fundamentalists. On page 81, he writes that while visiting a Tunisian friend and debating his college-age nephews, who are members of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, the “idealist” nephews “were looking over my shoulder at the television in the next room. While arguing (about politics, morality, and the U.S.) with me, they were also trying to watch a bawdy Italian game show.” But this anecdote proves nothing except that Zogby believes he can use it to persuade some Americans to believe that the Muslim Brothers might just be regular guys.
These five myths, according to Zogby, have led to a harmful fear of Arabs reinforced by negative portrayals in American TV and movies. The myths have also led, Zogby argues (page 47), to a U.S. “penchant for ignoring Arab concern.” But here, he ignores significant evidence to the contrary, such as the fact that due largely to Arab pressure, the United States refuses to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem. Among all of the U.S. embassies throughout the world, this is the only instance in which the U.S. government locates its embassy in other than a capital city.
Arab Voices cites approximately 20 polls carried out by Zogby International, which is headed up by James’ brother and colleague, John. Most of the polling took place during either November 1-18, 2009 or April 21-May 11, 2009. Zogby concludes from the polling results that while it’s true “that many in the Arab world admire aspects of American life, U.S. policy in the region has increasingly undermined Arab attitudes toward America as a global model.” Zogby stresses in several places in the book, the paramount concerns that the Arab world has for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but th
e Zogby polls reproduced in Arab Voices show a mixed picture. For example, the Palestinian issue (page 78) is no more important than the Iraqi issue and in a ranking of issues by importance (page 114) – the Palestinian issue rates only 7th for Moroccan respondents, only 6th for Egyptians, 3rd for Lebanese, 3rd for Saudi Arabians and 2nd for respondents in the United Arab Emirates. Not surprisingly, the issue ranks first in Jordan where Palestinians constitute a majority of the population. While silent about considerable, well-known Arab – particularly Saudi – fear of Iran (as evidenced in the recent WikiLeaks documents), Zogby asserts that “the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world.”
While conceding that “… much of it [Arab world] [is] backward in its dependence on conspiracy theories,” Zogby ignores polling showing that a majority in the Arab and Muslim world has for several years proclaimed 9/11 conspiracy theories claiming that the terrorist acts were secretly perpetrated by the U.S. government, CIA and Israel’s Mossad. The supposed purpose of this conspiracy and mass murder was to inculcate anti-Muslim hate in order to provide a pretext for attacking innocent Muslim countries. According to an authoritative study
authored by Matthew A. Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, entitled “Media, Education and Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World” published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives – Volume 18, Number 3 (pages 117–133), in a poll conducted in seven Muslim countries, 78 percent of respondents said that they do not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs. The most popular account, in these countries is that 9/11 was the work of the U.S. or Israeli governments. This belief, inculcated by Arab media, mosques and schools, is met essentially with silence from James Zogby.
Likewise, while mentioning that President Obama “urged the Palestinians to stop violence and verbal incitement against Israel,” Zogby does not elaborate about the voices in the Arab media and mosques urging violence against Israelis (for examples see here
Different Christian Arab Perceptions
Other Christian Arab Americans hold views opposite to those of Zogby, for example, Brigitte Gabriel, who, like Zogby, is an American Arab of Lebanese Maronite Christian descent. Ms. Gabriel, an anti-terrorist activist, author of a book on the New York Times
best seller list, President of the American Congress for Truth
(ACT), was raised in Lebanon and immigrated to the U.S. in 1989. Ms. Gabriel spoke publicly
I was raised in Lebanon where I was taught that the Jews were evil, Israel was the devil, and the only time we will have peace in the Middle East is when we kill all the Jews and drive them into the sea. When the Muslims and Palestinians declared Jihad on the Christians in 1975, they started massacring the Christians city after city… It was Israel that came to help the Christians in Lebanon. My mother was wounded by a Muslim’s shell and was taken into an Israeli hospital for treatment. When we entered the emergency room I was shocked at what I saw. There were hundreds of people wounded, Muslims, Palestinians, Christian Lebanese and Israeli soldiers lying on the floor. The doctors treated everyone according to their injury. They treated my mother before they treated the Israeli soldier lying next to her. They didn’t see religion. They didn’t see political affiliation. They saw people in need and they helped. (Duke University speech on October 14, 2004).
Other Arab Americans who hold views dissimilar to Zogby’s include Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights activist, and founder of Arabs For Israel.
Zogby’s anti-Israel bent is clearly seen in his Christmas day 2010 Huffington Post Website blog. Reflecting on the themes of the Christmas story, he claims: “Two thousand years ago, Palestine was subject to a harsh occupation, much as it is today.” Of course, it was not “Palestine” that Rome occupied harshly, it was Judea, renamed “Palestine” in echo of the long vanished, non-Arab Philistines by the Romans after the Jews’ bloody revolt. But this sort of anti-Israel manipulation is not unexpected during the Christmas season. Zogby, as a Christian, presumably is aware from his knowledge of the New Testament that the area at that time was called Judea. But Zogby evidently has bigger fish to fry. On Christmas themes, he seems unconcerned that since the Palestinian Authority took over civil control of West Bank cities such as Bethlehem, much of the Christian Arab population has fled due to Muslim persecution.
On the American Media
On page 209, Zogby praises and condemns various aspects of the American news media. It’s hard to argue with his observation that “major U.S. networks provide just a half hour of nightly news, with much of this domestically focused and too much of it soft human-interest stories. The three cable news networks in the United States (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) have become overly self-absorbed and partisan even when they cover global issues.”
But furthering his anti-Israel agenda, Zogby praises (on page 209) various reporters and media entities he considers to be “bright lights in the U.S. media,” especially Christiane Amanpour, extolling her CNN documentary “Generation Islam” (August 2009) as an “extraordinary series” (first hour on Afghanistan, second on Gaza). CAMERA
exposed Amanpour’s report as manipulative, falsely implying that “[T]he bad guys were not the Islamists who rule Gaza, teaching hatred of Christians and Jews, and attacking Israeli civilians with suicide bombers and thousands of rockets. Instead, Amanpour’s bad guys were the Jews of Israel, for supposedly oppressing the Palestinians, and she offered not a single mention of the hate indo
ctrination that Hamas specializes in.”
James Zogby’s Arab Voices, a smooth but shallow apology for some unsettling views widespread in the Arab/Islamic world, is of little value to those seeking genuine understanding of the subject matter.