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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Explaining Arab anger
Palestinian woman holds photos of family members killed in the Beirut refugee camps
Many Arabs lost family in the 1982 Beirut bombings
In the wake of the attacks on New York many have struggled to understand what could have motivated those responsible. Despite almost universal condemnation of the attacks, many argue that a misguided US foreign policy in the Middle East is at least partly to blame. The BBC's Tehran Correspondent Jim Muir, who has spent decades covering conflicts in the region explains the forces at work.

The man standing beside me in the crowd was sobbing his heart out. Along with dozens of other people, his wife and children lay crushed beneath the rubble of the collapsed building we were looking at.

It had been brought down quite scientifically by two big explosions.

The multi-storey apartment block was demolished because somebody thought Yasser Arafat was there. He wasn't.

Many people in and from the region had a deep gut feeling that decades of accumulated poison somehow found expression on 11 September 2001.

It was destroyed by two Israeli jets which flashed out of the sky on that Friday summer morning in Beirut during the Israeli siege of 1982.

They were acting on the orders of then Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Now, he is Israel's prime minister, and he's eagerly signing up to take part in America's new crusade of good against evil.

Forgotten victims

The above was one of many such incidents during Israel's adventure in Lebanon, in which uncounted thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed.

They died unmourned and largely unnoticed by the American public, whose largesse - financial, military and political - made it all possible.

The same formula has held true for the Palestinians practically since Israel's creation in 1948.

Apart from President Dwight Eisenhower, who pressured the Israelis to pull out of Sinai after their tripartite assault on Egypt with Britain and France in 1956, few US leaders have ever stood up to Israel and its enormous influence on Capitol Hill.

Ariel Sharon
Palestinians hold Sharon responsible for attacks on the refugee camps
Although there are many other issues, Washington's enabling alliance with Israel may be the biggest element in the Arab and Muslim anger, hatred and despair which are focused on America.

For them, Israel is a terrorist, gangster state which has usurped Palestinian land and water, demolished Palestinian homes, and stopped at nothing in pursuit of its interests and enemies, including torture, murder and pioneering the use of the car bomb in the region.

Powerful ally

Whatever Israel has done, it has always been able to count on unflagging US diplomatic support, especially in vetoing, diluting or ignoring UN resolutions.

In the wake of the latest crisis, one Palestinian long resident in the US wrote: "Typical of the way America handles such matters, they're throwing money and military might at what they perceive to be the problem, totally oblivious of the necessity to change their ways.

Sources of anger
US military presence in the Gulf and Arabian peninsula
US spearheads UN sanctions against Iraq
US support for Israel
"The problem? American foreign policy is flawed, fundamentally bankrupt, totally biased, and very self-serving. But do you think they're going to admit or even see that? Heaven forbid!

"They may vaporise Bin Laden and all his cronies, but they will not get rid of future Bin Ladens unless they screw their heads on the right way, and start realising and practising 'fair play' in the Middle East."


In a comment typical of much regional reaction to the terror attacks, one Iranian newspaper wrote: "It is obvious that they never even thought of sharing the plight of, or expressing sympathy with, the oppressed and innocent Palestinians, whose 'sin' is demanding an end to Israeli military occupation and systematic crimes against humanity."

Other aspects of the impact of America's massive global power on the region also add in to the bitterness felt by many ordinary people. Perceptions include:

  • American support for Iraq in its eight years of war with Iran (1980-88) in which hundreds of thousands of people died. Many Iranians believe Washington encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in order to puncture the Islamic revolution, and provided him with intelligence and other help for many years.

  • When Saddam later invaded Kuwait and threatened US oil interests, the picture changed. The US sponsored and invoked UN resolutions to cover a massive Western intervention, having ignored many other resolutions relating to Palestine and Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The image of cynicism and double standards is widely held.

  • While Gulf Arabs might have applauded the US-led war against Iraq, the subsequent sanctions regime has punished the Iraqi people while Saddam continues to build palaces. There is a widespread feeling that the Americans have never been serious about unseating Saddam.

  • Throughout the Arab world, Washington's closest alliances are with regimes which have negligible democratic foundations and highly dubious human rights performances. This too does nothing to endear the US to ordinary people, reinforcing the image of an arrogant, uncaring and deeply hypocritical global power, pursuing its interests without regard to principle.

Familiar images

For decades, people in the Middle East have lived with countless images not unlike the horror pictures coming out of New York, albeit rarely on such a concentrated, massive scale.

Because they have been through it, most sympathise strongly on a human level.

But irrespective of who precisely did it and why, many people in and from the region had a deep gut feeling that decades of accumulated poison somehow found expression on 11 September 2001.

The BBC's Frank Gardner
talks to Egyptians about why they dislike the US
See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
19 Sep 01 | Americas
US seeks global coalition
18 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati flies to meet Bush
18 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair embarks on diplomatic offensive
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Embassies act on Pakistan unrest
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
18 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
China demands US attack evidence
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan exodus gathers pace
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
18 Sep 01 | Business
Wall Street stabilises
19 Sep 01 | Americas
New York grapples with grief
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
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