In "Understanding Arab anger" (Sept. 19), Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, claims that "the deepest sources of anger against America … pertain to the presence of U.S. forces in the Middle East and to U.S. policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." This obscures how a marginal video — or Danish cartoons, a Salman Rushdie novel, or threatened Koran-burning by the pastor of a minuscule congregation — ignite violence throughout the Muslim world.
In 2002 and 2003, U.N. Reports on Arab Human Development spotlighted the lack of education, economic growth, women and minority rights, intellectual inquiry including research and artistic expression, rule of law and so on. One thing Arab countries did have a surplus of was religious intolerance. The spread of Islamic fundamentalists into mainstream politics via the "Arab spring" hardly has led to reform.
Meanwhile, anti-American, anti-Israeli conspiracy theories thrive. In Egypt, where roughly one-third of adults are illiterate, a recent Pew survey found that three-fourths believe the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated not by Muslims but by the CIA, the Israeli Mossad or both.
Professor Telhami observes that "pre-existing anger with Israel and the United States, and a sense that the two led an assault on Islam after the tragedy of Sept. 11, are hard to separate from the facts of any particular episode." But facts and freedom — not conspiracy theories — are what the West must insist on.
Boston University Professor Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "the Western mainstream is, by and large, quite respectful toward Muslims, millions of whom have adopted Europe and North America as their home and enjoy all the freedoms the West has to offer. ... At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world's Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West's military, economic and intellectual prowess."
Mr. Telhami would do better to focus on more freedom of expression and fewer religious taboos in Arab-Islamic states than anti-American, anti-Israeli pretexts for violence. Only then can "the deepest sources of anger" begin to be drained.
Eric Rozenman, Washington, D.C.
The writer is Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun