Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

An American Lobbyist Comes Face-to-Face with the Muslim World

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

An American Lobbyist Comes Face-to-Face with the Muslim World

Article excerpt

Occasionally, life sends you such a good deal that it almost makes up for all the lousy breaks you normally have to put up with. My good deal for the year occurred last August, when I was asked if I would consider going to the Middle East under the sponsorship of the United States Information Agency (USIA) to talk about lobbying from the perspective of an Arab-American who had extensive experience in the field. What a tremendous opportunity to discuss American government with knowledgeable people and to get a sense of the Muslim and Arab world in the post-Kuwait invasion atmosphere! Without even asking my wife, I said yes.

I was proposed as a speaker to all American embassies in the region, and those in Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia replied that I fit their programs. By the time such schedule conflicts as the GCC summit taking over all the hotels in Qatar and other crisis-fueled changes were accommodated, the itinerary had narrowed to four cities in Pakistan and three in Saudi Arabia.

Upon arrival in Pakistan, I was warned to expect "aggressive" questioning on the subject of an Indo-Israeli lobbying conspiracy in Washington, which Pakistanis believe to be the source of Pakistan's political problems in the US.

I encountered significant anger at the recent suspension of US aid to Pakistan, until recently among the top four recipients. Many with whom I spoke are confused both at the abruptness of the suspension and the apparent challenge to Pakistani sovereignty that it represents, after what appeared to have been a close cooperative relationship regarding the problems in Afghanistan. Most Pakistanis do not fully comprehend the depth and nature of the American anti-nuclear movement. As a result of very public involvement of Congressman Stephen Solarz, a tireless advocate for Israeli policy, in advocating the suspension of aid to Pakistan, any explanation of events other than Israeli influence on US foreign policy is viewed with great skepticism.

There was also understandably great interest in US operations in the Gulf, much of it with a frankly negative cast. The anomaly of differing US attitudes toward Israeli occupation of Palestine and Iraqi occupation of Kuwait was brought up regularly. Although some were willing to concede that linkage of these issues is functionally unsound, all agreed that morally they are equivalent. The situation in Kashmir was also raised repeatedly as an example of selective American concern with human rights abuses.

As might be expected, the most virulent criticism was, by and large, expressed by students. Following are two examples of pointed reactions I encountered:

"Isn't it true that Zia went to the United States to hire a lobbyist before he became prime minister, then Benazir Bhutto went to the United States to hire a lobbyist before she became prime minister, then Nawaz went to the United States to hire a lobbyist before he became prime minister? Doesn't this prove how powerful lobbyists are?" -- a student in Karachi.

A student in Islamabad, upon hearing the argument that justifying the occupation of Kuwait with the occupation of Palestine made Saddam no better than Shamir, observed quietly, "or no better than the US."

Illuminating Discussions

The discussions with students were among the most illuminating of the whole trip, for it was here that I got the full flavor of what American policies have wrought in the Muslim world. There was certainly no reluctance to criticize the United States, over Palestine, the Gulf, and racism. Student after student was ready to offer "helpful advice" about what America is doing wrong and how to correct it. At the same time, I perceived a genuine regard for American principles and the conduct of individual Americans. On occasion, after having gotten their complaints off their chests, they were eager to discuss improving Pakistan's relations with the United States. I have heard this mix of anger and friendship described many times before. …

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