Example of Authority: Islamophobia Is Bad for Business
Authors: Massoud Hayoun
Qualifications: World Affairs Editor at The Vancouver Observer, where he writes a daily column on China. He has reported on China, North America, the Middle East, and North Africa for The Atlantic, Newsweek, TIME, and Agence France Presse. Source: Boston Review; Jan2013, Vol. 71 Issue 1, p34-39, 6p, 1 Chart Context:
A few years ago, nearly 1,600 Chinese laborers moved to Saudi Arabia to build a railroad in Mecca. But first these employees of the China Railway Construction Corporation—owned by the officially secular Chinese government—spoke the one-sentence shahada, a declaration of faith in one God and Mohammed as his prophet.
In that same year, 2010, China surpassed the United States as the leading export market for Middle Eastern oil. China also beat out the United States as the top overall exporter to the Middle East, thanks to a 90 percent increase in Chinese exports to the region from 2005 to 2009. This followed China’s 2001 establishment of the Chinese-Arab Friendship Association, which promotes economic cooperation between Beijing and 22 Arab states. And last year the Algerian government granted another Chinese state-owned company a contract to build the Grand Mosque of Algiers, slated to be the world’s third largest Muslim house of worship.
American Islamophobia is no secret in the Muslim world, according to James Zogby, who runs the Washington-based Arab American Institute (AAI). “America is suffering not only from the problem of the treatment of American Muslims, which sullies our image, but also our foreign policy sullies our image in the Arab world.”
A 2004 survey of 3,300 Arabs living in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt showed that approval ratings dropped by an average of more than 11 percentage points since 2002. Another survey comparing 2011 figures with 2008 figures showed that approval ratings of the United States had fallen by as much as half in all of those countries except Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, traditionally staunch U.S. allies, where approval ratings increased. • • •
For now, though, America is the land of the phantom “creeping sharia” threat and of the most obvious forms of Islamophobia, and it continues to execute a foreign policy that alienates the Muslim world. The United States provides military aid in the Middle East and North Africa, but this doesn't always play well among populations that don’t trust U.S. interference in the region. When Washington announced it would continue military aid to Egypt’s post-revolutionary military government after three decades of propping up Hosni Mubarak’s armed forces, Bahey el-din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told Al-Masry Al-Youm, the nation’s leading independent paper, “The United States doesn’t care about human rights. This was the attitude under Mubarak, they changed a little after revolution, and now the U.S. has come back again to its original position.”
“Rather than focus narrowly on defense and security, let’s prioritize economic growth, education, and cultural exchange,” Moghul suggests. “It costs far less, and the long-term payoff is significantly higher.”
Tunisia is one place where the United States can do some good. “They have had the most successful revolution so far, but that revolution is not going to develop deep democratic roots if Tunisia cannot provide jobs for its youth,” Moghul warns.
Sami Ben-Romdhane, a Tunisian-American eBay executive, believes that Tunisia could be a new Silicon Valley if technology businesses are able tap into the generation that conducted a revolution in part with tweets and Facebook groups.
But when Ben-Romdhane recently spoke to an audience of young Tunisians at a State Department function, he had to foot his own bill to Tunis.
“My objective wasn’t to save on hotels,” he says, but, given that American...