US moves inflame Arab moderates
President Bush's public support of Israel has alienated even some Arabs who favor democratization.
In more peaceful times, the United States would be hard-pressed to find a more sympathetic friend in the Arab world than Munir Shammaa.
A distinguished doctor and university professor, the Lebanese Christian says he learned "the American principles of fair play, intellectual integrity, courage, and the importance of human rights" while studying at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and practicing medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1950s.
But these are far from peaceful times in the Middle East. And Mr. Shammaa says he finds his longstanding faith in the US being tested by Washington's policies toward the Arab world. So much so, that he recently was moved to write an open letter to the American people, a cathartic outburst of his frustrations.
"Throughout my life I have pushed my personal friends and family as well as my students and peers to follow the principles I was taught at your academic institutions," Shammaa writes. "In fact, at one time in my life, I was as much an American as a Lebanese. Now I watch helplessly as those principles, that were so much part of me, are bulldozed mercilessly by the present administration."
The motivation for writing the letter, currently unpublished, he says, was the "flagrant one-sidedness of the United States toward Palestine and Iraq."
Shammaa is not alone. While the rhetoric of extremists - Muslims, Christians, and Jews - tends to capture headlines in the West, many Arabs are broadly sympathetic to the Bush administration's stated goal of helping usher in democratic reforms to the Middle East. But the continued US support for the Israeli government has increasingly alienated those reformers who should be staunch allies of the US, undermining Washington's efforts to win over a skeptical Arab public.
"Israel is the big Achilles heel of those like me and those in the US administration who speak of greater democracy [in the Middle East]," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst.