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Two faces of the Arab street

His Syrian cousin loves America, but is forced to hate her.

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Kamal is my Syrian cousin who lives in Damascus. He is a pious Muslim who keeps a low profile. When I decided to Google his name, I was surprised to see that he had made a statement in one of the newspapers denouncing the American war in Iraq and describing the US as a bully.

But I know Kamal, and I know that he admires the West. During our chitchats, his favorite description of the social and economic situation in Syria is "backwardness." He tells me that he would love to move to a "civilized" country where people stand in a queue, where drivers follow the law, and where everyone is "respected" and everything is "clean."

Kamal's statement in the newspaper does not reflect his thought. Rather, it reflects the double-faced character that most of the Arabs and Muslims have to put up, fearing the tyranny they live under.

During my years as a reporter in Beirut, whenever I covered an anti-US protest, I saw most of the protesters trying to hide their faces from cameras. Ask any of them about the reason for doing so, and they will tell you that they do not want to jeopardize getting a visa to the US or to other Western countries.

But those who don't want to risk their visas are the same ones who fear retribution of their ruling regimes, or even their militant peers, if they express any support of the West. These people walk a tightrope. On the one hand, they want to keep their visa prospects high. On the other hand, they want to look as anti-Western as their oppressors want them to look.

The double-face theory explains a good deal of the social behavior of many Arabs. It explains why, even though the majority of Arabs appear to hate America, American multinational franchises are booming in Arab countries.

Whether it is Starbucks, McDonald's, Burger King, or KFC, they are all in high demand in the Arab region. Hollywood movies are widely watched. American pop culture is as widespread in the Middle East as it is here in the US. Most Arabs know Ross and Rachel from the TV sitcom "Friends." Many of them know the rapper 50 Cent and often sing his tunes. Many of them strive to enter the US universities mushrooming across the region.

If you ask these Arabs about the dilemma of loving America and hating it at the same time, the most common answer would be: We love America, but we hate its foreign policy.


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