By Dr. Murad Alazzany
Professor Sana’a University
The 9/11 events of the last decade happened to contaminate the relationship of the U.S. and the Islamic world. They shaped, to a great extent, the attitude of the Islamic public towards the U.S. as much as they did the attitudes of Americans towards the Islamic world. The media of both sides contributed greatly in worsening that attitude generating misleading images of Muslims as well as America. As Muslims were anticipated to be the most likely people behind the attack, a common sense was created among Americans that that Muslims had the tendency to commit violent acts and carry out suicide attacks. A bitter sense was left among Muslims whenever they saw their religion, culture, and beliefs reported in the American media. Analogously, the U.S. in the eyes of the Muslim public was perceived an evil state which realized an opportunity in the 9/11 events to associate Muslims with terrorism. Thus, it invaded their lands under the pretext of combating terrorism. Such a view was established as the events led to the attack of Afghanistan and later to the invasion of Iraq.
As the image of the U.S. was seriously damaged in the eyes of the Islamic public, the U.S. administration was shoved to establish, under its foreign state department, the Council for American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU). The main concern of that council was to improve the U.S. image in the Arab and Islamic regions. The council adopted two policies; the first was to get engaged with moderate Muslims through cultural and educational programs. It was believed that such engagement would reduce the pool of radicalized young people who were willing to commit terrorist activities. The second is represented in promoting Turkey or Malaysia as an exemplary model for the entire Islamic world. As such, a moderate version of Islam would be promoted against or on the account of a fundamentalist version. However, the two policies were written a complete failure as nothing had changed regarding the attitude of the Islamic public- realizing that the number of those hating the U.S. was still relatively large. That was due to the U.S. administration’s failure to figure out where modernism ends and fundamentalism begins.
However, the U.S. found in the Arab uprisings a good opportunity to achieve what it could not earlier with a plan and a big budget – that is to improve its image in the Islamic world. At the beginning and due to the unpredictability of the events, the U.S. administration was caught unprepared for the most historical change in the area. However, it did not take it that long to flare up a discourse acknowledging the inspiration of the people in the region.
Thus, the events of the Arab spring, as the 9/11 ones did, represented a new milestone that opened a new relationship between the U.S. and the Arab world. They created an atmosphere where both could start a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding. It looks as if the U.S. administration, after decades of accepting the region as it is, chose to pursue it as it should be. Its policy- for now- seemed to promote and support political and democratic reforms across the region. That new approach was demonstrated in its support of the revolutionary movement in Tunisia, Egypt, in its support of a none-fly zone in Libya, of the GCC proposal in Yemen, and the resolution of the UN council in Syria.
In contrast to the United States, the Russian government succeeded in the last decade to build a good relation with Islamic world. Since the fall of the Soviet Union it appeared to most of the people as a country without any geopolitical ambitions in the area. However, when the revolutionary events erupted in the region, we have seen the Russian administration failing to act like Americans. Earlier, it remained silent on the uprising events of Tunisia and Egypt dealing with as an internal affair which it should not intervene with. Later, it responded with a dim discourse that fell short of matching the significance of the events and circumvented them by referring to the number of Russian tourists it had in Tunisia and Egypt. But with the revolutionary events in Libya and Syria, it becomes virtually clear that the Russian administration has something against the Arab revolutions. It’s no-vote on a resolution by the UN council for a none-fly zone in Libya- in a remark of displaying its support for Al-Qaddafi against the Libyan youth revolutionaries. Russia gave in only when the scale of human massacres became large to the point it did not want to be seen as a defender of the vicious Al-Qaddafi. In another remark, it kept blocking all actions against al-Assad of Syria since the Syrian uprising began 10 months ago. Recently, it blocked the UN council resolution calling for the dictator al-Assad to step down and be replaced by a coalition government.
The Russian veto against the UN resolution, which was meant to end the swelling violence in Syria, has left a bitter sense among the public of the Islamic world. They feel that that Russian administration, without a good reason appeared determined to stand against the change in the area. That is deemed to jeopardize carelessly its relations with the Islamic world. Outstandingly, such a turn in the Russian approach comes in a moment when the Islamic public was about to forget the crimes it committed in many frontlines of Afghanistan, Chechnya and North Caucasus. Russia may refresh such crimes in the minds of the Islamic public and may be propelled to retaliate them.
Such a scandalous support for the Syrian Assad should not be mistaken as a Russian concern to protect its interests in the area- represented in arms and weapons contracts. The leverage Russia has in Syria is too scant compared to the reserve treasury it has in its bank which is estimated to be over five hundred billions. Even if that was the case, one wonders why would it maneuver itself into a position where it had to bet on Assad’s survival to protect such interests. Facts on the ground indicate the fall of Assad becomes inevitable and immanent. Such a fall should not bear an ominous prelude for the Russians in Syria. Russians still can build good relationship with the succeeding regime based on shared respect and interests.
Earlier, few in the Islamic world naively believed that Russia declined the UN resolution in order to not complicate the crisis in Syria. Due to its historical and political relations with the Syrian people, since the Soviet Union and the father Assad, they expected Russia to protect the Syrians. However, with the death machines of Assad destroying buildings on the heads of civilians in Hums, it became clear that the veto was merely a license for Assad to quash the revolution movement by brute force.
In fact, Moscow’s position on Syria stemmed from the hostile attitude it has towards the change people inspire for in the area. The Russian Administration represented in Putin and Medvedev are worried that the Arab Spring will encourage the Russian youth to defy their rule. Thus, the veto in the UN council was just a matter of showing autocratic solidarity with Assad. It is also shaped by strong doubts it has concerning the Syrian opposition and the motives of the U.S. in Syria. The Russian regime, as it was indicated by the words of its foreign minister assistant, is stigmatizing the Syrian opposition as well as “revolutionary youth” for encouraging a process whose main beneficiaries are, in their eyes, the “the west.” Thus, Russia voted only against the U.S. leaving behind the civilians under the mercy of the regime in Syria.
It is not late for the Russian administration to realize their inspiration of a regime change in their country. For the sake of human rights, it has to save Syrians from the killing machines of Assad. It has to invest its historical relationship with the Syrians paving a ground towards a free and civilized Syria. If not and they sustain their current position, they will only participate in a disaster in Syria.