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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

American Policies and Politics: The View from the "Arab Street"

Dr. James Zogby, President and the Chief Executive Officer of the Arab American Institute
Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC
June 3, 2003

Opening Remarks and Introduction

The views and opinions expressed in this presentation are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Administration views or policy.

Thank you very much, Bill. I was going to say when you began with the disclaimer, even when I speak before my own organization they always begin with, "The views do not reflect those of"--a silly comment. I actually appeared one time on a television show, and they did a disclaimer before and after, which is not something to look forward to. One of these days I'll begin by speech with, "The views you are about to hear reflect official policy, and anyone who disagrees must leave the room now," or something. (Laughter.)

I want to thank you for the invitation. It's an extraordinary opportunity to speak at the Secretary's Open Forum. And over the last 25 years I've been privileged to be at this podium at a number of critical junctures in our relationship with the Arab world. I was here in the late 1970s after Camp David to address the issue of Palestinian rights, where I met a remarkable group of young career officers who formed a working group--a Palestine working group. They've gone on to do great things in this department in service of our country. I'm proud that I actually began my friendship with them at a Secretary's Open Forum.

I was here during the Lebanese civil war, and I was here during Oslo--right after Oslo --to talk about the need to urgently address economic concerns in the West Bank and Gaza, because unless benefits of peace are not quickly forthcoming to Palestinians, many of us believe the peace process would not move forward. I believe we were right, and the same needs are still present today and must be addressed.

And I was here in the dark days that followed September 11 to talk about the Arab American reaction to those terrorist attacks.

At no time in all these years and in all these appearances do I think that the U.S.-Arab relationship has been more troubled, or the stakes higher than they are today. September 11 was a terrible blow to our country and a terrible blow for our people. Because of the enormity of the human disaster, because of the enormity of the physical destruction, and because we saw it unfold in real time and watched it play out for days and even weeks, we didn't just watch it, we actually lived it. And it took a terrible toll. We were justifiably angry that 19 men driven by evil intent took advantage of our freedoms to murder our people. But we also experienced a vulnerability that we had not known before. To a degree we lost our moorings. We lived through a decade of near unbridled optimism. There was an expanding economy; there was the end of the Cold War; there were the efforts--some successful, some nearly successful at peacemaking in Northern Ireland, central Europe, and the Middle East. All of this produced, as I said, optimism. So with the blow of 3,000 dead and a nation in trauma, we reacted, as I said, justifiably, with anger and with vulnerability, and a growing awareness that something was not right with our world. But, not only that: In the aftermath of 9/11, we also became aware of something that I think, in many cases, had simply passed us by--and that is that a profound gap existed between our world and the world of the people of the Arab countries. It was especially troubling to those of us who attempted to bridge this gap. We've made it our lives' work to know, as we certainly came to discover, that despite the investment, despite the trade, despite the years of involvement, despite the fact that half of the Saudi cabinet graduated from schools in America, and a third of them with Ph.D.s, and that we are each other's significant trading partners and one could lay those statistics out throughout the entire Middle East--despite all of that, we did not know each other. I say it in another way: In the last 30 years since the end of Vietnam, if you look at the Middle East as a whole, we've sent more money and we've sent more weapons and fought more wars and we lost more American lives and we have more at stake in the Middle East than almost anywhere in the world, but we have never taken the time to know each other.

And so as a result of the shock of 9/11 and this growing awareness, we started to ask some questions. In many instances we asked the wrong questions. In other instances people gave the wrong answers. You know when you listen to our congressional debates or if you listen to our presidential political debates, the Middle East is reduced to oil and Israel, or Israel and oil, depending on the candidate and depending on the issues that he's raising. But for those of us who have been involved in the region, it's much more than that. It's a story of human relationships. It's a story of partnerships, many of them of longstanding. It's a story of allies and friends, many of whom count on us, and many of whom we count on. But, again, even with all that we never took the time to understand each other's world. This has been true of both sides. Arabs never really understood America, and I don't think Arab Americans ever really understood the Arab world.

So I found myself after 9/11 participating in a number of different efforts to once again attempt to close the gap. I was part of a Council on Foreign Relations working group on public diplomacy, trying to look at 9/11 and its aftermath, root causes and what we must do to better communicate with the Arab world. What was also interesting was that because I do a weekly television, as Bill Keppler noted, and write a weekly column, I am frequently invited to the Middle East to speak in that part of the world about some of the very same issues. So it was just 5 weeks afterwards--after 9/11--that I found myself sitting in a meeting of ministers of Gulf Arab states talking about public diplomacy. I had written an article, and they wanted to hear from me what America was doing and what, in turn, they could do.

I made three observations coming out of those meetings. I just want to share them with you. One was a comment by a minister in a Gulf country--one of the brightest young men I know--who noted that in this issue of public diplomacy we will never be able to make America understand us unless we first understand them. He said the Americans will never be able to make us understand them unless they first understand us.

The issue is--and this goes for all of our communication efforts--that unless you know your audience you really can't be understood by your audience. My mom used to put it this way. She'd say if you really want people to hear you, you have to listen to them first. As if to make the point, I was, while in the region, watching CNN every day. And as the ticker went across the bottom of the screen, I heard about 800 being arrested and then 900 being arrested, and when the number got to 1,200 we stopped giving the number. Then we announced we were going to be talking to 5,000 young Arab recent immigrants from across the country, calling them into questioning, et cetera. And then the President said, "This is not about Arabs and Muslims." The top of the screen didn't communicate with the bottom of the screen, and the message the President was sending was being undercut by what the Attorney General was doing. We were not hearing how we were being heard in the Middle East. Our actions were trumping our statements. And, frankly, what counted was not our intention but was what we did.

Another lesson I learned out of all of that was something that had been communicated to me in American politics a long time ago, and that is that everybody hears everything. We all know about this “Memory,” this group that translates selected articles from the Arab press to show that Arabs are all really awful people who don't like Israel; there are, in fact, editorials in Arab newspapers that are distasteful, ugly, that should not appear. But you know there's a memory going the other way. Everybody has a memory in both senses of the world. And when the Secretary of State speaks at an AIPAC conference and talks about Syria, that was communicated live on every Arab satellite cable that carried it, and it had an impact. When John Ashcroft appeared at Stand Up for Israel, it was carried on every Arab cable and was a headlined front-page story in most Arab newspapers. Everyone hears everything. We're all center stage now, and everybody hears everything we say. If we want to be heard, we have to be listening to our audience.

Another I learned was from a conversation I had with an Arab diplomat--an interesting individual--who said to me: “We ought to have a program of public diplomacy. We ought to do the same thing that the Americans are doing. We need to talk to them about who we are.” But then he stopped for a moment, looked out the window, and he mused and said: “But what would we say? Who are we, and what is the story we would tell?” And so after discussing it for a while he asked if we could do a poll--a poll for one reason--to better learn what Arabs believe, what they think, what they feel about issues of common concern, because in America you know there is this sense--and you get it in most communities--you know, there's a sense that, well, we all believe this, or we all believe that. Well, no, we don't. If you ask the question in America how do people feel about the death penalty, the proper answer would be 48% of the people think this way, and 43% think that way, and the rest just don't know. And, unfortunately, many of them vote.

My brother has a bumper stick he wants to make. It says, "I Don't Care, and I Vote." (Laughter.) I just did C-SPAN this morning and am traumatized by the fact that those people vote. Nothing against C-SPAN, but some of the weirdest people hang on the phones for 45 minutes to ask a question about Haile Selassie being the king of the--I don't know, it was--(laughter)--it was traumatizing.

Anyway, the point is that there is no sense of that in the Arab world because polling hasn't been done. And there's other things that come with polling, and that's majority views and minority views and the need to understand diversity and open discussion. And so what we came out of was the notion that we would embark on a multi-country Arab polling experiment in order to see what Arabs did believe and what image or values package of Arab values Arabs could project to the rest of the world.

I'm proud to tell you that the book, which is here with me today, is translated into Arabic and is circulating and selling in the Arab world. It represents the first effort at an internal discussion among Arabs about values, about beliefs, about concerns, and about identity issues. And here's what we learned. What we learned is that Arabs are like the rest of us. When we asked what matters most, what are the most important concerns in their lives, the top three were the quality and security of their work, their faith, and their families. They want to live productive and meaningful lives, they want to provide for their families, and they want to protect and project their values. We also found that they want to be left alone. They don't like to think about foreign policy. Just like Americans, when you ask them to rank issues in order of importance, foreign policy comes out on the very bottom of the heap. Foreign policy is not important to Arabs; it's not important to Americans--unless foreign policy affects them directly.

And interesting though is when we asked Arabs to rank the political concerns that were most important to them, here's what they did: The number one issue was personal rights. The number two issue was health care. The number four issue was personal economic situation, their own personal economic situation. But what came in third place that almost tied with health care--here's what I want to talk to you about right now, because it was the issue of the rights of the Palestinian people. We probed further because it was intriguing. It broke a pattern that we had seen from all the other questions that we did, when asked, what values do you teach your children, what matters most to you in life, and this issue of political concerns, almost everything in the package was personal, was very family or personal or achievement related. For some reason right up there on top was the issue of Palestine on political concerns. And so it caused us to probe further with both open-ended and additional closed-option type questions.

What we found was that Palestine emerges as a symbol for their lives. What is happening to the people in Palestine, they told us, is something happening to people very much like themselves, and it is what is happening to them they defined as something similar to what was happening to their own lives. They told us that they felt vulnerable. They told us that they felt that what the Palestinians were facing in issues of economics were similar to theirs, what Palestinians were facing on issues of human rights were similar to their own. What Palestinians were facing in this issue of their history being out of control and their not being able to gain control over their lives was a statement about the Arab condition. What they told us, in other words, was that Palestine was a symbol for what was wrong in their own lives and what was wrong for the lives of the people in the region--not unlike--not unlike the way the Holocaust came to be understood by American Jews--the situations, believe me I understand, are dramatically different in terms of the consequences. But, nevertheless, as American Jews looked at what was happening to Jews in Europe and saw a people like themselves vulnerable, exposed, and hurting, and identified as if it were a personal wound, Arabs see the situation in Palestine in a similar way.

We also learned that Arabs came to judge other countries by how those countries dealt with this issue of critical importance to them. Not unlike Gallup and Pew, we found that the Arab world viewed the United States as too unilateral and too arrogant. It's also true that many other countries of the world--actually we did a poll in which we compared several countries on Arab views. We found that Arab countries in many cases viewed America more favorably than the French, but that's another story and I'll wait till we get to that one later.

When we heard what they were saying to us, what we came to understand was that Arabs looked at America in terms of how America treated them. And since foremost among them were the Palestinians, that even Arab countries that had no gripe with America--like for example Morocco--viewed us very unfavorably because of our treatment or lack of favorable treatment to the Palestinians. The region, if you look at it over the last 150 years, has experienced a loss of control of their own history. Imperial and colonial conquests had a dramatic impact. The region was carved into states, and regimes were implanted to serve British and French interests. If anything, the roots of extremism in the region come from this loss of control, this sense of powerlessness, this sense of humiliation. And nowhere are these dilemmas more clearly expressed than in what is happening to the Palestinian people. So the dispersal, the dispossession, the occupation of Palestinians has become a defining issue, and we saw it clearly in every poll that we have done.

What's interesting is that with all of that, they give us obviously very low scores, but it's because Palestine is a drag on the rest of the numbers. But the other numbers are all positive. For example, we did what Gallup didn't do. We asked the following questions. We didn't just say what do you think about America, because our conclusion was asking that question of an Arab at this point in time is not unlike asking a woman who just kicked her husband out for being a serial cheater what she thought about men. Not a good question; not the right time to ask it. Sowhat we asked instead was what do you think about a whole range of ways that America impacts you? What do you think about American values? What do you think about democracy and freedom in America? What do you think about American education? What do you think about American science and technology, et cetera, et cetera. And what we found was that in almost every case a majority said favorable things about America, except when we got to the issues of American policy. And Bosnia they liked a little bit better than Kuwait, and Kuwait they liked a whole lot better than Palestine. And in the most recent poll, Iraq they didn't like so well. The point, in other words, is that our policy drags down the favorables that we have in every other area.

What was interesting, as I noted, was that other countries are viewed as well by how they are perceived in their treatment of issues affecting the Arab world. France receives favorable grades across the board. Japan receives very favorable grades. Germany receives very favorable grades. It was interesting the book got released in Cairo, the Arabic version, in October, and I got back to my office by phone the next day, and they said, you have seven press calls from Canada. Well, I hadn't made an issue of it, but it appears that one page in the book we note that Canada is viewed favorably by most Arab countries, and I got a call from somebody in Toronto who said the Toronto Globe and Mail says, "At last some place in the world they know we are not the United States." They were, needless to say, very pleased that they were viewed so favorably. But, frankly, Canada doesn't have a negative record and so is viewed differently than the United States, a much lower profile. Indeed, it's not an anti-Western sense. In other words, it is purely a function of policy.

We asked open-ended questions, and the results are in the book. They are fascinating, because in almost a third to a half of the cases the single most often issue raised from Morocco to the United Arab Emirates has to do with issues of Palestine and balance and fairness and how you are treating us. And by "us" they usually mean the people of Palestine.

At the end of the day, they like us. They just don't like how we relate to them. They like our values. They just don't think we relate our values to them. They kind of think there's a split image--we hold the value out, but it doesn't apply to them. They know about our freedom, and they know about "Bay Watch," but they watch our television shows all the time. Interestingly enough, more people are watching CNN there than are watching it here. Unfortunately, they're also watching Fox, but that's still another--I get so many calls late at night from people saying, "Are you watching that?" And I say, "No, turn it off. (Laughter.) It's 4:00 in the morning for you--why are you torturing yourself?" But--and that's another issue.

We certainly can't talk about controlling speech, but we have to understand that when editorials are written here--like I said, everybody has memory. When editorials, op-eds appear in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and when somebody on Fox says something awful, or when James Woolsey goes out to UCLA and talks about the fourth world war, and it's just beginning now, he's says, drooling out of the side of his mouth with a glint in his eye--they're listening to that, and they see that as part of a complex of American attitudes and judge us unfavorably for it. When religious leaders in this country make outrageous comments, it's important that the President distance himself. But the comments continue and continue, and frankly they don't understand it.

One last observation about how Arabs view us is that all of us--Americans judging Arabs and Arabs judging Americans--tend to do so in an unfortunate and unfavorable way. We tend to use anecdotes sometimes to substitute for knowledge, as in the store owner who has asked do you know about them or what do you think about them--meaning another group of people. Well, I know "them;" they come in here and shop, and let me tell you what one did yesterday. Or ask the customer about the store owner, do you know--what do you think about that group? And if it's a congresswoman talking about Arab store owners, as some congresswoman happened to--Well, they own all these convenience stores, and I don't know what they're up to" --taking an innocent anecdote and somehow generalizing it into an observation and making the observation into a conclusion like presto is unfortunately what we do. And we oftentimes tend to take as the anecdote some aberrant form of behavior, as in the--one of the calls I got on C-SPAN today was "After all it was all those Saudis, and the President is still meeting with them." Crown Prince Abdullah didn't fly the plane. But, unfortunately, we tend to make these kinds of racist generalizations, and we all do. They do it, too, in the Arab world about us. They'll take a Pat Robertson comment or a George Will op-ed, and they'll generalize it into an observation about America. What's necessary at both sides of this discussion is that we do more listening, that we also do more communicating, and that we help more provide more nuance to the picture on each side of who we are. There is, as I noted, a large and growing gap. The war in Iraq did not help close the gap. It may if anything have helped widen the gap. We need to understand and recognize we live in dangerous times.

I'd make a few recommendations as I close. The first is that we lower the rhetoric. Oftentimes what we say to a domestic audience is playing as well to a foreign audience. We understand it. We need to encourage people to lower the rhetoric. Sticks and stones might not break our bones, but they can incite others to do so. We need to listen more and engage more in conversation. Our public diplomacy effort, I think, is more effective when it is demand-driven. Too frequently it's supply-driven. We have a product; we want to sell it, but we're not letting the buyers identify what they want to know. I'd say this about both ends. The Saudis did a public diplomacy campaign. We had a public diplomacy campaign. But in almost every instance we-- both sides--were answering questions that people weren't asking, and we weren't answering the question that people were asking. People weren't asking what is Saudi policy? They were asking who are these people? And people in the Arab world weren't asking if Muslims are able to go pray on Fridays in America? What they were asking--the question was why do you treat us the way you do? Why don't you include us in your policy formulations? So we need to hear what the others are saying so that we know better how to communicate.

I think that--I mean one of the most startling movements in American politics was the Hillary Clinton senatorial campaign in New York. She came in as a total outsider and did a listening tour. Six months into the campaign Hillary Clinton was the in-stater and her opponent was the down-state outsider who was trying to interfere with her foothold in upstate New York. She was viewed as a home girl by the time she was done. We need to do more listening and actually institutionalize the listening process so that our diplomats in the region are viewed as interlocutors of the concerns of people back here. I have often thought a listening tour would be a remarkable thing for us to do in the Middle East. Too often people--I mean too rarely people have the opportunity to speak. Too rarely they have the opportunity to see their words have an impact. One of the most interesting observations--I do this weekly show with Abu Dhabi television, and we had two public discourses--two debates, rather -- with students at Davidson College, where I was teaching and students at the University of Baghdad--one right before the war and one right after the war. The most interesting observation made after the war was a woman who said--when asked the question: “These complaints you have that you're talking about, that things aren't working -- at least, you are free to make those complaints not.” You weren't able to say them before. And she said “Oh, no, we used to have these conversations before. We had these criticisms before. We had them in our homes. We had them in the coffee shops. We were afraid that the mohabarat (ph) were listening to us, but we had them.” She said: “The big fear we have now is that no one is listening to us, that no one hears what we say, that there is no one listening.” We're now the regime, and we have to be doing a better job of listening.

I think that our career diplomats who have served us well and are invested in our relationship in the Middle East need to be empowered to do more. They need to be empowered to do more in representing us, in listening for us, and in serving as interlocutors. We need to seek out those special partnerships that, in many cases, were formed by our very programs, some of which are under pressure to be disbanded today. I think that some of these USIA visitor tours are critical--should be expanded. I think that the fact that we have less Arabs studying here today than we had before is something we need to look at again. We have been doing everything we can almost on an official level to break down relationships at a point when we need to be building relationships. And some of the programs that I have been to overseas--I keep hearing from Arab businessmen who have done business in America who are afraid to come because they don't understand the visitors program, the special registration program. We need to do more to build confidence instead of breaking confidence down.

And, secondly, I think we ought to be doing a map of different countries in the region, and instead of projecting large visions and large plans we need to be making small half-step proposals. What is the next half step for Saudi Arabia? What's the next half step that people need to be taking in Jordan? We ought to be thinking about ways we can assist people taking those half steps on this road to greater citizen participation, greater openness, and greater relationship with the people of the United States.

On the question of Iraq, I suggest a change in course. I think we ought to lower our profile. I think we ought to enlist our allies and regional partners, and we ought to enlist the United Nations. The postwar rebuilding and transformation of that country is a critical challenge, and we will be judged by how effective we are in doing it. We might be able to buy time here in America, but we are not being able to buy time in the region. And the sooner others are invested in that process, and assisting in that process, and have the legitimacy, the mandate to carry out that process. It is not just on us alone; it's too big a job. I think we erred in not understanding what the spillover, the fallout, rather, would be. It's too late to cry about spilt milk. The point is: How do we get out of the bind we're in? The easiest way is to invest others with us. Apparently, those in the United Nations would be willing if given the mandate to do so. Our regional partners as well need to be invested. The sooner we invest them, I think, the better off we are.

On the question of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, frankly, we can do all these other things and have all these other conversations, but unless at the end of the day the issue of Palestine is solved, it remains the essential block as well as the essential component to the larger engagement effort between ourselves and the people of the Middle East. For too long we have had kind of a double game. We've talked to Israel and not to the Arabs. Sort of like that "I Love Lucy" scenario where you go back and forth from one room to the other, or the restaurant thing where you go back and forth from one table -- oops, sorry, I have to go make a phone call, and then you go to the other table. We've talked to both sides as if the other side wasn't there, and we cannot do that anymore, because both sides are listening and both sides are very jealous partners, and both sides want us to be engaged. And while they may seek zero sum, we have to seek as President Bush and James Baker said more than a decade ago--there are twin tests, and America has to pass them both. We are beyond at this point-- we are beyond at this point photo-op diplomacy. The meetings that are taking place are critical, but the meetings must, in fact, be followed up on almost immediately. If we lose momentum, I don't think we get another chance early on. This can unravel quickly. There is optimism and skepticism, and they are both there at the same time. If we lose not only do we lose, but I think many of our allies will lose as well. The President's vision and the road map that incorporate it was a very positive step forward. For the first time, everybody in the region agrees to a two-state solution. That is a critical step forward. No one can underestimate it.

But, at the same time, vision is not enough; performance is. And the performance that's at stake is not just the Palestinian performance or even just the Israeli performance. If you look at the asymmetries that surround this issue--on the one hand there is the asymmetry of power: Israel has got it, and the Palestinians don't. There's another set of asymmetries that I talk about frequently, and that is the asymmetries of compassion and pressure. Israel gets the pressure. But the other asymmetry is that America, the most powerful party in this entire effort--and it is a party in this conflict--we have a stake in the resolution of this conflict. America is the most powerful party in the conflict, and we have a performance standard that must be met as well.

If we do not apply the pressure, if we do not apply balanced and evenhanded pressure to both sides, then, in fact, this process may collapse, and we will be held accountable for it in the region--maybe not at home, but we will be held accountable in the region. A lone bomber cannot be enough to bring down the vision and plan of the President of the United States. There will be tough days ahead, and both sides will seek a way out. America cannot afford to let either party do so. We have to be able to bang on both sides of the table and crack both heads together when necessary. It's not just Palestinian interests and Israeli interests, but I believe it's American interests and the interests of our allies in the region as well. The road map will not be judged by its intention or vision; it will be judged by whether or not we, the United States of America, follow through and force the parties to take the tough steps that they may not want to take.

I've said enough, and I thank you for your indulgence, and would be happy to answer any questions. I do believe that we face some extraordinary challenges; it's a very troubled region, and it's a troubled region for our people. I am going to the Middle East on Friday. I am going to go to the United Arab Emirates. I am going to go to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Lebanon. I feel, and have always felt strongly about the U.S.-Arab partnership, but I believe it is in danger today, and evidence of that danger is the fact that my family doesn't want me to go. But I feel I have to go. Too much is at stake. Too much has been invested in this partnership in this region for any of us to walk away from it. And so I thank you, and I hope to see you when I come back. (Applause.)

MR. KEPPLER:  For the questions and answers, I'd like you to turn on your microphones, if you are sitting near a microphone. Otherwise, we have a microphone situated in the aisle-ways there. This helps us do the transcript. The lady in the back there with her hand raised in the black dress.

MR. ZOGBY:  And the book is for sale outside.

Q:  I just want to mention that I am sure you are aware that in Israel--I'm sorry, in the Palestinian question there are two sides here, the side of Abu Mazen, who is trying to negotiate peace. On the other hand, there is the side of Hamas and all the other terror organizations that right now laid down their arms waiting to see what's happening. And everything is finished they'll resume their terror activities, as everybody knows.

MR. ZOGBY:  You know, there are two sides on all the sides. There are two sides here at home, there are two sides in Israel, and two sides in the Palestinians, and no doubt Hamas and Abu Jihad and others are a danger. But there are extremists in Israel as well. One assassinated a prime minister and another murdered 29 in a mosque. And I am reading the Israeli press today, and I am seeing that the danger of what Ariel Sharon has said, just mentioning an occupation puts his life at risk in that country. Everyone has to take a risk: Abu Mazen does; Ariel Sharon does. We cannot personalize this. Nor can we look at one side and not ignore the other side. This is a situation where both parties have to make tough decisions. As President Clinton used to say, we have to support those who make the tough choices. And it means real tough choices--not partial tough choices, not some disputed outposts but all the outposts and all the settlement construction after 2001. It includes no more assassinations, and it includes stopping terror. It includes everybody doing what is called on them to do in the road map. That's why the parties have accepted it, because it, in fact, is an inherently balanced document that calls on both sides to take tough choices and do the right thing. They will face opposition from extremists and we have to help them do that.

Q:  But when we talk about two sides, Abu Mazen was not elected; he was just nominated by Arafat--means Arafat is in the background. So Abu Mazen, I think, is not able to operate independently outside of Arafat's influence.

MR. ZOGBY:  Let me if I could answer that and then move on. Arafat was elected, and he maintains the support of a significant number of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. He is the counter-pole to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, number one. Number two, I think it's important that we not personalize this: Arafat and his record or Sharon and his record. It's a question of what the parties must do to invest their people in a process that has been sorely tested, and that people have to some degree given up hope on.

When I say that, what I mean is the following: If you want to see Abu Mazen fail, then the daily lives of Palestinians will not improve. Then Palestinians will not be hard at work, and Palestinians will not have opportunities to improve their lives, et cetera. But if you want to see him succeed, if you want to see Palestinians vote for peace and be invested in peace, then what we have to do is make dramatic improvements in the lives of people so that they once again regain hope that their lives can change.

Let me tell you a little story. In 1993, just 3 days after Oslo was signed, I had on my show Nabil Sha'ath, who was one of those negotiators of that agreement. Nabil Sha'ath was asked what are you going to do when the bombers strike? And he said let me tell you, if this works--and I believe that it will, he said--a year from now our young people will be at work. They will have jobs for the first time in their lives. Youth unemployment is dramatically high in Gaza. He said our farmers will be back on their fields--fields that they've been kept from because of this corralling of state lands and settlement construction, et cetera. And he said the people in our cities will be at work building the infrastructure of a future state. He said, so then, when the bombers strike, the people will turn to us and they'll say, stop them, because they have threatened everything we've won.

Two years to the day he was back on my show again. A bomb had gone off in Tel Aviv and killed a number of Israelis, and there was a picture, I'll never forget, in the New York Times, of young people shaking their fists in the air--young men in Gazain support of the bombers. I said to Nabil, what happened? He said, unemployment is doubled today what it was when we signed peace, and we've lost more land and more settlements have been built in the last 2 years than in any previous 2-year period in our history. And people are less free to move about, even within the West Bank today than they were before. And, as a result of that, our people have given up hope. And people do not view us legitimately--(short audio break for tape flip)--that can bring them benefits. They've turned against us, so we do not have the credibility to crack down as has been asked for us to do.

The same problem exists today, and we have to find a way to help this new government of Abu Mazen succeed. We will help him succeed if we help bring the benefits of peace and rekindle hope for the young people in Palestine who will then view his leadership with legitimacy. If young people--let me just, because I know you want to say something again, and I just want to finish this thought, if I can. If you look at Gaza, if youth unemployment in Gaza is at the 70%-80% range, and has been so for over a decade, do you know what it can mean in a society where you're 24 years old and have not had a job, and never had a job, and no prospect of a job? It means you can't get married. It means you can't have a family and children. It means you can't bring home to your parents the one thing that would give them honor and hope and a sense of a future legacy. So what has emerged in this is this despicable cult of death, this evil cult of death that has come to replace in a sick and tragic way the fact that people don't have a life and no prospect of a life. We want to change that. We have to want to change that. And the way to change that is that young guy needs a job, because at the end of the day they are not only murdering Israelis, and they are doing that, and it's an evil and it must be condemned; they are also killing themselves, because they have no life. We have to give them life, we have to give them hope, we have to give them a reason to find another course. That's the only way we'll strengthen the hand of those who want peace. There is no other option. If you continue to squeeze, as we have been squeezing for the last 2 years, we only end up producing more anger and despair, and that's not the recipe to a solution. (Applause.)

Q:  I just want to say one more thing.

MR. ZOGBY:  There's a question here. Yes?

Q:  Mr. Zogby, you mentioned a lot of things, and some of them are right, and some of them I disagree with you. It seems to me like no country on this Earth has done so much to the Arab world in terms of funding education opportunity, and yet we are always blamed for their failure. Why?

MR. ZOGBY:  That's not always been the case, and I don't think it is the case in every instance. As I said, one of the most interesting--I just came back from a visiting professorship at Davidson College, and some of my students did some interesting papers. One of them was the image of America and the meaning of America over the last 100 years in the Arab world. It was a short paper, written by a student of great promise, and I think it's something actually to be enlarged upon. The fact is that we haven't always been viewed that way, and I don't think in many quarters we are viewed that way. I think that in some instances it's the split vision; it's the split meaning of America that is the most frustrating. We project value, but not to them. We hold out a promise, but not to them. So that in some ways when you tantalize and take away, it's even more damaging than not to relate at all. So I think that what we found in our polls was a sort of a split message. On the one hand, they like us: They like our people; they like our values; they like what we project; they like our products. But they almost seek to deny themselves that like, because they find we are not taking care of the relationship. That's on one level. On the other level, even with all the work we've done, I don't think we ever came to understand each other. And I don't think that they have done the job either, to be frank--both sides have been lacking in doing this job.

But the gaps that have occurred since 9/11 have been there. We just came to focus on them more. But they clearly are a problem, and we have to pay attention to them now. It's a job that can be done. I know we can do it. But I think we have to do more. We have to do more to get the job done. Don't forget—I, too, can point out all the good things, but don't forget the bad things--and as Americans we have to look at the bad things. And, unfortunately, I know them real well, because I've been on the other side of this policy discussion for, lo, these many years. I mean, I--not you--had my money given back when I endorsed presidential candidates and was told we don't want Arab money. And I, not you, was closed out of meetings with either political party for almost a decade, because they said, no, we don't want your people. And I, not you, after simply raising issues in the tone of voice and in the type of way I am raising them with you today, I go back to my office today because there's hate e-mail because I spoke out on C-SPAN about issues that simply need to be talked about in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Arab Americans have not always felt that we could voice these policy concerns. My son worked at this Department, many of you know him, and many of you remember what happened to him when he worked here: An effort was made to destroy a young man. Now, many in this country forgot and didn't even know what happened. But in the Arab world they didn't forget it, and they remember it real well. So let's not forget what's happened. Let's not forget the mistakes we've made and the lack of openness we've shown. And let's understand that if we are going to correct the course here, we're awful good at--you know, this Scripture reading in my son's wedding; he actually chose an interesting one He was married--the very same son I am speaking about--was married this weekend, and he chose an interesting Scripture reading for a wedding, actually. He didn't choose the old typical "love is a bell"--whatever, whatever, whatever. He chose the "get the beam out of your own eye before you judge your neighbor for the splinter in his eye." He constantly challenges himself on forgiveness. It hurt him a lot. And as a country, as a country, we would do well to do that.

Now you know what I get if I say this and it's on C-SPAN: "Go back where you come from," which for me is Utica, New York. (Laughter.) I mean, I don't know when--I've been in--my family has been in this country since 1898. I don't know when I get to be a full American. We fought in every war. My family has fought in every war in the last century, and yet I still have to prove my bona fides. You know, I come here to the Department, and they ask when I get up to the desk: were you born in America? You don't wax indignant. I do. Because you didn't get money back given to you by the Dukakis campaign--thank God, he lost (laughter) because I still am mad about that. I'm mad that my endorsement was rejected. With an apology from a friend in the campaign, but it got to be a big story in the Arab world. We have problems. We have to deal with them, and we have not been fair.

And what happened after 9/11. Despite the trauma, despite the tragedy, we lowered the bar on human rights. And it--instead of setting a standard, we lowered a bar, and it's being read. Just let me make an observation totally off the mark. I've been beating up on a couple of different Arab countries for their human rights behavior. One of them taunted me the last time I met them in public, saying, "Hah, you won't be raising issues with me any more after what your country is doing. They're doing the same things you've criticized us for." That hurts me as an American. It bothers me as an American. But we are doing what other countries are doing, and they are now finding justification for their own abuses by some of the ones that we did. We have got to look at it. We have to look at it.

MR. KEPPLER:  Do we have any questions from this side of the room? Please, the lady here.

Q:  Hi. first I'd like to say I think you've done an excellent job of presenting your remarks--very candid and forthright, and very representative of what a lot of the people in the Arab and Muslim world feel, but don't obviously always have a mechanism for voicing that.

Second, I wanted to ask you do you feel like the Muslim organizations here are doing an effective job in playing their role in getting their views across to policymakers? And, if not, what would your advice to them be?

MR. ZOGBY:  That's a very complicated question. Thank you for the compliment--I appreciate that. I represent Arab American organizations, and I think given what we had to deal with--I chair the Ethnic Council here in town, and it's interesting, because every one of them look at us and say, boy, you guys are doing great. But we don't look at ourselves that way. And I found that every group has the same internal problems and the same internal concerns. Italians who seem to be one people actually are rife with divisions, and so are Poles and Ukrainians, et cetera. We are no different. We are forming a new community. It's real tough. It's a community that represents 20-something countries and whole lots of different generations of people being here, but we've done rather well with it. It's not always easy, but it's necessary, and I think rewarding work.

The Muslim community is a much newer phenomenon, and it would take me a longer time to talk about it; in part, because I still tend--and I think that most of the Americans who are of the Muslim faith still tend to see themselves in ethnic terms. That's not a bad thing. I don't think it's a bad thing. I don't think that there's a Catholic vote. I think there's an Irish vote. And actually it's not even a whole Irish vote, but it's a recent immigrant Irish vote that votes differently than Irish who have been here for many generations. There's not even an Arab vote. There's a couple of different pockets of the way people vote, and so the notion that there would be overnight a Muslim voice--when there was an event going on in Washington with the groups that call themselves the Muslim groups all endorsing George Bush, and in New York the Albanian community was endorsing Al Gore, and I thought, what are they? -- Chopped liver? You know what I mean? So it's like I think that part of this issue as we organize is kind of knowing the contours and the demographics of each community that we are working in. So at the present time I still see on the Muslim side an ethnically separated community, and that's not a bad thing, because each community has its own -- as the Italians say -- there's a wonderful little Italian peasant expression, "Everybody has got their own fleas." Every community has unique characteristics, unique problems, unique concerns. Kashmir is critical for the Pakistanis, and Palestine is critical for the recent immigrant Arabs. And African American Muslims have their own sets of concerns that have to do with the quality of life of the community here in America. And if we disrespect those and try to create one voice, and say it's all Palestine, it doesn't work. So I think that it's a much longer topic, but it's one that I would be happy to engage in on another occasion. Yes?

MR. KEPPLER: This gentleman took the initiative to step up to the mike, so please?

Q:  Dr. Zogby, Mohammad Ali (ph) from Pakistan. My question revolves around Arafat and the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, as well as its implications in Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. So can you tell us about your observation and how the people view the American policies, especially in Pakistan, and how they view America as an ally, as a foe, and what kind of sentiment is there right now?

MR. ZOGBY:  We actually have polled in Pakistan on those very issues. I'm glad you asked. We actually found on many of these issues that the numbers didn't differ in Pakistan or in Indonesia. They like our values, they like our people, they like our education and our freedom and democracy. They are not happy with American policy.

Obviously, in Pakistan when you ask the question, policy toward Arabs, you get a different response than when you ask that question in Saudi Arabia or in Jordan. But, nevertheless, it's a negative, and a fairly strong negative. Palestine has come to be almost a universal symbol, and actually not just in the Arab world. But when you ask about American policy toward Palestinians, you get the same numbers in Europe, and not just in France, but you get them in Spain and you get them in Italy and you get them in Greece and you get them in Central America as well. This notion that we have that we, and as we used to say humanity are on one side and the Arabs are on the other side just doesn't resonate in the world. It's not just as again we used to say during the Reagan years that that United Nations, so-called United Nations, voted against us, and they only represent individuals, not countries--not true. Significant opinion in the world sides with Palestinians and feel that they've gotten a raw deal, and doesn't quite understand the way America turns a blind eye to many of those concerns. I think that the President got some credit for the road map, but he has to follow through in order to continue to order the credit.

MR. KEPPLER:  We have time for one more question. The lady over here, who I promised to acknowledge, you get the last question today. I'm sorry we're running out of time.

Q:  You talked about economic opportunity with the Palestinians and how important it is. But could you make some observations on other countries in the Middle East, and what you think America could do in terms of its economic policies to better the relationship?

MR. ZOGBY:  Well, I think the assistance that we are providing right now to help move countries in the World Trade Organization is critical. I think that we--the President has talked about a vision of a free trade zone in the Middle East. I'm not quite sure how realistic that is. But one of the things that I've always thought about is that our foreign aid program works sometimes contrary to our overall policy objectives. Instead of supporting free markets, instead of supporting private sector development, instead of supporting those who we want to advance, we end up tying it up in projects that are if anything demand-driven from this end. You know 80 cents on the dollar going into the pocket of folks here in the United States, granted that's an objective that we've wanted to meet. But in some European countries the enterprise funds have worked. In some cases, they haven't worked. I'd like to see more focus paid on the kind of initiatives that Vice President Gore started with the Gore-Mubarak initiative in Egypt, and ways of developing public-private partnership, and ways of developing incentives for American businesses to do more business in the region, and ways of developing from the bottom up some of the smaller level businesses in the region, and giving them opportunities to grow and find external markets.

I could speak directly to the Palestinian issue on that front, because one of the most frustrating experiences we had in all those years that I was working with Vice President Gore in Builders For Peace was the inability of getting Palestinian products out of Palestine. If the Israelis controlled the ports, then Palestinians had no external market, unless they remained a subordinate economy, and everything went out with a "Made in Israel" label on it. And the result was that they were never able to attract investment. No investor wants to go into a subordinate economy. I mean, he's going to invest in the Israeli middle man rather than invest in the guy that the Israeli middle man is signing the contract with. And if the Palestinian guy couldn't import a truckload of raw material and export a truckload of finished product everyday--because the internal market wasn't enough--they needed to have an export market to grow; they couldn't do anything. And we just never paid attention to it. We never understood that while we were talking the talk we weren't doing anything on the ground to make people's lives better. And it all caught up to us.

I think there's probably a whole lot more that could be said about the broader region. This is not an area that I am an expert in. With me the Managing Director of the Arab American Institute, Jean Abe Nadir, is here, and he for 6 years ran the U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce and is probably one of the better experts in town on this issue of the U.S.-Arab business relationship. You ought to invite him to do an Open Forum. It's a critical issue that I think deserves a much larger audience. So I actually wish you'd been up here answering that question, John. (Laughter.)

Thank you all very much. (Applause.) I want to thank Bill Keppler for the invitation, and thank those of you who endured the hour and some-odd minutes that I've been here speaking. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MR. KEPPLER:  I said in the beginning of my remarks that the Open Forum exists to bring in alternative policy ideas and different points of view, and I certainly think Dr. Jim Zogby delivered on that. I'd also mention he has been a regular guest here, and I think you can see why: very interesting, compelling presentation.

Before we close, I'd just like to say our next big program is going to be on June 16th, "Islam and Democracy: The Possibilities, the Challenges and the Risks of Bringing Islamic Nations and People." And on July 2 we'll have Aaron Miller, former deputy negotiator in the Arab-Israeli negotiations--he's now the president of Seeds of Peace-- to discuss his alternative approach to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, a supplement to the diplomatic efforts.

And, just for the fun of it, next Monday in the Dean Acheson Auditorium--it's not technically an Open Forum program, we are going to have the grand master of martial arts, Jhoon Rhee, give a presentation on mind and body, as well as giving an impressive demonstration of his martial arts skills. One of the things he will do is 100--he's 71 years old--he'll do 125 push-ups, and he'll challenge anybody to a push-up contest. So, as I said, for the fun of it, next Monday, June 9, Dean Acheson Auditorium--bring your kids.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to the Open Forum. Look forward to seeing you again. (Applause.)


Released on July 1, 2003

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