LAKHANPAL: In Qatar, Anti-U.S. Is not Anti-American

Origina Source:, 24th January 2012

The casual rant against America is always followed by a quick justification: "It's not like I'm anti-American. I like you! I'm just anti-America, you know?"

A few days, ago my teaching assistant opened our philosophy recitation session by asking each student, "What is your name, and what is the most pressing issue today?"



It was an interesting way of opening the class, but one that revealed the nature of life in this country and region. Three Syrians, one Singaporean, one Pakistani, one Bosnian, one Sudanese, six Qataris, two Egyptians, one British, one Algerian, four Palestinians and throw in a Canadian, and there you have it — life at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.



There was one more student. Me, the Hindu Indian-American from the Bible Belt of the Southern United States studying at a Jesuit university in an Islamic country.

"It's the hypocritical Americans wanting to police the rest of the world!" the half-Palestinian announced. "The problem is occupation," said a girl from the West Bank.

"Leadership is diluted; leaders can't see past personal ambition," said an Egyptian. "It's resistance to change," commented a Syrian.

Then there was a Qatari: "Nobody knows the best kind of state since democracy has failed."

The problems they mentioned are all real, but they lie within the realm of ignorance and denial.

There are plenty of contradictions in this part of the world. I see religious Muslims who pray five times a day, but there are also those who seem to be Muslims of convenience who go out to the bars the week after Ramadan. I see meritocracy when the hardest-working students rank highly in class, but I also see nepotism when companies refuse to hire them in order to fill the "Qatari quota," where native Qataris are given preferential treatment in employment.

I see equality for some, but stratification for the migrant workers who have built this country. I see generosity when I am provided with excellent accommodations and a scholarship — but I also see oppression when the lowest social classes are swept off to housing in an "Industrial Area."

The most important contradiction, however, is the "anti-America" sentiment. It is a perspective that has intrigued me for months. After finals, a few of us SFS-Q students watched the newest "Mission Impossible" movie. Afterward, we ate at McDonald's before going to a Starbucks. The next time an Arab friend gave the "Who does America think it is?" tirade, I defended our country by citing that evening. A major component of the global lifestyle rests on what America has given the world.

The friend was adamant. "That wasn't America, that was just business." There is widespread anger as to why we went into Iraq, followed by angst as to why the Americans have abandoned the mess. I have come to the simple conclusion that no matter what America does, the world will see it as wrong, especially here in the Islamic world. That leads to the question that has been pondered by scholars for centuries: "Why do they hate us?"

Well, they don't. After living here among the youth from an array of different countries, I've discovered that the wrong question is being asked. I am not disliked (or, at least, I like to think not); McDonald's isn't disliked either. Tom Cruise may be cheesy in "Ghost Protocol," but most of the Arabs in the theater loved it when he was parading around Dubai's Burj Al-Khalifa. They don't hate our people, and they definitely don't hate our fast food chains.

The question to ask is, "Why do they antagonize America?" America, often, is conceived as the following: a paradoxical foreign policymaker; an anti-Arab, pro-Israel entity; an ineffective, inconvenient global police force; an occupier; a non-democracy and most importantly, the birthplace of arrogant loudmouths like yours truly.

If one defines America as such, then the answer speaks for itself. I wish I could disagree with the definition. The longer I'm here, however, the more I understand this perspective. I see the paradoxes in Qatari government, culture and life, but I see blaring contradictions in my own country as well. Experts like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami allege that everything boils down to religion, that an ideological battle between Islam and the West continues, but I disagree. It's simply the angle with which the rest of the world looks at us.

It isn't anti-American; just anti-America.

Nikhil Lakhanpal is a freshman at the School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus. CUTTER, KUH-TAWR, QATAR appears every other Tuesday.

by Nikhil Lakhanpal  Jan 25th, 2012
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