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Middle East Forever Tied To Memories Of U.S. Tragedy

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Middle East Forever Tied To Memories Of U.S. Tragedy

Middle East

Middle East Forever Tied To Memories Of U.S. Tragedy

Middle East Forever Tied To Memories Of U.S. Tragedy

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Though the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil, the weight of the massive tragedy was felt far outside this country, especially in the Middle East. Karim Makdisi, a professor at the American University of Beirut, explains how Sept. 11 is remembered throughout his region.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A little later in the program, we are going to talk about what school children are learning about 9/11. But we've talking about how that day changed the way America views itself and its relationship with the rest of the world. We wanted to get a perspective from another part of the world, especially when it has been profoundly affected by America's response to 9/11, the Middle East. For that perspective we've got Karim Makdisi on the line. He is an assistant professor of international relations at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Thank you so much for speaking with us, professor.

Prof. KARIM MAKDISI (International Relations, American University, Beirut, Lebanon): Thank you.

MARTIN: As you might imagine, this is a very significant day in the U.S. All of the news programs have coverage of commemorative events. A memorial is being dedicated and so forth. Does the subject of 9/11 coming up in your lectures at American University? Do you expect to be talking about it?

Prof. MAKDISI: Yes, absolutely. In many ways we talk about it all the time and on a daily basis. As you may know, we are still in summer session here, most of our world is still in summer session. But September 11th, both the event itself and the consequences, comes up quite a bit in discussions. Not just for the event itself, of course, but because we continue to live the consequences of it in everyday, over the past few years.

MARTIN: How would you describe how 9/11 is talked about in Beirut and in other parts of the Middle East? Like, for example, will 9/11 be covered today in the media as a story?

Prof. MAKDISI: It's not being covered very closely, intimately, at least here in Lebanon because, as you may know, there is a lot of hot events going on here. We are involved in our own local conflicts and there is a lot tension within the country itself, both in the north of Lebanon and Tripoli, and also in the south of Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel.

MARTIN: When you talk about how the events still resonate and people talk about it on almost a daily basis, can you talk more about that?

Prof. MAKDISI: Well, yeah, I mean, I think it's a fact that when it happened, most people, I would say, throughout the Arab world and certainly in Lebanon, were quite sympathetic to people - to ordinary people in New York and to Washington and other areas of America that were affected by this. Somewhere there was a human response because people understood what it was like to be bombed, to be attacked, so there was a lot of sympathy.

And then soon after, with the way when U.S. policy under President Bush became quite militaristic and interventionist here in the Arab region, in particular after the Iraq invasion and occupation, people's sympathy, for the most part, started to become a question and then started to become quite anti-American. And I don't mean anti-American people by any means, but certainly anti-American policy because of the way that Bush administration has gone about - let's say, capitalizing on what happened in September 11th in the United States.

MARTIN: But you do get a sense that there is still a debate going on. In fact, the media reported that soon after the attack there were pictures of some in the region actually cheering the attacks along with, as you described, this tremendous sympathy and grief about this very sort of human response. Do you think that there is still that tension or debate, that there are still some people who applaud the attacks, and there are still some people who regret it and think that it was wrong? Is there still a debate or is it just that the whole thing is sort of overshadowed by events since, that the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and so forth, do you think that those events kind of overwhelmed the predicate event?

Prof. MAKDISI: Thank you for asking that question. I think it's a very important one. In the first part, I would say that I know for a fact that those images that were broadcast in the United States of some people celebrating after the events of September 11th, I think that was totally constructed. It was stage-managed and mischievous on the part of certain news stations in the United States.

The overwhelming feeling in our world, I can tell you, was one of a deep empathy, as I've said, precisely because people understand here in our world, they understand very much what it's like to be under attack and to be bombed and attacked and to not know what's going on. To give you an example, in Lebanon, for the past two to three years we've had over 15 car bombs where hundreds of people have been killed, both in car bombs, in Israeli attacks in Southern Lebanon, et cetera. So there's a lot of those with deep empathy that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in September 11th. So I don't think there was any tension at all.

But the second part of your question I think is true. I think certainly the events themselves and any empathy that went to the American people for this has long since been overshadowed by the sheer brutality, I would say, and violence of President Bush administration policy over the past few years, where you have to keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Iraq and other parts of the Arab world, and there has been tremendous instability and violence as direct result of U.S. policy in this region over the past three or four years.

So of course, a lot of the immediate empathy that went to the people in America has long since dissipated into, I would say, overwhelming anger and resentment towards U.S. policy, not U.S. people, but U. S policy in the region.

MARTIN: And finally, the U.S. is, of course, in the middle of a very hard-fought presidential election. Is this being closely watched in your part of the world? And how do have folks in your part of the world want the new - I mean, obviously, there are going to be different perspectives on this or obviously different political parties, different ideologies, and so forth, as there are here - but how do people in the region want the new American president, whoever he is, is to work with the region in a post-9/11 world?

Prof. MAKDISI: Oh, I think it's very simple. I would say most people are very much against George Bush and would mostly be against John McCain, who they see as a simply - as a follow-up to George Bush. So I would say most people would be in a sense rooting for Obama, not that they think Obama is pro-Arab by any means, but there's a kind of hope that an Obama administration would go back to sort of a more rational, sane American policy in the region, which is based on stability and also a sort of some kind of multilateral engagement, discussion, diplomacy, and to not take an instinctively violent policy in the region. I think that's what most people are hoping and so they're following the elections quite closely, and the vast majority of Arab people would be for an Obama administration. Although, perhaps a few of the lingering people in power in Arab world would probably want McCain.

MARTIN: Karim Makdisi is an assistant professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut. He joined us on the line from there. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Prof. MAKDISI: Thank you.

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