The American frienemy

America should work hard to reach in and change the thinking of people all over the Middle East.

May 20, 2013 21:47
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah April 26, 2013

US President Barack Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mike Theiler )


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In cognitive science, pictorial metaphors and analogies matter, as they determine how we think and act.

Some days ago, the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram ran a cartoon of a grinning Uncle Sam talking on a mobile phone and saying, “No, Excellence... our scenario in the Middle East is going like that,” while making the thumbs-up gesture). The visual metaphor here highlights that the US is a real threat to the Arab Spring. In other words, what Arabs want is not what America would like to see. More specifically, the US doesn’t want real democracies in the world; rather it wants anarchy and civil wars.

This view of America has been reproduced by the Jordanian newspaper Al Ra’i, which ran a cartoon of American scissors cutting a the map of the Arab world. The analogy stresses the idea that the US wants to balkanize the Arab nation into smaller fragments that are hostile to and non-cooperative with each other, which turns the Arab spring into an autumn.

The question here is, who is on the line with Uncle Sam in the first cartoon, and who holds the scissors in the second? In other words, who helps America carry out its vicious plan in the Arab region? The answer can be read in a picture by the Saudi economic journal El Iqtisadia, in which there is a person boiling in a pot with the inscriptions “the Arab world,” an Israeli feeding the fire with wood bearing the inscriptions “military excellence” and a truck carrying the label “USA.”

This metaphor highlights that America uses its superior military machine to support Israel against Arabs and, at the same time, uses Israel to realize its economic and strategic goals in the Middle East: to create economic and political intimidation in the region; to justify its now-and-then “'war on terror”; to control the biggest oil reserves in the world, etc.

This understanding of America has been reactivated by an Al Ra’i cartoon in which Israel has been depicted as an octopus getting out of a box labeled “Made in USA.”

The visual metaphor here, as can be seen, highlights that Israel, the vicious animal, is created by America to terrify Arabs.

So “with friends like America, who needs enemies?” Clearly, this image of America resonates in the emotional centers of the Middle Eastern brain. It ignites hatred against the US, and, dangerously, makes many people justify painful terrorist attacks such as those of 9/11 and Boston marathon.

On this account, America should work hard to reach in and change the thinking of people all over the Middle East, if it is serious about building a new and real friendship with those people. Importantly, it should end the “Isramerica” marriage, as many would call it, and help the Arab revolutions achieve success. I think this works in America’s national interest and helps it reclaim the American dream.

The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD student.

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