Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny— in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving. ~Thomas Friedman
I would say that this is blinkered, but we’re talking about Thomas Friedman, so that would be redundant. One of the most irritating things I have noticed during the last decade has been the whining from American pundits about how ungrateful the world’s Muslims have been in response to our alleged beneficence on their behalf. The grimly amusing part of this is that the whining pundits accept the assumptions of pan-Islamists, but put them to different, limited use: Muslims everywhere must feel gratitude for any assistance we have ever rendered to a Muslim population. Of course, if our policies have ever adversely affected a Muslim population, Muslims everywhere should not think that they have any particular interest in this, but should instead resist the siren song of pan-Islamism. I have made this observation before:
In other words, Americanists want Muslims to think like Pan-Islamists when it serves Washington’s purposes (i.e., when it is supposed to make Muslims favorably disposed to us), but Muslims must never think like Pan-Islamists when it doesn’t.
U.S. foreign policy has not been “largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny.” U.S. foreign policy has worked to support the causes of certain Muslim groups, provided they had the “right” enemies (i.e., states that we already opposed or disliked), and to undermine the causes of other Muslim groups that had the “wrong” enemies. The same people who could not rush to the aid of Bosniaks and Albanian Muslims fast enough are perfectly content to see thousands and tens of thousands of Arabs killed by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces. The people who pretend to weep for Chechnya do not even blink at the displacement of entire provinces in Pakistan. The would-be champions of democracy in the Islamic world have happily embraced anti-jihadi dictators in Uzkbekistan and Pakistan as necessary. My point here is not that Washington was right or wrong in backing one group and opposing another, which is an argument for another day, but simply that it would not be hard for Muslims around the world to notice the far more devastating effects of U.S. and U.S.-allied hostility to certain Muslim causes more than they notice the relatively more obscure cases in which Washington backed Muslim causes.
We wrongfully and unjustly bombed Serbia on behalf of Albanian Muslims, and now the Friedmans of the world want Muslims elsewhere to give us credit for taking the “Muslim side” in a conflict that means nothing to them while conveniently ignoring the far more obvious and ongoing support for governments that mistreat or oppress Muslim populations in several countries. When the counter-Narrative is so transparently silly (America is the friend of Muslims!), it is not too surprising that “the Narrative” gains ground. So long as our political and pundit class genuinely believes that we have been almost entirely good to Muslims, we will never understand why so many Muslims distrust and resent U.S. policies and U.S. influence and we will not be able to correct the impressions that our policies have spawned.