With Experience Living in Saudi Arabia, Missmar ’09 Discusses the Source of Arab Opinions of USA

Daniah Missmar ’09 spent two months in Jordan this past summer exploring the reasons behind Arab and Muslim “rage” against Americans. She was one of six students who had the opportunity to research and gain an in-depth understanding of a particular multicultural issue with the support of CAMD. As a child, Missmar grew up in Saudi Arabia. She came to Phillips Academy with an open mind to other views, cultures and people, but also wanted to represent her own culture and ethnic background. Missmar said, “[I am] connected to both the Arab and American world, and they are both a huge part of who I am.” Missmar was able to travel to Jordan this summer to get a true sense of how these two worlds perceive each other. Traveling to Jordan for this project, Missmar had three main goals in mind. She wanted to focus the spotlight on the Arab voice, and through this, expose the real reasons for tension between the U.S. and Arabs. The core of her project consisted of numerous interviews with the citizens of Jordan, who belonged to different age groups and socioeconomic statuses. Of the 35 interviewees, 26 were high school students, and nine were adults. The range of occupations included a professor at a Jordan university, a former television network executive, a construction worker and a journalist. The audience of Missmar’s presentation on Wednesday was able to watch videos of her interviews in Jordan. From her interviews, Missmar discovered very similar views of America’s democracy, religious freedom, military power, foreign policy and pop culture. “America has democracy we can’t even dream of,” said one journalist. Other interviewees spoke of the freedom of speech and Americans’ right to vote. One student said, “The only voting experience I’ve ever had was voting for a contestant on a pop music singing show. When he won, I was so happy! I can only imagine what it feels like to vote on more important matters, like for the president.” The views of America’s religious freedom were similar, as it is a privilege that Arabs do not have in Jordan, or any other Arabic nation, because of Islamic domination. In the video interview, Missmar showed, the journalist continued, “Even with a mosque in the city and a church in the city, religious freedom hardly exists here. Other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. are all undercover.” The students added that religious freedom is a right written into the U.S. Constitution. The most substantial source of Arab frustration that all 35 respondents brought up is the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war. They shared the common belief that America’s interference with matters in the Middle East has been the most problematic. One woman who was interviewed said, “The American occupation in Iraq is a big joke! They didn’t have the right to invade Iraq, even though they said that they come to Iraq for the sake of ‘freedom.’ Who is getting freedom? It is now a very bad democracy. Even compared to Saddam Hussein’s regime, this is worse. Hundreds of Americans and Iraqis are dying, and there is no U.S. media showing the real situation.” According to Missmar, the U.S. media favors Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disclosing only Israel’s side of the story. Missmar and several of her interviewees said that the U.S. is siding with Israel, providing them with economic aid through money and with political aid through troops favoring Israel. Regarding the Arab-Islamist violence and the 9/11 attacks, Missmar’s interviewees were against the terrorists, who “used their religion as an excuse and created fear in the U.S. and Arabic countries.” One man interviewed said, “Their acts of cruelty were unacceptable. This was not jihad, and no religion can justify the killing of innocent people.” Missmar concluded her interviews with the question of how the U.S. and Arabic countries can move forward and relieve some of the tensions. To do so, students whom she interviewed agreed that the U.S. should not readily assert itself in the Middle East, acting as the “peacekeeper” and that Arabs know that the real objectives of the U.S. interference in the Middle East are for oil and money.