Mohammed S. Dajani is head of the American Studies Graduate Program at al-Quds University in Jerusalem. As a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., Dajani delivered an August 6 policy forum on “What Arabs Don’t Know About the United States.” His talk was based on a survey of more than 1,000 books published in Arabic about the United States – all that are readily available in bookstores in 22 countries in the region.
The American Studies Graduate Program at al-Quds University in Jerusalem was established in 2002 with one of its goals to combat the dissemination of biased information about the United States, said Dajani. Dajani is the founder of the moderate Wasatia movement of moderate Islam, according to Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute and a longtime research colleague of Dajani.
Of the 1,000-book bibliography he assembled, Dajani said 25 percent were about U.S. foreign policy topics such as the United States as policeman of the world, directing global politics to benefit U.S. interests, the Israeli lobby as the major force behind U.S. decision-making, and the United States as waging a war against Islam.
“This shockingly low number alone says a lot about the poverty of Arab knowledge about America,” Dajani said about the total of available books. The lack of accurate and balanced books about the United States is exacerbated by the lack of copyright laws in Arab states, he said, and by the fact that the small number of U.S. government supported books available are outdated, too lengthy for Arab readers, or very expensive.
Books that reach the masses in Cairo
“These books are the best-selling books there. Many have been printed 5 or 10 times. They are cheap books, very available. You walk into Cairo and they are in the streets all over the place. You can buy them for $1 or $2, also they reach the masses and they make a lot of impact on the way people think and the way people perceive things. For instance, ‘The Talmud of Uncle Sam: Jewish Legends Upon Which America Was Built,’ ‘The Crime of Western America and Palestine is the Victim,’ ‘The True History for America in the Arab World – America: a Huge Israel: Israel a Small America.’ “
We don’t need to sell America
“We don’t need to sell America. The idea there is not to be pro-American, but at least to give a neutral picture of the United States.… Although academic authors normally strive to be value-free and objective, nevertheless, this bibliography reveals the open biases and prejudices of books published in Arabic speaking about American affairs. This practice is most obvious in areas where the community’s values and interests are challenged, particularly… Islam… and Israel. Our findings suggest the presence of anti-Americanism is widespread in Arabic books… due to what is being published about the United States in Arabic by authors, many of whom have never visited America or studied it.”
The goal is to build a new generation
“The creation of American studies centers in major Arab universities in joint cooperation with American universities could address this situation of informing the general public about America through their teaching, publishing, lecturing, media, and the web sites. The goal is to prepare well-trained elite in this field, not to sell America and American values to the Arabs but to build a new generation that is advanced in knowledge and technology in an age of globalization. However, American studies should move on … and concentrate on topics that reflect the ingredients which made America great… such as American ingenuity, innovativeness, creativity, and individuality.”
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.