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Ozgercin: U.S. interests are hurt by anti-Muslim sentiment

Pakistani Muslims shout anti-U.S. slogans beside burning U.S.

Pakistani Muslims shout anti-U.S. slogans beside burning U.S. and Israeli flags during a protest against "Innocence of Muslims" in Karachi. (September 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The riots and demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa protesting a film ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad appear to have calmed for now. But these episodes of anti-American protest and violence underscore serious challenges to our national interests and security.

The first is the growth of fanatical anti-Islamism in the United States and Israel. Quran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones, for example, who has promoted the intentionally offensive film "Innocence of Muslims," preaches religious intolerance and incites hatred. Such intolerance is antithetical to the principles and values of our country.

Americans of all faiths should stand together against anti-Muslim extremism. This kind of hatred threatens to erode one of the most important principles upon which our nation was founded -- religious tolerance -- and jeopardizes our national interests and security by inciting anti-Americanism abroad.

Second, and perhaps more important, Washington's history of almost unconditional support of Israel threatens American national interests and security. Americans must recognize that while we support and share a special relationship with the state of Israel, that nation's relations with its Arab neighbors should not dictate American foreign policy toward the broader Middle East. Indeed, our support for Israel in its conflict with Palestinians is a primary source of tension between the Arab street and the United States.

Rather than being drawn into another useless war, in Iran, which Israel so openly advocates, the United States should be prudent. The so-called Arab Spring is bringing broad changes to the Middle East, and we should let them play out without our interference.

The violence this month against American missions is a sign that the United States needs to rethink how its relationship with Israel is affecting American national interests and security, as well as its policies toward the whole region. Intelligence is still being gathered on the attacks, but by some accounts, it appears that the perpetrators were looking for an excuse -- provided by the film -- to act on their anti-American feelings.

From President Barack Obama's speeches in Cairo and Istanbul shortly after taking office, to the intervention to topple Moammar Gadhafi, to the decision to encourage Muslim Brotherhood participation in Egyptian politics, the White House has persistently looked for what administration officials described in the National Journal as "a new foreign-policy paradigm, one that relies less on autocratic governments and their oil reserves and more on a genuine connection between Americans and citizens of the Arab world."

Still, the banter from the right suggesting Obama has, in Gov. Mitt Romney's words, "thrown allies like Israel under the bus," cannot be further from the truth. To the contrary, Obama has not convinced the Arab street that America under his watch is any different from previous administrations, particularly on such key issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States' response to Iran's nuclear program.

While Obama's approach strikes a friendlier and more respectful tone with the Arab street, Arabs are tired of U.S. Predator drone attacks, decades of support of authoritarian regimes and meddling in their affairs, and the loss of thousands of civilians as a result of American military adventures in Muslim-majority countries -- most recently Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. They ask themselves, are we next?

As the people of the Arab Spring countries seek to democratize their post-authoritarian regimes, they will continue to turn toward the Islamists if democracy does not result in freedom from foreign -- namely, American -- interference in their politics. And if anti-Muslim extremists on our shores and in Israel continue to preach hatred, attacks like the ones we've recently witnessed worldwide will surely grow worse. Perhaps it is time that Washington thought about genuine peace and non-interventionism in the Arab world, and scaled back its efforts to remake Muslim-majority countries in our own image.Kevin Ozgercin, an assistant professor in the Politics, Economics and Law Department at SUNY College at Old Westbury, specializes in international politics and Middle Eastern affairs.