Excerpt: "Against Us" by Jim Sciutto

Jim Sciutto, a foreign correspondent for ABC News, examines the sources and repercussions of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, the new face of terrorism and options for the future.

From firsthand experience and intimate interviews, Sciutto presents an engrossing narrative of terrifying events and inspiring hope.

Introduction

For five years, I've lived in Notting Hill— home to fashion boutiques, gourmet delicatessens, Park Avenue rents, and half a dozen guys planning for martyrdom. My neighbors are terrorists. I found out the first time in July 2005. After attempting and failing to blow themselves up on the London subway, three young British Muslims were captured in an apartment just down the street from me and right around the corner from the Travel Book Shop, where Hugh Grant's character worked in the movie Notting Hill. In perfect Notting Hill style, I'd sped by their place on my Vespa coming back from the gym just before the police swooped in. When the ABC desk called me with the news, I went to the scene still wearing my sneakers and sweats.

Jim SciuttoPlay
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The story quickly burst the posh, hip, and safe bubble I had created for myself in London. Through all the wars and terror attacks overseas, I had imagined my neighborhood as a terror-free zone. Standing there on the corner of Lancaster and Portobello Roads that morning, I could see my favorite place for brunch, my favorite Italian restaurant, and my gym. It was like finding out that the next nineteen hijackers were living in the West Village.

London's collective sense of security had already been shattered two weeks earlier, when four other British men detonated bombs on three subway trains and a bus across the capital. Those attackers had been successful, killing ?fty-two people and themselves. As an American, I marveled at Britain's calm. London was shocked but not frozen. The buses and trains started running again almost immediately. Friends kept their dinner dates that night. Londoners proudly recalled the Second World War: We survived the blitz, we can survive this. But this time the threat came from home. Britain's own people were killing their fellow citizens. And these were good British boys, with jobs, families, favorite soccer teams, and unmistakably British accents.

There would be other chilling reminders of this threat every few months. In August 2006, a plot was uncovered in Waltham Forest, East London, to blow up half a dozen airliners over the Atlantic using chemicals carried on board in soda bottles. If the alleged planners had been successful, they would have killed thousands: a 9/11 over the sea. In February 2007, Scotland Yard foiled a plan in Birmingham to kidnap and behead British Muslim soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Several newspapers shared a single headline for the story: baghdad comes to birmingham. Each plot seemed more sinister than the last. In July 2007, two men tried to detonate car bombs outside two London nightclubs. When the bombs failed, they drove ten hours to Scotland to set themselves on ?re outside the departure terminal at Glasgow International Airport. Like the Birmingham suspects, they had intended to bring Iraqi-like violence home to the British people. But this conspiracy had a new twist: the attackers were doctors. And they were my neighbors as well. Two of them had addresses just down the street from me, again, in idyllic Notting Hill.

What worried me was that the hate—against Britain, against America, against the West (they make little distinction)—had become a part of the fabric of everyday life. In early 2002, I had embarked on an educational tour of the Arab World as a foreign correspondent for ABC News. After 9/11, I knew we had dangerous enemies in the region. But they were, I thought, easily identi?able: terrorists, radical imams, in?ltrators from faraway places. One hundred assignments later, from the Caucasus in the north, down through Afghanistan and Iran, the Persian Gulf, and into the Middle East, I was changed, even ?oored. In Afghanistan and Jordan I'd met Al-Qaeda ?ghters who told me it was their dream to kill me. That was no surprise. But for everyone from Egyptian democracy activists to Iraqis who had once supported the U.S. invasion to "pro-western" Lebanese lawmakers, America seemed to have perfected some sort of perverse art in alienating people.

I'd already spent several years in Asia after college, so I'd learned to shed any conceit that Americans were always, or even usually, perceived as the good guys. People in many countries can remember a time when they were up and we were down, and long for history to repeat itself. I also knew that anti-Americanism is a convenient tool for governments. The United States as foreign menace is a nice distraction from poverty, corruption, and utter failure at home. Still, among Muslims there is something distinct and demoralizing about their anti-American sentiment. Many Muslims I've met have long believed that the United States is trying to control their lives, nearly always with the worst intentions. They don't blame me personally. They usually make the distinction between the American people and their politicians (though that distinction is fading). But they do treat me as America's of?cial spokesman, or as its defense attorney in an international court of public opinion where the facts as we see them don't matter much. Here, the September 11 attacks were a joint plot of the CIA and Israeli intelligence. Violence in Iraq is not failed policy, but a deliberate American plan to occupy Muslim land and steal oil. The Israel-Lebanon War was a brazen attempt by the United States and Israel to send a violent message to Muslims by killing Lebanese civilians. Such assumptions extend even to native-born European Muslims. Among many British Muslims, the July 7 London subway bombers weren't murderers, but innocent young men framed by the police (though they'll often add that Britain deserved the attacks anyway).

After seven years of reporting on this subject, I came to an unsettling truth: The Al-Qaeda-inspired view of an evil America bent on destroying Islam has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Today, America's enemies are not the wild-eyed radicals I had imagined, but are often moderates—and many of those whom we thought were our friends are now some of our most virulent detractors.

Positive views of America—already anemic—have grown slimmer and slimmer. A 2007 poll by the U.S.-based Program on International Policy Attitudes in four Muslim countries (Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia) found that 79 percent believe the United States seeks to "weaken and divide the Islamic world." Strong majorities (64 percent on average) even believe it is a U.S. goal to "spread Christianity in the region."

Between 2002 and 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that the number of people who rated the United States favorably declined in twenty-six of thirty-three countries. By 2007, in nine countries less than 30 percent of the population rated the United States positively. Eight of them were predominantly Muslim: Turkey, Pakistan, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Argentina was the odd man out).

In more than thirty years as a pollster, Andrew Kohut, the president and director of the Pew Research Center, has said he could ?nd no frame of reference for the current decline.

"We don't have any experience with this. We never got the breadth of discontent with America as we have now," he said. "In other countries, it's disappointment, resentment, envy. Among Muslims, it ranges from strong dislike to hatred."

Jim Sciutto, a foreign correspondent for ABC News, examines the sources and repercussions of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, the new face of terrorism and options for the future.

From firsthand experience and intimate interviews, Sciutto presents an engrossing narrative of terrifying events and inspiring hope.

Introduction

For five years, I've lived in Notting Hill— home to fashion boutiques, gourmet delicatessens, Park Avenue rents, and half a dozen guys planning for martyrdom. My neighbors are terrorists. I found out the first time in July 2005. After attempting and failing to blow themselves up on the London subway, three young British Muslims were captured in an apartment just down the street from me and right around the corner from the Travel Book Shop, where Hugh Grant's character worked in the movie Notting Hill. In perfect Notting Hill style, I'd sped by their place on my Vespa coming back from the gym just before the police swooped in. When the ABC desk called me with the news, I went to the scene still wearing my sneakers and sweats.

The story quickly burst the posh, hip, and safe bubble I had created for myself in London. Through all the wars and terror attacks overseas, I had imagined my neighborhood as a terror-free zone. Standing there on the corner of Lancaster and Portobello Roads that morning, I could see my favorite place for brunch, my favorite Italian restaurant, and my gym. It was like finding out that the next nineteen hijackers were living in the West Village.

London's collective sense of security had already been shattered two weeks earlier, when four other British men detonated bombs on three subway trains and a bus across the capital. Those attackers had been successful, killing fifty-two people and themselves. As an American, I marveled at Britain's calm. London was shocked but not frozen. The buses and trains started running again almost immediately. Friends kept their dinner dates that night. Londoners proudly recalled the Second World War: We survived the blitz, we can survive this. But this time the threat came from home. Britain's own people were killing their fellow citizens. And these were good British boys, with jobs, families, favorite soccer teams, and unmistakably British accents.

There would be other chilling reminders of this threat every few months. In August 2006, a plot was uncovered in Waltham Forest, East London, to blow up half a dozen airliners over the Atlantic using chemicals carried on board in soda bottles. If the alleged planners had been successful, they would have killed thousands: a 9/11 over the sea. In February 2007, Scotland Yard foiled a plan in Birmingham to kidnap and behead British Muslim soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Several newspapers shared a single headline for the story: baghdad comes to birmingham. Each plot seemed more sinister than the last. In July 2007, two men tried to detonate car bombs outside two London nightclubs. When the bombs failed, they drove ten hours to Scotland to set themselves on fire outside the departure terminal at Glasgow International Airport. Like the Birmingham suspects, they had intended to bring Iraqi-like violence home to the British people. But this conspiracy had a new twist: the attackers were doctors. And they were my neighbors as well. Two of them had addresses just down the street from me, again, in idyllic Notting Hill.

What worried me was that the hate—against Britain, against America, against the West (they make little distinction)—had become a part of the fabric of everyday life. In early 2002, I had embarked on an educational tour of the Arab World as a foreign correspondent for ABC News. After 9/11, I knew we had dangerous enemies in the region. But they were, I thought, easily identifiable: terrorists, radical imams, infiltrators from faraway places. One hundred assignments later, from the Caucasus in the north, down through Afghanistan and Iran, the Persian Gulf, and into the Middle East, I was changed, even floored. In Afghanistan and Jordan I'd met Al-Qaeda fighters who told me it was their dream to kill me. That was no surprise. But for everyone from Egyptian democracy activists to Iraqis who had once supported the U.S. invasion to "pro-western" Lebanese lawmakers, America seemed to have perfected some sort of perverse art in alienating people.

I'd already spent several years in Asia after college, so I'd learned to shed any conceit that Americans were always, or even usually, perceived as the good guys. People in many countries can remember a time when they were up and we were down, and long for history to repeat itself. I also knew that anti-Americanism is a convenient tool for governments. The United States as foreign menace is a nice distraction from poverty, corruption, and utter failure at home. Still, among Muslims there is something distinct and demoralizing about their anti-American sentiment. Many Muslims I've met have long believed that the United States is trying to control their lives, nearly always with the worst intentions. They don't blame me personally. They usually make the distinction between the American people and their politicians (though that distinction is fading). But they do treat me as America's official spokesman, or as its defense attorney in an international court of public opinion where the facts as we see them don't matter much. Here, the September 11 attacks were a joint plot of the CIA and Israeli intelligence. Violence in Iraq is not failed policy, but a deliberate American plan to occupy Muslim land and steal oil. The Israel-Lebanon War was a brazen attempt by the United States and Israel to send a violent message to Muslims by killing Lebanese civilians. Such assumptions extend even to native-born European Muslims. Among many British Muslims, the July 7 London subway bombers weren't murderers, but innocent young men framed by the police (though they'll often add that Britain deserved the attacks anyway).

After seven years of reporting on this subject, I came to an unsettling truth: The Al-Qaeda-inspired view of an evil America bent on destroying Islam has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Today, America's enemies are not the wild-eyed radicals I had imagined, but are often moderates—and many of those whom we thought were our friends are now some of our most virulent detractors.

Positive views of America—already anemic—have grown slimmer and slimmer. A 2007 poll by the U.S.-based Program on International Policy Attitudes in four Muslim countries (Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia) found that 79 percent believe the United States seeks to "weaken and divide the Islamic world." Strong majorities (64 percent on average) even believe it is a U.S. goal to "spread Christianity in the region."

Between 2002 and 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that the number of people who rated the United States favorably declined in twenty-six of thirty-three countries. By 2007, in nine countries less than 30 percent of the population rated the United States positively. Eight of them were predominantly Muslim: Turkey, Pakistan, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Argentina was the odd man out).

In more than thirty years as a pollster, Andrew Kohut, the president and director of the Pew Research Center, has said he could find no frame of reference for the current decline.

"We don't have any experience with this. We never got the breadth of discontent with America as we have now," he said. "In other countries, it's disappointment, resentment, envy. Among Muslims, it ranges from strong dislike to hatred."

Increasingly, negative views of America as a country are extending to the American people. Another Pew poll found that fewer than one-third of Egyptians, Moroccans, Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Turks have a favorable view of Americans, characterizing us as greedy, violent, and immoral.

Just after 9/11, President Bush declared nations around the world "with us or against us" in the war on terror. Now those in the Muslim world are against us in greater numbers than ever before—and they have a new face. A remarkable variety of people—normal people—believe the United States intentionally obstructs rather than promotes progress. Al-Qaeda may be losing the military campaign, but, in considerable ways, it is winning the ideological war. "Al-Qaeda's ideological claims now have credibility, that the West is waging war against Islam," said Fawaz Gerges, a longtime Middle East analyst. "There is a crusading spirit in the West. It helps shape the Muslim view that the U.S. is trying to control their lives. The U.S. is convinced Al-Qaeda is an evildoer. Al-Qaeda has convinced Muslims that the U.S. is an evildoer too."

As an American, I found myself eager to raise the alarm at how deeply our image has been damaged and search for ways to repair it. I found some of the answers by getting to know some of the people who see every event of their lives affected—stage-managed, even—by the United States. For Iraqis, every car bombing has an American imprint. For Palestinians, it's every foot of the wall Israel has built along the border of the West Bank. For Afghans, it's the electricity that's still off most of the day. We have no connection to them, but they feel every connection to us. Their anger is as real as their humanity. These people aren't monsters. Through the profiles that follow, I hope to show how average people buy the conspiracy theories, answer "yes" when asked if America is seeking to weaken the Muslim world, and place more hope in holy war than in America.

In the eyes of many Muslims, America is the victim of its own mistakes. The United States has lost its moral compass across the region. For them, the gap between what we preach and what we do has always been wide, but today it is unbridgeable. The Iraq War was the worst advertisement for American intervention. Torture matters. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib matter. Our relationships with dictatorships matter too. My Muslim friends laugh when we call Saudi Arabia and Egypt "moderate" regimes. This is why dissidents in Egypt today see their cause as stronger without America than with it. "Without you getting involved," a young Egyptian pro-democracy blogger told me, "we'd be fighting just [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, not Mubarak and America."

There is a strange contradiction at the root of much of the hate: while they resent us, many Muslims remain in awe of American power—so much so that they believe U.S. failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the occupied territories were America's intention all along. Nothing else could explain the disparity between American promises and performance. As a result, the Iraqi trauma surgeon I've known since the invasion of Baghdad doesn't credit America for the calm after the surge. After five years of piecing together the war's victims, he is convinced America planned the mayhem from the start. He even believes the United States was behind many of the suicide bombings. To him, regardless of who's responsible, the deaths of more than 150,000 Iraqis (as estimated by the World Health Organization through 2006) was too high a price for his country to pay. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are nothing compared to what Al-Qaeda has done, but, held up against America's own standards, they are the crimes that have come to define us.

This feeling of being under attack has helped solidify a new Muslim identity—a new cause—of its own. Anti-Americanism is a form of Middle Eastern nationalism that transcends borders, even religion. That's why I easily found Christians in Lebanon who revere Hezbollah as devoutly as Shiite Muslims; they see it as resistance against American imperialism. Across the region and even among Muslims in Europe, hating America has become a modern-day youth movement. Hippies didn't trust anyone over thirty. Muslims have learned not to trust anything American.

As Americans, we can react self-righteously. I've lost my cool in dozens of café debates with Muslim friends. But that will not bring us closer to winning them over. The truth is, they see a different set of facts and a different world. Looking far past 9/11 and into the next presidency, Americans can wish the hostility away or look for the elements of it we can address. We had opportunities to turn the tide of hate: after 9/11, when much of the region unanimously opposed Al-Qaeda's brand of violent nihilism, and again in 2005, when elections in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Gulf states gave some hope that the United States might be on to something.

Polling consistently shows that Muslims' priorities mirror ours: family, economic opportunity, reform, and a political system they can participate in. It's just that today they see America as standing in the way of those values, rather than promoting them. To us, freedom means elections. To many Arab Muslims, freedom means freedom from American influence.

There are ways we can save ourselves, I've been told, to turn the tide of hate. Sometimes the solutions are straightforward, such as putting roofs over the heads of students in Afghanistan or getting pro-democracy campaigners released from Egyptian prisons. More often they are long-term and complicated. "Many Muslims are still deeply enamored of America the idea," said Gerges.

There's the hope. Today, though, America the reality is a disappointment and a threat. This is the new philosophy— the new cause uniting disparate people in disparate places. America is the aggressor, the real impediment to peace, the enemy. And those standing up against us are not just masked gunmen in far-off desert hideouts. They are graduate students in Lebanon, democracy campaigners in Egypt, doctors in Iraq, and those young men in my neighborhood of Notting Hill. Their attitude toward the United States— and Americans—comes from years of living as unwilling subjects of our foreign policy. Their insight into our country is at times grounded in profound wisdom and experience. At other times it's based on pure bunk. But seeing through their eyes will help us understand their vision as well as America's position in the post-9/11, post-Iraq, post–George Bush world.