Americans are used to images of resentment and anger from the Arab world. A less familiar sight is Arabs buying hamburgers at the McDonald's in Cairo, lattes at the Starbucks in Beirut, or ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins in Yemen.
Although there is widespread animosity toward America across the Arab world — especially over U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians — many Arabs embrace aspects of American life and American culture.
"It is a love-hate relationship," said Mustafa Harmaneh, a political analyst in Jordan. "Culturally, American music is popular. American food is popular. American clothes are popular. People still wear jeans with American flags on them. They wear baseball hats and they don't see any contradiction in that, despite the animosity toward America."
Satellite dishes are a common sight in many Arab nations, and much of the programming that comes in is American.
"I like Knots Landing," said one woman in Jordan, where the 1980s soap opera is popular." And I watch the movies we see on the Oscars, and the films shown on television. The American life is an interesting life."
However, there is a split between those who embrace American culture and those who see it as immoral and particularly offensive to Muslims. Fundamentalist clerics, such as Egypt's Sheik Yussef al-Badri, fear America's moral standards will poison Muslims.
"Girlfriend, boyfriend — they make a family without any contract and marrying. This is bad behavior. In the cinema, in the theater, in everything, they spread bad characters, bad behaviors, bad deeds," said al-Badri.
American Ideals Praised, but Hypocrisy Seen
Arabs also hold more lofty American institutions in high regard. Mohammed al-Shukairy, a Palestinian attorney raised in Jordan and educated at England's Oxford, said he admires many things about the United States: "Liberty, freedom, in all its forms, freedom of speech, a legal system of integrity, accountability, the fact that you have a more effective form of democracy than other regime[s]."
But that does not mean he likes America's policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. "You might admire certain American characteristics, but that does not necessarily mean you need to take the entire package and accept it," he said.
Many Arabs believe that U.S. policies in their region represent a betrayal of the ideals of human rights and democracy that America claims to stand for.
"The people in the Middle East know the Americans only through their government's policies and practices in the Middle East," said Ghassan Khatib, a moderate Palestinian political analyst. "And this deserves to be hated by most of the people in the Third World and especially in the Middle East."
Israel Tops List of Grievances
The United States' support for Israel tops the list of Arabs' objections to America. In Palestinian areas, evidence of America's support for Israel is everywhere, Palestinians say.
"It's not lost on any Palestinian that the bombs that are dropping are dropped by American-made F-16s, by American-made Apache helicopters. The tear gas that's fired at us is American-made, the bullets that are shot at us are American-made," said Michael Terazzi, a Palestinian-American who works in the West Bank. "It's not lost on the average Palestinian that it's American economic support, financial support, military support and political support that, in effect, denies us our freedom."