With Americans still trying to absorb the shock of San Bernardino massacre, the perennial debate about "why do they hate us" is on with more intensity than ever since 9/11. The irony is that no major power in recent history has gone out of its way as has the United States to help, respect, please and, yes, appease Islam. And, yet, no other nation has been a victim of vilification, demonization, and violence on the part of the Islamists as has the U.S.
Both Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson tried to appease the Islamist pirates of North Africa in the hope of persuading them to cease their raids on U.S. commercial ships and stop capturing Americans and selling them as slaves in the Mediterranean. They sent peace missions laden with gifts and cash, and flattered the pirates, successors to Kheireddin, the Red Bearded One, in almost lyrical terms. In the end, however, they had to take military action to cut the head off the snake. However, the episode was soon forgotten, except in the U.S. Marine Corps, where it became part of its folklore, and the U.S., a nation built on the principle of religious freedom, resumed its benevolent attitude towards Islam.
I remember back in the 1980s, the diplomat then in charge of the United Sates counterterrorism program, Robert Oakley, insisted that the U.S. will never be targeted by homegrown Islamist terrorists because it was "their final destination, their last best hope."
That was the time when groups controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini kidnapped or killed Americans in the Middle East.
So what happened to make that "final destination" a stopover to paradise for martyrs?
Why do so many Muslims hate Americans to the point of wanting to massacre them in their offices as in 9/11 or at a Christmas Party at San Bernardino -- despite the fact that the United States is the only major power in modern times to offer Muslims a helping hand when they needed it?
Wasn't it President Woodrow Wilson who insisted at the end of the First World War that the main European imperial powers of the day, Great Britain and France, publicly commit to respecting the right of self-determination for nations freed from the Ottoman yoke? The Americans invented the idea of "mandates" under the League of Nations to prevent the European imperialist world-grabbers from turning their Muslim conquests in the Middle East into a new colonial galaxy. Without that, there would probably have been no independent Arab states in the Levant, at least for decades.
And wasn't it President Harry Truman who in 1946 used eyeball-to-eyeball diplomacy against Soviet despot Josef Stalin to force him to take Russian occupation troops out of Iran's northwestern provinces and forget about his plan of creating a Soviet Iranistan? (At the time the Soviets hadn't yet developed a nuclear arsenal and thought twice before provoking a clash with the U.S.)
It was President Truman again who prevented the British from sharing out mandatory Palestine among their Arab clients, having already taken a big chunk of it to create an emirate for their Hashemite protégés on the east bank of the Jordan.
And it was thanks to U.S. sending the Marines in the nick of time in 1958 that both Lebanon and Jordan managed to retain their independence and avoided becoming early versions of what is Syria today.
Then we had the 1956 crisis, when Britain and France invaded Egypt to prevent the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Wasn't it President Dwight Eisenhower who went against American's oldest allies to let the Egyptians assert their national sovereignty?
From 1961 onwards, President John F. Kennedy exerted immense pressure on France and used his charm on General De Gaulle to accelerate progress towards Algeria's independence. In 1997 Redha Malik, a former Prime Minister of Algeria and key negotiator with France, told me that throughout the Evian peace talks, the Algerian team knew it had "a strong friend in Washington."
In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, triggered by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul-Nasser's quixotic attempt at imposing a blockade in the Strait of Tiran, the U.S. used its clout to persuade the Israelis to stop the war after only six days. In his memoirs, the long-standing Soviet apparatchik and future Prime Minister, Yevgeni Primakov, claims that the Israelis wanted to complete their destruction of Arab air forces by wiping out Nasser's heavy weapons on the ground as well. It was under American pressure that the Israelis agreed to temper their appetite for victory and accepted a ceasefire under the auspices of the United Nations.
The Nasserist regime could live to fight another day, which came in 1973. In the October 1973 war, too, U.S. intervention helped restrain the Israelis, who had built up an invasion force under General Ariel Sharon a stone's-throw from Cairo.
In the Camp David talks that led to peace between Egypt and Israel, intense pressure by President Jimmy Carter forced the Israelis to abandon plans to maintain "security enclaves" inside the Sinai Peninsula, thereby helping President Anwar Sadat recover all of Egypt's lost territory.
In 1982 a multinational force, led by the United States, intervened in Lebanon to stop the Israeli advance beyond the Litani River. That force also helped save the lives of Yasser Arafat and his close associates in the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) when, trapped in Beirut, they risked being captured or killed by the Israelis. President Ronald Reagan even arranged for Arafat and his entourage a safe passage to Tunisia, free of charge.
During the lengthy crisis that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the U.S., having at first hesitated to intervene under President George H.W. Bush, assumed a leadership position under President Bill Clinton and helped save the lives of many Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a Serbian ethnic cleansing master plan was in full application. Later, it was also U.S. military power that helped Kosovo's Albanian majority, overwhelmingly Muslim, achieve independence. Ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova told me in an interview that he had counted on "Europe's conscience to wake up" only to see that it was "the American cavalry" that in the end came to the rescue, while the Europeans "danced around the dying man."
The U.S. was the only major power to have no state-owned oil company and thus never used its military clout to obtain a share of the Middle East's energy resources.
Should Muslims hate Americans because they refused to disband their military bases on Islamic lands? Again, history shows that the U.S. was the only major power prepared to pack up and leave as soon as its hosts showed it the door.
In 1969, an astonished Col. Moammar Khadafy watched as the Americans closed one of their most important military bases in the Mediterranean, Wheelus, located on Libyan territory, as soon as his newly installed military government asked Washington to leave. A couple of years earlier, it had taken months of bloody battles and tens of thousands of lives before South Yemen was able to force Britain to close its base in Aden.
In 1979, the U.S. had 27,000 military personnel in Iran, operating "listening posts" set up as part of the strategic arms limitation accords to monitor Soviet missile tests. But when the new Islamic regime led by Khomeini asked the U.S. to close the listening posts, which had been approved by the Soviets as well, the Americans did no foot-dragging. The only Americans left behind were diplomats, soon to be seized as hostages by Khomeinist militants.
We witnessed a repeat of that in the 1990s on a grander scale, when the Americans simply packed up and left when the Saudis asked them to close their bases after driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, tangentially also saving Saudi Arabia from Iraqi occupation.
That the U.S. was a friend of Muslims and of Islam was again illustrated when American power helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan and, later, liberate Afghans and Iraqis, a total of 50 million Muslims, from the vicious domination of Taliban and the Ba'ath Party.
In 2005, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Sharestani was publicly wondering why the Americans were not coming to "steal our oil," which anti-U.S. propaganda claimed had been Washington's key objective in toppling Saddam Hussein. We left there, too.
During the past six decades, the U.S. has been by far the largest donor of aid to more than 40 of the 57 Muslim-majority nations. In the 1940s and '50s, tens of millions of Muslims were saved from starvation and famine thanks to U.S. food aid. And the Point IV program, launched by President Truman, helped eradicate a number of endemic diseases, including smallpox and malaria, which killed large numbers of Muslims each year.
Many Muslims nations have been annually receiving large checks from the U.S. for decades, among them Egypt, which gets $2 billion, and Pakistan, the homeland of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook, which gets $1 billion.
When the last Islamic Caliph was driven out of Turkey in 1924, he went into exile first to France and then to the United States, where his descendants lived in New York. In fact, the last pretender to the Islamic Caliphate, Ertugul Osman V, died in Manhattan in 2009.
An open society, the U.S. has always welcomed Islamic exiles of all kinds, including some of its own bitter enemies. The only time that the pan-Islamist Hezbollah movement, founded and led by Iran, has ever held an international conference outside Iran or Lebanon was in Austin Texas in 1986, when a number of Latin American branches of the movement were created. Hundreds of former high-ranking Khomeinist civilian and military officials and clerics have ended up in the U.S. as exiles, while many others have their children attending U.S. schools and universities.
Today, half of Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani's closest aides are holders of PhDs from U.S. universities, among them his Chief of Staff, Muhammad Nahavandian, a Green Card holder, and his Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif. (The other half consists of former holders of U.S. hostages in Tehran, among them Defense Minister Hussein Dehqan and Environmental director Masoumeh Ebtekar.)
Quite a few of Osama bin Laden's 50 or so siblings are either holders of U.S. passports or green cards, along with thousands of other Saudis.
Unlike Russia, which has a 200-year history of war against Muslims, having annexed Islamic land at the rate of one square kilometer a day during the 19th century, the U.S. never annexed any Muslim-majority nation. And unlike China, which is still holding its Muslim minority, the Uighurs, in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) surrounded by a ring of steel, the U.S. is not trying to stop a Muslim nation's aspiration after self-determination.
In the 1990s, when Saudi Arabia normalized ties with the People's Republic of China, it shut down the offices of the Uighur exiles in Jeddah. Where did the exiles transfer to? The answer is: Washington DC, since neither Muslim nations nor Europeans would agree to host them.
Since the 1970s, the U.S. has been host to more than five million Muslims from all over the world, many of them fleeing brutal Islamist regimes in their homelands. In a conversation in 2002, Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis expressed the hope that Muslims in the United States and other Western democracies could become "beacons of enlightenment" projecting light back to their old counties. Many of us shared that hope.
Now, however, we see that the opposite is happening. Instead of exporting "light" back to the Muslim world, a growing number of Muslims in Western democracies have become importers of darkness in their new abodes.
Worse still, the politically correct crowd has turned Islam into a new taboo. They brand any criticism of Islam as racist, ethnocentrist or simply vile, all crammed together in the new category of "Islamophobia."
Is it Islamophobia to question a religion whose Middle East leaders often preach "Death to America" and hatred for Western values?
More prevalent than Islamophobia is Islamophilia, as leftists treat Muslims as children whose feathers should not be ruffled.
The Islamophilia crowd does great disservice to both Western democracies and to Islam itself.
They invite Americans and Europeans to sacrifice part of their own freedom in atonement of largely imaginary sins against Muslims in the colonial and imperialist era. They also invite Muslims in the West to learn how to pose as victims and demand the rewards of victimhood as is the fashion in Europe and America. To the Muslim world at large, the message of Islamophilia is that Muslims need no criticism, although their faith is being transformed into a number of conflicting ideologies dedicated to violence and terror.
Never mind if Islamic theology is all but dead. To say so would be a sign of Islamophobia.
Never mind that God makes only a cameo appearance in mosque sermons almost entirely obsessed with political issues.
All that Western intellectuals or leaders need to do is stop flattering Islam, as President Obama has been doing for the past seven years, claiming that virtually anything worthwhile under the sun has its origin in Islam.
Many Muslims resent that kind of flattery, which takes them for idiots at a time that Islam and Muslims badly need to be criticized. The world needs to wake from its slumber and ask: What is going on?
This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the New York Post.
Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. From 1972 until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he was executive editor-in-chief of Iran's main daily newspaper, Kayhan. He is currently a contributor to the pan-Arab daily, Asharq al-Awsat, and serves as Chairman of Gatestone Europe.