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Islamic Tourism: Rethinking the Strategies of Tourism Development in the Arab World After September 11, 2001

Introduction: The global impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on U. S. policy are obvious, in shape and rhetoric, if not in direct causality. References to the “war on terrorism” in the context of the Iraq war and occupation and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict show that causality is indeed a matter of broad interpretation by the world’s single super power. The “War Against Terror,” according to the prominent American philosopher Richard Rorty, is a doctrine that can be manipulated by the government of the United States to legitimize any action it may take in the future.1 The September 11 attacks also affected world tourism, due to the global role and position of the U. S. as well as the global character of the Al-Qaeda terror network. However, the predicted wideranging collapse of the tourism industry in Arab countries
after the attacks did not take place. Depending upon their existing tourists markets and orientations, Arab countries were differently affected by the fallout.

The spontaneous reaction of Arab and Muslim tourists, who spent their holidays in the region and avoided European and North American destinations, saved many national tourism industries from collapse. The tourism industry in the Arab World responded to the negative publicity caused by the terrorist attacks with within-region promotions and marketing tactics. In addition, the potential of developing “Islamic tourism”
received more serious discussion. These positive local changes have taken place in a larger global context of externally manipulated violence and instability, as well as anti-Arab, anti-Muslim racism.

The war against the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan succeeded in destroying the most important Al-Qaeda strongholds and in enforcing a regime change in Kabul. However, some major goals of the military action have still not been achieved: eliminating the Al-Qaeda terror network or capturing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Terrorist acts in Tunisia, Yemen, and Pakistan in 2002, and in Saudi Arabia in 2003, have shown that the terrorist network is alive, active, and functioning.

On the one hand, the military reaction of the U. S. was understandable and acceptable to some in the Arab World. We must not forget that many Arab societies have been victims of so-called “Islamic” terrorism over the last two decades. However, four different factors weakened support for U. S. government actions in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
First, the Bush administration declared the strategy of war as the only possible action
against terrorism. The military actions themselves (bombing cities, using cluster bombs, alliances with nondemocratic and regressive groups and countries) were brutal and disproportionate to the threat. “It was like destroying Palermo in order to eliminate the Mafia,” according to Gore Vidal. The Bush Administration never had a comprehensive strategy that addressed the socio-economic and political roots of terrorism.
Second, the Bush administration’s rhetoric (“crusade,” “axis of evil,” “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” “we are the Good,” “civilized world,” “Operation Infinite Justice”) was a disservice to rational public opinion. On some occasions, the religious rhetoric of George W. Bush reminded his opponents of the “Islamic” fundamentalists.
Third, newly implemented registration and migration laws, as well as control measures in the U. S., were widely criticized as being repressive, illiberal, and even racist. The liberal press in Europe likened it to the McCarthy era in the United States.
Fourth, influential governments, organizations and personalities called for alternative political strategies towards solving conflicts in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, and the rest of the world.

The appeal by renowned thinkers Juergen Habermas and Jacques Derrida is only one of the most impressive examples. They called for a new European foreign policy emancipated from –the U. S., based on common European values shown in the streets during the anti-Iraq war rallies, and oriented against the “hegemonic unilateral” foreign policy of the U. S. Stories and pictures of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. government (circulated worldwide), closure of different Islamic welfare organizations, and images of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay strengthened negative attitudes towards the Bush administration’s policy and undermined its moral credibility. The Bush administration’s
management of the Iraq crisis, the war on Iraq, and its pro-Israeli policy have been condemned by the majority of Arab and Muslim people.

On the other hand, images of Arabs, Muslims, and Islam in North America and Europe have suffered immensely since the September 11 attacks. The fact that the terrorists were of Muslim and Arab origin gave a major push to racist attitudes in Western societies. Political organizations with clear anti-Islamic, anti-Arab, and xenophobic ideologies achieved “respectable” results in elections in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway,
France, Italy, Belgium, and Portugal. In public discussions, a racist tenor was noticed in many parts of the world. Of course, other internal factors contributed to this development, such as integration problems, unemployment, and populism. Although many intellectuals and politicians encouraged a more differentiated approach towards Arabs and Muslims, damage to their general image began in September 2001 and accelerated.

Public opinion against the U. S.’s political strategy reached its peak on the eve of the war on Iraq. Millions of people demonstrated against a possible military intervention and many countries officially rejected it. It was not only traditional pacifism, the lack of legitimization
of the war by the U. N., and the weak arguments by Bush and Blair that shaped the anti-war position. It was rather the fear of more future radicalization in Arab and Muslim societies and the worry that the so-called “international anti-terror coalition” could break down.

The situation in Afghanistan is still fragile and explosive, lacking political and socio-economic stability. Regime change cannot be effective without a long-term strategy of national solidarity, democratization, social development and economic growth. In the words of J. Bill and R. Chavez, “Islam claims to have a response to incoherence. What is the response of the United States?”

This article is quoted from the Tourism ROI Newsletter published on 2010-05.26.
Follow this link to download the entire report , writen by ALA AL-HAMARNEH & CHRISTIAN STEINER.

This article is uploaded by Majbritt Thomsen, administrator on ‘Views On Tourism’.

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