To the Editor:
I was thankful to see John Waterbury ("Hate Your Policies, Love Your Institutions," January/February 2003) make the distinction between the way people in the Middle East feel about Americans and the way they view U.S. policy toward their part of the world. This was a luxury I always felt was afforded me during my visits to the region, and a favor that we as Americans rarely return to them. In spite of this strength, some flaws exist.
Waterbury's use of the term "Muslim Middle East" raises concern, especially when describing those who "express anger toward the United States," as though feelings of frustration are absent among Christians, Druze, or those of any other religion. This type of portrayal misrepresents the nature of the issue; it dismisses this frustration as a concern unique to Muslims, thereby absolving the United States of responsibility for its problematic policy toward an entire region.
In turn, Waterbury ignores a major problem with his argument -- the issue of access -- until his next-to-last paragraph. He fails to recognize the fact that the American institutions of which he speaks educate and train the elite in Middle Eastern countries, producing the correct popular perception that these are elite institutions. The overwhelming majority of the population cannot afford to attend them: in fact, the American University of Cairo's undergraduate tuition rate for the year is currently $11,700, while the country's gross national income per capita is only $1,530, and most Egyptians live on $2 per day. The result is envy among the tolerant and resentment among the less than tolerant, sentiments much different from "love your institutions."
Perhaps more alarming is his suggestion that the United States ought to use the educational system in its "'soft power' arsenal." This type of endeavor violates the very spirit of the education he champions, that of "flexibility and choice, critical thinking and problem solving ... education that encourages the open debate of issues, the cultivation of a skeptical attitude toward received wisdom, and habits of weighing and assessing evidence in an effort to solve real problems." It also undermines the intentions of the founders of these schools as well as academic freedom and intellectual integrity.
George Mason University