The "paranoia" in the Middle East vis-a-vis the United States is not completely unfounded {"The Paranoid Style in Mideast Politics," Outlook, Nov. 6}.

Surely Daniel Pipes has seen Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," which seeks to create a new enemy for the United States with the absence of the "evil empire." Mr. Huntington specifically refers to Islam as one of the new great fears or threats for "western civilization." One could argue that Mr. Huntington is actually expressing racist, anti-Islamic sentiments, perpetuated by the image of "us vs. them."

Although Mr. Pipes generalizes and is unclear about whose opinion he is referring to (since he fails to use names), the feeling in the Middle East that America is "anti-Islamic," or that it has ulterior motives in the region, is not difficult to understand. One need only look to the gulf war to view U.S. policy in the Middle East with cynicism. Clearly, oil has been a significant interest for the United States, and to state otherwise is simply unrealistic.

As an American who lived and studied in the Middle East for the last two years, I have been struck by the dangerous generalizations, ignorance and fear that are often portrayed in the American media regarding Islam, especially lumping Muslims together with violent or militant Islam and Islamic "fundamentalism."

Mr. Pipes fails to distinguish between the Muslim Brotherhood -- which in Egypt has become a fairly moderate, mainstream political group -- and militant Islamic groups. This is problematic since their views of the United States are varied. Much of America needs to see this distinction if it is to get over its own paranoia toward Islam.

These negative images and stereotypes of Islam were witnessed not only during the gulf war but more recently after the World Trade Center bombing. The point here is that this so-called "paranoia" -- especially in terms of American anti-Islamic feelings -- is actually not paranoia at all. Moreover, the true "intentions" of the United States in the Middle East are unclear.

The United States maintains an inconsistent policy in the region, for example, claiming to support and promote human rights and democracy, yet failing to implement this policy. Instead, the United States continues to prop up undemocratic regimes, such as that of Egypt.

When I recently met with the secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, he said the United States could do something about the widespread human rights violations in Egypt if it wanted, but it has not. Obviously American stated "intentions" (which have been outlined by President Clinton and Secretary Christopher) are not the same as American actions. This contradiction is a reality witnessed by Egyptians and others in the Middle East that contributes to the "paranoia" described by Mr. Pipes.

Mr. Pipes concludes by stating that American politicians should (further) deny accusations about their intentions. If the United States wishes to change some of the perceptions of itself in the Middle East it would be more pragmatic for policy-makers to be honest about their intentions, and for thinkers such as Mr. Pipes to express to Americans a more accurate portrayal of the people and culture about which he writes.

MOIRA McDAID

Washington