PMW in the Media
Israel Isn't the Issue
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Is American support of Israel behind the hatred of this country that pervades the Arab world and that literally exploded into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11? Certainly this is what many in Europe believe, though thus far in the United States only a few anti-Israel intransigents, like the columnist Robert Novak, have voiced any such sentiment in public.
Now, some have found it very surprising that Israel is not (yet!) being widely scapegoated. But what seems much more remarkable is that within the Arab world itself, there has been less emphasis on Israel as the root cause of the attacks than might have been anticipated. To be sure, one of the great “crimes” of America in Arab eyes remains its support of Israel. Nor is there any doubt from what they say to one another in Arabic (as opposed to what their diplomats say in English, French or German) that wiping Israel off the face of the map is still one of the major hopes of Arabs everywhere – and of most non-Arab Middle Eastern Muslims like the Iranians as well. I would advise anyone in search of documentation to consult the translations from the Arabic press regularly made by the Middle East Media Research Institute and the Palestinian Media Watch.
I would also advise listening to Prof. Fouad Ajami, an American who grew up as a Muslim in Lebanon, but who has been virtually alone in telling the truth about the attitude toward Israel of the people from whom he stems. For years now, Mr. Ajami has been insisting that “the great refusal” to accept Israel – under any conditions whatever – persists “in that ‘Arab street’ of ordinary men and women, among the intellectuals and the writers, and in the professional syndicates.” Moreover, “the force of this refusal can be seen in the press of the governments and of the oppositionists, among the secularists and the Islamists alike, in countries that have concluded diplomatic agreements with Israel and those that haven’t.”
Mr. Ajami adds that the great refusal “remains fiercest in Egypt,” notwithstanding the peace treaty it has signed with Israel. We might have expected, then, that the Egyptians would be eager to blame American policy toward Israel for the widespread animus against the U.S. in their own country, especially since Egypt, being second only to the Jewish state as a recipient of American aid, has a powerful incentive to explain away so ungrateful a response to the benevolent treatment it has received at our hands.
But no. Only about two weeks before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Ab’d Al-Mun’im Murad, a columnist in Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper sponsored by the Egyptian government, wrote: “The conflict that we call the Arab- Israeli conflict is, in truth an Arab conflict with Western, and particularly American, colonialism. The U.S. treats [the Arabs] as it treated the slaves inside the American continent. To this end, [the U.S.] is helped by the smaller enemy, and I mean Israel.”
Nor was this unusually candid acknowledgment the end of it. “The issue,” declared the same writer in another piece, “no longer concerns the Israeli-Arab conflict. The real issue is the Arab-American conflict – Arabs must understand that the U.S. is not ‘the American friend’ – and its task, past, present, and future, is [to impose] hegemony on the world, primarily on the Middle East and the Arab world.”
Then, in a third piece, also published in late August, Mr. Murad gave us an inkling of the reciprocal “task” he had in mind to be performed on America: “The Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, must be destroyed because of … the idiotic American policy that goes from disgrace to disgrace in the swamp of bias and blind fanaticism… The age of the American collapse has begun.”
If this is the kind of thing we get from an Arab country that everyone regards as “moderate,” in radical states like Iraq and Iran, nothing less than identifying America as the “Great Satan” will suffice. As for the Palestinians, their contempt for America is hardly exceeded by their loathing of Israel.
For example, the mufti – or chief cleric – appointed by the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat has prayed that God will “destroy America,” while the editor of a leading Palestinian journal has proclaimed: “History does not remember the United States, but it remembers Iraq, the cradle of civilization… History remembers every piece of Arab land, because it is the bosom of human civilization. On the other hand, the [American] murderers of humanity, the creators of the barbaric culture and the bloodsuckers of nations, are doomed to death and destined to shrink to a microscopic size, like Micronesia.”
The point is that if Israel had never come into existence, or if it were magically to disappear, the United States would still stand as an embodiment of everything that most these Arabs consider evil. Indeed, the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism. Israel is seen as the spearhead of the American drive for domination over the Middle East. The Jewish state is a translation, as it were, of America into Hebrew – the “little enemy,” the “little Satan” – and to rid the region of it would thus be tantamount to cleansing an area belonging to Islam (Dar-al-Islam) of the blasphemous political, social, and cultural influences emanating from a barbaric and murderous force. But the force, so to speak, is with America, of which Israel is merely an instrument.
We have all been repeatedly instructed in the past few days that suicide bombing, whether in Jerusalem or New York, represents a perversion of Islam fostered by a tiny minority of fundamentalists. This may well be so. Yet it is also true that exhortations to and celebrations of this tactic by leading Muslim clerics, notably in Egypt and within the Palestinian Authority, have for some time now drowned out the few lonely protests against it.
Nor is it only against Israel that suicide bombings have been incited and wildly applauded. Only last November, for instance, one of the official Palestinian Authority newspapers reported the results of a poll in which 73% of Palestinians supported “suicide missions against American interests in the Middle East.”
Is it any wonder, then, that there was rejoicing among the Palestinians over the attacks “against American interests” in America itself? Is it any wonder that so many youngsters were dancing in the streets of East Jerusalem and Ramallah, when in textbooks published by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education, and in use this very school year, seventh-graders were being taught that Islam “will defeat all other religions and it will be disseminated, by Allah’s will, through the Muslim jihad [holy war] fighters’? So, too, 11th-graders were taught that Western civilization “has begun to collapse and to become a pile of rubble.” A pile of rubble: the sight of the World Trade Center reduced to endless tons of debris must have seemed the fulfillment of a prophecy to young minds poisoned by such teachings.
Even before Sept. 11, there was something repellent about the continual exhortations to “restraint” oozing unctuously out of our State Department whenever Israel responded with any degree of force to suicide bombings and other attacks on its territory or its people. But now the United States, having experienced at firsthand what Israel has been going through, has rightly declared war not only against individual terrorists but also the groups or states that harbor or nourish or encourage them.
At such a time, it is quite simply bizarre that Secretary of State Colin Powell should be pressing the Israelis to meet with Yasser Arafat, who has been, and still is, guilty of everything we have now pledged ourselves to extirpate. A veteran terrorist himself, he is also the leader of one terrorist group and has given aid and shelter to others. Thus Hamas, an openly terrorist organization that acts with Arafat’s approval from territory he controls, declared in its weekly publication after the attacks on New York and Washington: “Allah has answered our prayers; the sword of vengeance has reached America, and will strike again and again.”
What will the State Department come up with next? A proposal that American diplomats sit down with Osama bin Laden? After all, he denies having been responsible for the attacks on us, just as Arafat denies that he is behind the outbreak of terrorism which has been his response to a recklessly generous Israeli offer last year of terms for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. Having signed a piece of paper in 1993 in which he promised to eschew violence, Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Why not get bin Laden to make the same promise, and then give him the Nobel Peace Prize too?
The absurdity of the State Department’s position on Arafat is compounded by its efforts to build a coalition against terrorism that will include some of the very states – especially Syria and Iran –against which we have in effect declared war for harboring and sponsoring this evil (in their case it is the Hezbollah, which almost certainly was connected with the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and of American embassies in Africa in 1998). Evidently the idea is to make them change their policy. Yet given the enormous popularity of terrorism among their own peoples, the leaders of these countries (today’s “princes and pharaohs,” as Mr. Ajami calls them) are highly unlikely to act against this scourge, even assuming – and with many, it is a very shaky assumption – they actually wish to do so.
President Bush’s father needed a coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait, partly because there was so much opposition at home to Desert Storm. But “Little Bush,” as he is mockingly characterized by some in the Arabic press, has the country solidly behind him, and the only possible justification for the coalition Mr. Powell envisages is to get staging areas and overflight rights in the region for military operations. Hence courting Pakistan and offering it incentives at least makes some sense.
But no comparable justification can be jiggered up for pursuing the Syrians or the Palestinians or the Iranians, who are among those we should be punishing instead of wooing. I would even include the Egyptians here. Their leader, Hosni Mubarak, is always eager to cooperate with the United States, but at the same time, he has permitted his officially controlled press to spew forth venom against us that will come back to haunt him in limiting his own freedom of action.
Finally, it would be both immoral and stupid of this administration to exclude Israel as a major ally in the war against terrorism. The president’s father prevented the Israelis from participating in Desert Storm (even after the Syrians, of all governments, acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself against the Scud missiles Saddam Hussein was firing at it). In thus excluding Israel, the elder Mr. Bush forfeited what we now know would have been an invaluable military asset in locating and destroying those same Scuds that were being fired at American troops in Saudi Arabia.
If George W. Bush were to repeat this egregious error, he would risk losing an equally invaluable asset in the new kind of war into which we have entered – namely, the expertise of the country that has experienced more terrorism than any other (and would have been more effective in dealing with it if we ourselves had not been holding it back).
Clarity of purpose cannot be achieved without intellectual and moral clarity; and in this situation, what clarity reveals is that we are in the same boat as the Israelis. It is easy enough to perceive that they are taken by the Arab world as our advance guard in the Middle East, so that wiping them out would be a major step toward getting rid of us. As the 11th-grade textbook I quoted earlier puts it: “We [Arabs] awoke to the painful reality of oppressive imperialism and we drove it out of some of our lands, and we are about to drive it from the rest.”
But what is harder for us to grasp is that, just as the fervent wish of the Arab world to wipe the Jewish state off the map derives not from anything Israel has done or failed to do, but rather from its existence alone, so we are hated not because of our policies but because of who and what we are. The same textbook sums up one item of the indictment: “Western civilization, in both its branches – the capitalist and the communist [!] – deprived man of his peace of mind, stability and noble human examples whom he can respect, when it turned material well-being into the exemplary goal… his money leading him nowhere, except to suicide.”
True, they accuse us of all manner of horrible crimes, going back to the Indians. But as someone recently said, what really arouses their enmity is not what we have done wrong but what we have done right. To them our democratic polity, and the freedoms that go with it, are as corrupt and corrupting as the economic system that has created so much widely shared prosperity. They want to destroy all this, first in the Middle East itself, and then in as much of the world as they can, so that a different way of life – the way of life they believe is commanded by Allah – can rise up again in all its sacred purity from out of the degenerate rubble.