Arab world: problem of perception or reality
3/20/2002 12:00:00 AM - David Limbaugh
In scanning through the items posted on National Review Online’s "The Corner," I stopped, jerked, gasped, cleared my head and re-read the blurb posted by editor Jonah Goldberg. Sadly, I had read it correctly the first time.
Jonah reported that "Police in Saudi Arabia tried to block firemen from rescuing schoolgirls in a fire. Since they weren’t wearing the scarves and robes, the police decided it would be better to let them burn." I followed Jonah’s link to the BBC article and confirmed that he wasn’t exaggerating.
Fifteen girls died in the fire, though the story doesn’t make clear whether the Saudi police’s efforts were the cause of those deaths. The father of one of the young girls who died asserted that the school watchman refused to open the school gates to let the girls out. (According to the story, the school was locked in order to ensure full segregation of the sexes.)
Do you know what this police outfit calls itself? Try this on for irony: "The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice." In their moral wisdom, the police warned those trying to rescue the girls that it would be sinful to approach them.
Speaking of irony, though, few things trump what I next came across. AFP News Online tells us that Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Walid bin Talal just donated a million dollars toward a PR campaign by the Arab League to enhance the image of Islam in the West.
No amount of PR money can change the facts nor alter the stories that we read daily from around the world evidencing pockets of Arab hostility toward the West. This past weekend, we were pained to hear about another murder of Christians, including two Americans, in a Christian church in Pakistan. Five worshippers were killed, and another 45 were injured at Islamabad’s Protestant International Church, when two men threw four grenades inside the church. Regrettably, this was not an isolated incident. You will recall that a few months ago, several masked gunmen stormed into a church in southern Pakistan and fired on the congregation, killing at least 18 Christians.
Maybe the prince, in his effort to convince us that Islam is a religion of peace, could encourage Islamic clerics in the United States and abroad to denounce the Sept. 11 attacks and terrorism in general. Perhaps he could use his influence to combat some of the misperceptions held by the international Arab community. We recently learned, for example, that 61 percent of Muslims polled in nine Islamic countries said they didn’t believe that Arabs were behind the Sept. 11 attacks. And a whopping 48 percent of Pakistanis believe that Jews flew the planes into the WTC after warning fellow Jews working there to stay home.
The prince also might want to consider using his wealth to help persuade Arab nations that America is engaged in a war against terrorism, not Islam. If his nation of Saudi Arabia opposes unprovoked murder and nations that sponsor it, shouldn’t it be willing to assist us in our imminent action against Iraq? You would think so, but Vice President Cheney was completely shut out on his trip to the Arab world seeking support for our Iraqi action. What was the primary obstacle? The Arab leaders, we are told, were preoccupied with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And isn't this, after all the nub of it? The Arab nations are telling us in no uncertain terms that there's linkage between our war on terrorism and the Middle East crisis. That linkage is not going to be severed merely by America demanding that Israel play by a different set of rules in response to terrorist attacks. It's going to take a greater betrayal than that.
The Arabic world doesn't merely have an image problem in the West. Much of it has an attitude problem toward us. It's hard to escape the conclusion that a disturbingly large portion of the Arab international community views this as an "us against them" situation. The "us" is the Arab nations, and the "them" is the United States and Israel.
So, no matter how effectively we deal with Al Qaeda, as long as we are committed to the concept of Israel as a sovereign state, the war of terror against America will rage.
The prince may be tilting at windmills in trying to reverse the West's barely spoken perception that much of the Muslim world regards the West with contempt. But America may also need a reality check if it believes it can put Israel in the closet for the sake of building coalitions and sever the Israeli situation from our war on terrorism.