Kathleen Parker

About that Arab street. For most TV-viewing Americans, the Arab street looks like a vicious anti-American mob in need of a bath, a shave and a job.

But here's another view of an Arab street, this one in Najaf, Iraq, where thousands of jubilant Iraqis gathered Wednesday to applaud members of the 101st Airborne Division. They weren't burning flags or chanting anti-American slogans. They were re-enacting "the liberation of Paris," according to Lt. Col. Chris Hughes.

Or, in the words of one Special Forces officer, "the Macy's Day Parade."

Although not all was peaceful -a crowd turned temporarily angry when a U.S. patrol approached a religious shrine, and firefights continued in other parts of the city -the day's events suggest that Iraqis, indeed, may welcome coalition forces as liberators.

Though too soon to judge, it does seem that the anti-American street shifts when real-live Americans materialize with respect and supplies, walking the walk of American decency. In Iraq -and perhaps in the rest of the Arab world -seeing is believing.

It is one thing to be told Americans are killing invaders bent on occupation and world domination, as Arab news sources constantly report. It is another to bear witness to real American soldiers who put themselves in harm's way to liberate an oppressed and terrified people.

We who have been spoiled by a free press have a hard time grasping the limited view permitted most Arabs. Sure, they have the Al-Jazeera network, increasingly infamous for airing gruesome images of "failed American diplomacy." Not to mention that ratings-cinching film of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl being murdered. And let's not forget the perennial crowd-pleasing video of an American soldier being dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu.

These savage images, which are used to recruit terrorists, also apparently serve as visual metabolic boosters lest the street throngs notice their own impoverished lives at the hands of medieval dictators. Different strokes for very different folks, indeed.

Thus, much of the Arab street knows only what it has been told or shown. Fox News recently interviewed an Iraqi who served in Saddam Hussein's army during the first Gulf War and now lives in the States. The Iraqi recounted calling his brother in Baghdad a few days ago to report that coalition forces were drawing near.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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