Arab world is blind to coalition's intent

Posted: Apr 10, 2003 12:00 AM

The death of Tariq Ayoub, a reporter for the Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera, while tragic, has served to highlight much of the Arab dysfunction on display throughout this war.

Majed Abdel Hadi, a colleague with Al Jazeera, declared on the network's English-language Web site: "I will not be objective about this because we have been dragged into this conflict. We were targeted because the Americans don't want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people." An official statement on Al Jazeera described the deceased journalist as a "martyr." This is the same politically and religiously loaded word the network uses for dead Palestinian terrorists and - surprise - dead Iraqi Fedayeen.

Not only does this settle the "Is Al Jazeera objective?" question, which always seemed about as tough as the wrenching conundrum of whether or not bears use the woods as a bathroom, it highlights a very serious problem with the Arab world in general. They have a massive, spine-bending inferiority complex.

Now, I don't want to blame the victim, as it were. The Arab world has had miserable leadership for decades. It's been jerked around by the West (and East) more than a few times, and many of its religious leaders seem bent on disproving the whole "Islam means peace" thing by any means necessary. But facts are facts - and the United States is not targeting Al Jazeera journalists.

I believe Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks when he says, "This coalition does not target journalists." But the best evidence that the coalition isn't targeting journalists is that, if it were, a lot more journalists would be dead. Never mind that it's not in America's interest to kill journalists, or that shooting at one reporter among many - who are also witnesses, by the way - with an M1A1 tank is not exactly smart when there are American ninjas all over Baghdad.

But Al Jazeera doesn't understand this. Indeed, neither does the entire Arab world from what I can tell. When the United States allegedly and certainly accidentally bombed a Baghdad market, killing 58 people, the Arab media seemed to speak with one voice that America was "deliberately" targeting civilians.

"Monstrous martyrdom in Baghdad," blared a huge headline in al-Dustur, a Jordanian newspaper. "Dreadful massacre in Baghdad," Egypt's huge Akhbar al-Yawm newspaper declared, featuring pictures of two young victims of the explosion covering half the front page. "Yet another massacre by the coalition of invaders" was the main headline in our ally Saudi Arabia's popular al-Riyadh daily (Note: The first "massacre" claimed 15 lives).

"It is as if you are watching a horror movie," Summer Said, a journalist for the Cairo Times, an English-language newsmagazine, told the Washington Post. "I thought, at first, OK, maybe it isn't a war for oil. Maybe America does want to help. Now, it's genocide to me. Is the American government trying to exterminate Arabs?"

Genocide? Exterminate? In Iraq, we've employed 10 times - a hundred times? - more firepower than we did during the firebombing of Dresden, and yet we've killed probably fewer than 1 percent of the civilians. If the Pentagon got the green light to massacre Arab civilians, it would probably refuse the order. But if it were on board, we could do a lot better than this.

I think the widespread denial of the plain facts can be explained by battered-culture syndrome. Like battered-wife syndrome, the Arab world seems determined to make excuses for its worst tyrants and biggest problems and blame them on the outside world. This is certainly the strategy of various Arab governments bent on making the plight of the Palestinians an excuse for their stagnating economies and declining living standards.

Many conservatives argue that this entrenched denial and hostility evidence why we should wash our hands of the whole region. But when I look at cheering Iraqis celebrating their first glimmer of hope in generations, I think it's evidence that we have a lot of work to do.