Myth busting

Posted: Nov 30, 2001 12:00 AM
We've seen ample evidence during the past 10 weeks of the capacity of Middle Eastern people to indulge in self-delusion and downright lies. There is, for instance, the hardy anti-Semitic libel believed by majorities of the peoples of Islamic nations that "5,000 Jews failed to show up for work" at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. This lie is being circulated by the official media in many Arab nations and has also surfaced on American radio stations geared to black audiences. In reality, a disproportionate share of those murdered in the United States on Sept. 11 were Jewish due to the heavy concentration of Jews in New York City. There were also two Israelis killed in the Trade Center and two on the doomed planes. Most Americans probably recognize such sinister slanders for what they are, but what of the myths circulated by Americans about Americans? One of the most popular to gain altitude recently is the idea that "we created the Taliban." Among the hate-America crowd, this served to undermine our moral authority as we rounded on those who attacked us. And even among the non self-flagellating types, the idea that the Taliban was our creation was obediently swallowed whole. It's not true. The American Enterprise magazine reports: "The anti-Soviet Mujahedin funded by the U.S. consisted of seven factions. Some were fundamentalist Muslims who envisioned an Islamic state along the lines of Saudi Arabia. About as many had a cosmopolitan orientation and wanted a Westernized state similar to Turkey. The Taliban were not among the Mujahedin factions at all, and all of the Taliban's important leaders, including Mullah Omar, were out of the country, mostly in Pakistan, during the war against the Soviets." It may very well be true that the United States did not do enough to prevent the Taliban from taking power, but that is a very different charge from "creating" our own tormentors. Which brings us to another interesting tidbit that has not received enough attention. We've been given to understand that the Saudis have been aiding the Taliban for a variety of religious and ideological reasons. There is some truth in this. But these are Saudi Arabians we're talking about, and one thing that is never far from their calculations is money. Here's what the American Enterprise has to add about that: "Wealthy Saudis did, however, support the Taliban, some because they sympathized with the Taliban's vision of a pure Islamic state ... some who saw their donations as 'protection money' to keep the Taliban and their ilk out of Saudi Arabia ... and some because they feared a more pro-Western government would aid the tapping of Central Asia's vast energy resources, undermining oil prices in the process." Cherchez les petrodollars. One more myth that deserves burial concerns the American Red Cross. In the crush of disaster stories that have crowded our lives, the tale of Bernadine Healy may have gotten lost. Healy, the first woman head of the National Institutes of Health and former dean of the Ohio State University medical school, served with distinction as president of the American Red Cross for two years until abruptly resigning under pressure a month ago. The proximate cause for her departure was a disagreement with the board over disbursing the Liberty Fund. She believed the Red Cross was obliged to segregate these funds for Sept. 11 victims only. The board wanted to use some of the funds for other purposes. After her resignation, the new leadership of Red Cross was forced publicly to apologize for the proposed diversion of funds. What it did not do, and should have, was to beg Healy to return. A revealing op-ed by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger suggests why. Healy had irritated the Red Cross board in another way -- by failing to go along with the organization's cave-in to the International Red Cross on the matter of Israel. In 1949, Israel was denied membership in the International Red Cross because it asked to use a red Star of David instead of the Christian cross as its symbol. Since then, the Red Cross has admitted at least 25 Islamic countries who use the Red Crescent symbol. Healy demanded that the American Red Cross stand up to this gross prejudice by withholding dues to the mother organization. The board, reluctantly, agreed. But eventually, rather than persist in doing the right and moral thing, they turned on her. Healy is a heroine. But another myth -- that of the American Red Cross as a moral beacon -- bites the dust.