When you begin reading the output of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri.org), you are at first blown back by the intensity of the hatred, deliberate lies and fantasy that characterize so much of the journalism from the Arab and Middle Eastern press. MEMRI dutifully translates it without comment. Here you can read transcripts of interviews with leading Arab commentators who explain that the United States is engaged in a war of extermination against Muslims, that Israel calls all of the shots in Washington, D.C., and that 9/11 was a hoax.
But there are other voices, too. There are figures within the Muslim world who make the case for democracy, liberalism (small l) and historical accuracy better than we do. Actually, that isn't terribly hard. We are so internally riven, so crippled by political correctness and so guilty about our success that we do not make the case for ourselves very well at all. Besides, those unfamiliar with the level of fantasy and invention in the Arab press are ill equipped to fight the battle where it needs to be engaged.
Magdi Khalil, on the other hand, an Egyptian/American writer, really seemed to score points when he appeared on Al Jazeera last month to debate Mahmoud Al-Mubarak, a Saudi expert on international law. They began with the resolution Congress passed (over the administration's objections) condemning the Armenian genocide 100 years ago. Mubarak heaped contempt on the United States, asking, "Who if not Congress legislated laws in 1848, permitting the annihilation of the Indians?" and what of "Andrew Jackson, whose portrait is on the $20 bill, considering the killing of Indians a duty, and he even mutilated corpses of Indians?"
The United States, Khalil responded, "has made mistakes in the past with regard to the blacks and the Indians, but it has paid the price and acknowledged its mistakes. Hundreds of books in America acknowledge what happened to the blacks and the Indians." Museums have been erected, he added, telling the stories of these events. Yet, in Turkey, it remains a crime to say that genocide was committed against the Armenians.
When Mubarak cast the usual (for a Saudi) aspersions on the historicity of the Holocaust ("the alleged Holocaust"), Khalil wheeled on him. "The two greatest genocides of the 20th century are the crimes of annihilating the Armenians and the Holocaust. Despite this, not a single Arab or Islamic country acknowledges this or denounces the Turks. Unfortunately, they cast doubt about it and refer to it as 'accusations.' The events of the Holocaust took place 50-60 years ago, yet you deny them. So what do you do with regard to ancient history, most of which has been distorted in Arab and Islamic countries? If you deny the history of 50, 60 or 90 years ago, for which there are still living witnesses, what will you do with ancient history?"
"The discourse coming out of the Arab and Islamic region is a disgrace," Khalil argued. "In Darfur and south Sudan, severe human rights violations occur -- ethnic cleansing, the murder of millions and rape. Yet no one but the West exposes what is happening in south Sudan and Darfur. It is the West that attacked Serbia. It is the West that established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It is the West that protects the independence of Kosovo."
At this juncture, the moderator (if you can call him that) was impelled to interrupt. "With regard to Darfur, are you trying to convince the Arab world that the American wolf, as Dr. Al Mubarak has called him, is shedding a tear over what is happening in Darfur? There is oil in Darfur, and they don't care about all the Arabs and Muslims put together."
Khalil responded: "That's all nonsense. That deceiving propaganda is all around you -- oil and all that. Do you know how much was spent on Iraq? Even if America were to take Iraq's oil for the next 200 years, it would not compensate for what it has spent on Iraq. You are used to spreading delusions, lies and deceiving propaganda. Give us one example when you supported human rights in any country?"
This is a steep uphill climb. So much of what is ladled out to Muslim readers and listeners is distorted and extremist. Yet every opportunity for debate and free exchange should be embraced. The truth will out in the end.