Monday, January 10, 2011

If One Extremist Gunmen Can Do So Much Damage in America, How About Ten Million Such People In The Middle East?

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["Ayatollah Ali Loughner," Tundra Tabloid Photoshop Special for Rubin Reports]

By Barry Rubin

When one crazed or ideologically obsessed gunman named Jared Loughner  starts shooting in Arizona, people condemn him and start bemoaning the state of their society. How about a place with ten million people like that who are treated as heroes?

America this week is awash in a huge and passionate debate over whether angry political disagreements and harsh criticisms of certain views or groups inspired the attack on an American congresswoman (Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, by the way). I’m not going to enter into that argument right now but I want to point out the Middle Eastern ramifications of what's going on here.

Every day for more than a half century, Arabs and Muslims have been inundated every day with hatred for Israel, America, the West, Jews, and often Christians. You can read transcripts of Syrian broadcasts or Palestinian speeches from 50 years ago that sound just like what is being said by their successors  now.

Let’s say that the proportion of lies, slanders, extremism, and incitement in the American discourse is one-tenth of one percent of all the words spoken on controversial issues. The equivalent figure for the Middle East is well over 95 percent.

In addition to that tone, there is not only a total lack of balance but an absence of the other side altogether. It's all one-sided.

And in addition to those two points, the level of factual accuracy is farther away from reality than anywhere else in the world. (Though, admittedly, that gap has been narrowing in recent years as Western academic and journalistic standards decline).

And in addition to those three points, while extremists tend to be marginal in the United States, they are in control--either politically or at least setting the terms of discussion--throughout the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority worlds.

Thus, the level of incitement, imbalance, lies, and the hegemony of hatred in that region towers above that in the West like the World Trade Center towers over an anthill.

Oh, the World Trade Center doesn't exist any more. Well, that has something to do with this situation, too, doesn't it?

Or to put it another way, in the Middle East, the crackpot is often (usually?) given more credit than the rational or factual.

I won’t take your time with lots of examples but one might start with the widespread belief that the U.S. government or Israel carried out the September 11 attacks, coupled with the contradictory belief—held often by the same people—that it was something to be proud about. Or all the ridiculous conspiracy theories about Israel, as in the cases mentioned here and here. Or the editorial in al-Ahram, the most important Egyptian newspaper, that claimed all terrorism in Iraq was a U.S. plot to divide Muslims.

Here’s one of many such items that come across my desk each day. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the PA, has articles, the most recent being December 31 and January 4, accusing Israel of planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. In the newspaper’s words, Israel’s projects in Jerusalem “are part of [the efforts] causing the collapse of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in order to establish Solomon's Temple upon its ruins."

The al-Aqsa Institute for Religious Affairs, which the PA controls, accuses Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being behind this “Satanic plot.”

Or this one: Pakistani lawyers cheer the assassin and the assassination of a government minister for daring to question the blasphemy laws. They are not clinically insane, but they are embracing a world view that in terms of stability instead of endless violence, decent living standards instead of massive poverty, and lots of other things is the policy equivalent of insanity.

Or, this one: All mothers undoubtedly love their children but only in Iran there's now a special day when mothers take their babies to a ceremony where they vow to make them martyrs in Jihad. (Funny, contrary to what is taught in Western schools they don't define Jihad as inner spiritual striving.) And not many mothers in Western democratic states hold celebrations after their kids blow themselves up in an attempt to murder as many civilians as possible.

Now, let me ask some questions:

--If America is horrified in claiming that a tiny amount of mostly marginal extremism inspires one mad man to murder six people and try to kill a politician, how much violence can be traced to hundreds of thousands of mosques, media, teachers, and mainstream politicians daily preaching hatred literally millions of times a day?

--If the discourse throughout the Arabic-speaking world, Iran, increasingly in Turkey, and generally in Muslim-majority countries is almost 100 percent incitement, how can there be partners for peace or a hope of stability? What good do concessions do when the next day the culture of incitement and hatred goes on at full speed?

--If the degree of anti-Western, anti-American, anti-Jewish, and anti-Christian incitement is 100,000 times more intense and mainstream than any “Islamophobic” discourse in the West, while mitigating discourse—i.e., empathy, positive images, etc., toward “the other”—is one thousandth of a percent less, then which of these phenomena is a greater threat and problem?

--How about having to deal with countries and political movements run by the equivalent of Jared Loughner? How about President Jared Loughner in possession of nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe you off the map? Jared Loughner in control of the UN Human Rights Council? Groups led and run by Jared Loughner's given far more credibility in the Western media than the democratic states they seek to destroy? 

I want to make it clear that I am not saying Middle East leaders, militants, and opinionmakers are mentally ill and are in need of psychiatric help. What I am saying is that their grasp on the real world is tenuous; that they are violent and capable of unpredictable actions; that they cannot be swayed by logical arguments or factual presentations; and that they define their interests and goals in ways far different from a pragmatic approach.

And even though there are many people who know better, they have to shut up to protect themselves or at least limit themselves to watering down the dominant rhetoric somewhat to try to moderate the debate.

If you doubt the above paragraph try spending a few decades reading the speeches of Arab and Iranian leaders, newspaper articles, and political declarations. Look at the results on the pavements of streets of terrorist attacks that deliberately have targeted civilians which are then cheered by the multitudes.

But of course Middle Eastern dictators and ideologues do have specific goals in mind that they may pursue systematically. Consider, though, the following examples:

Egyptian and Syrian dictators threaten war with Israel to curry domestic support and regional influence. Very rational. Result: 1967 War.

Iraq's leader feels threatened by Iran and sees opportunity to gain regional hegemony. Result: Iran-Iraq War. Iraq's leader seeks to reward his people with loot, underestimates U.S.resolve: Result: Invasion of Kuwait and ensuing U.S.-Iraq war. Iraq's leader wants to look tough, pretends he is getting nuclear weapons. Result: 2003 war.

Usama bin Ladin wants to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and install a radical Islamist state. He comes up with a coherent strategy for doing so. Result: September 11, 2001.

Yasir Arafat wants to wipe Israel off the map rather than get a Palestinian state soon, end the occupation, and improve his people's lives. Result: Unnecessary decades of bloodshed, hatred, and suffering.

So on one level, their behavior and strategies do make sense. But from a pragmatism is better than all-or-nothing extremism; material improvement is better than suffering; realistic examination of the balance of forces rather than fantasy-based; peace is preferable to destructive and losing war; finding a solution where both sides benefit rather than preferring to continue and escalate conflict?

No.

--And why should the overwhelming majority of Western schools, media, academics, officials, and so on pretend that the above facts don’t exist?

Or let me put it more graphically: If a man goes out to shoot a politician whose policies he doesn't like then in America he is likely to be insane. If a man goes out to shoot members of an ethnic or other group he doesn't like, then in America (unless perhaps he's an Islamist terrorist), he is considered a terrorist or someone committing a hate crime.

But in the Middle East, people are often considered insane if they do NOT do these things, or at least support others performing such deeds. And as public opinion polls demonstrate, those are not considered to be evil, marginal lunatics but heroes whose example should be followed.

Might this indicate that the proportion of self-flagellation over self-defense in the Western world is a tad too high?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may think herself clever by telling students in the United Arab Emirates that the Arizona shooting is comparable to the September 11 attacks and shows that America and the Arab world have a similar problem with terrorism. In fact, though, she is reinforcing Arab complacency and self-justification (everyone has terrorism and there's nothing special about us in that regard) and making it harder to achieve progress.

One, or at most two, crazies acting on their own with no popular backing or financing do not exactly compare with an organized group with thousands of members, with operations stretching from Morocco through Asia, being given safe haven by governments, with their world view being reinforced by massive religious and governmental institutions, and cheered on by millions of sympathizers or at least well-wishers!

Might this indicate in some way that there are certain differences in some other societies that make them think and act a bit differently from Western democracies?

PS: The logical outcome of this is the Fort Hood massacre where the terrorist yelled "Allahu Akhbar!" as he shot down Americans, yet we were told to draw no conclusion from this or the mountain of evidence that he was a revolutionary Islamist.

I have not yet heard that the murderer in Tucson chanted, "Rush Limbaugh Akhbar!" even once.  

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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