Monday, November 23, 2009

Why the Terrorist Trial in New York Will Be a Disaster in the Middle East and for U.S. Interests

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By Barry Rubin

What will be the impact on the Middle East of putting September 11 plotters on trial in New York? As usual most of the debate in America revolves around the effect within the United States: how will New York react, might the defendents get off. But what's really important, and largely ignored, is what the trial will mean for the Middle East and U.S. interests there.

Isn't it ironic that the Obama Administration, which is more ethnically and racially diverse probably than any previous U.S. government, is proving to be so incredibly ethnocentric? By that I mean, having the least understanding of how other nations and cultures think and behave.

One possible explanation is that since they see themselves as non-white or so exceptionally sensitive, such people then take the next "logical" step and assume that someone from a distant land thinks precisely the same way as they do. Of course the difference is the society and world view you grow up in and have to function within in your life.

Ironically, their own ideology should make them understand this better in some ways. Take two identical twins separated at birth. One grows up in a middle class family in the United States and attends the finest universities. The other grows up in, say, Saudi Arabia.

Now if the racist theory were true, the twins would be exactly alike! But if multi-cultural, Politically Correct, anti-racism were to be true, then they would be very different, right? Because the whole rejection of racism is based on the argument that environment is more important than inherited traits. Of course, this is a simple presentation but the basic point holds true.

The Administration's doctrine also holds that ideas are all-important. If you change someone's world view then you can perform marvels and transform society. So shouldn't they understand that if someone believes in Islamism, or at least non-moderate Islam, and Arab nationalism, and conspiracy theories, etc., that they are also going to think differently than an American?

In the trial, the terrorists will almost certainly base their defense on the concept of "defensive Jihad." They will argue that the Islamic world was acting in self-defense in retaliating. They will give a long list of real or alleged American misdeeds, long lists of civilians killed (in Afghanistan alone they could come up with thousands), alleged sufferings during the embargo on Iraq when Saddam Hussein was rejecting his commitments after the Kuwait war.

This defense will inflame large numbers of Muslims. It will provide a great platform for the defensive Jihad theory which, most recently, persuaded Major Khalid Hasan to kill 13 American soldiers. There will be specific terrorist attacks inspired by the speeches made in New York.  People will join Islamist and terrorist groups, not necessarily al-Qaida, as a result of this inspiration. You can bet on it.

In addition, the high-profile of the trials could well inspire terrorists to seize Americans as hostages to exchange for the imprisoned Jihadists. The terrorists don't have to expect the United States to make such a deal. They want the publicity and will be quite happy to kill the hostages and blame it on the Americans' stubborness.

The Arab regimes won't like it because the defendants will spend a lot of time blasting Egypt and Saudi Arabia as American puppets and urge their overthrow. Of course, the terrorists will bring in Israel, too. It will be interesting to see how much time is devoted to each of the many topics they will use to attack America.

Naively, the Administration apparently believes that this show of American fair play, equal justice for all, innocent until proven guilty, trial by a jury of their peers (if the entire jury isn't Muslim, of course, most Middle East Muslims won't accept that notion), and the rules of evidence will impress Muslims worldwide about how great a system the United States has and what great people Americans are.

Yes, a few highly educated Arab liberals will write about such things but that will appeal to less than five percent. By the time the trial is through the masses to a large extent will not conclude that the defendents are dastardly people who murdered 3,000 innocent victims but that the prosecutors and the government behind them are dastardly villains who have murdered millions.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.


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