Monday, August 30, 2010

What Threatens Peace: A Mountain of Hate or A Few Nasty Words?

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By Barry Rubin

About twenty-five years ago I had my great success in affecting mass media coverage of the Middle East in one newspaper for one day. I had been complaining to a New York Times correspondent, who was briefly covering the Middle East beat, about the incitement, hatred, and extremism that appeared daily in the Arabic media was never mentioned in its Western counterpart.

To his credit, he came over to my office. I took a big desk and spread over it a couple of dozen issues of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), a publication with which, in those pre-paperless days, I had filled whole bookcases. If you’ve never heard of FBIS it was a daily publication from the U.S. Department of Commerce that came out in different colored editions for each region of the world. All it did was translate radio and television programs along with some important speeches. Using or not using FBIS, for me, marked the difference between a serious researcher and a dilettante.

One after the other I showed him examples of the lies, the hatred, the calls for Israel’s destruction, the screams for blood and murder, the slanders against America that appeared in the most prestigious and widely circulated and official of Arabic-language publications. Impressed, he actually wrote an article on it that appeared on the front page.

That happened once. And this was in the days when journalistic standards meant something and newspapers actually focused on publishing the news rather than ideological guidance to direct people toward believing the proper things.

Day after day throughout the Arabic-speaking world, Iran, Pakistan, and beyond, in schools and mosques, in the speeches of leaders and oppositionists, in mass media, hatred of Jews and Christians, of the West and America, rises into the air. This structural hatred has consequences. The best single sentence I’ve heard on this comes from a Saudi woman who wrote that what the big Usama bin Ladin did, the little Usama bin Ladin learned in the Saudi schools.

This massive system of hatred and extremism—known to everyone who lives in the Middle East—is largely kept hidden from the West. Why?

One reason is fear of the Islamists. In editing the two-volume Guide to Islamist Movements--a study of Islamist movements, leaders, ideas, and activities in 55 countries—I often met with the refusal of scholars to write chapters due to fear. In one case, I appealed to a professor in a small European country that he was merely being asked to write an objective scholarly overview, not to take any political positions or make any recommendations. He responded: “The local Islamists don’t look at things that way.”

Another reason is fear of their colleagues. To report on the hatred of others leads to accusations of being oneself a hater.

These are, of course, two major reasons why the Western media and politicians so downplay the issue of incitement and extremism among Muslims. But there is one more: the belief that their own people are so stupid and bigoted that they will respond to being told the truth by massive anti-Muslim pogroms. These elites believe that a public that accepts without murmur the construction of thousands of mosques is horribly intolerant because it objects to one being built at the site of the World Trade Center attack by a radical group with shadowy financing.

We don’t have reliable studies of what goes on in North American mosques because academics and journalists won’t do much beyond repeating what Muslim groups say. But we do know from infiltrators (sometimes with video tapes) or moderate Muslims that the incidence of radicalism and antisemitism among imams and activists is high. Recently, an outspoken moderate Muslim told me he was unwelcome to pray there by every mosque in his city. Asked to name mosques dominated by a moderate viewpoint, he could only come up with one, in a city hundreds of miles away from him.

A few years ago, I was at a secret conference on a tiny Mediterranean island. When I brought up the issue of incitement to murder Israelis in a conference, a high-ranking Palestinian (today a member of the Palestinian Authority cabinet) made a speech about how incitement was a terrible problem on both sides (not true, of course) and how he proposed a joint commission to investigate this issue. The audience applauded.

Immediately afterward, without illusions but because it seemed a neat thing to do, I went up to him and proposed that he and I form such a commission. He laughed in my face. Of course, there was not the slightest interest in doing so.

There is remarkably little hatred and bigotry in Israeli society. Of course, one can find it without doubt, but given what this country has been through it is, I repeat, remarkably small. It is not sanctioned in the mass media or the schools or in the overwhelmingly vast majority of religious institutions.

This brings us to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. A few days ago, in a sermon, Yosef reportedly said that Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas, “and all these evil people should perish from this world….God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

This statement instantly became a global story. It will no doubt be used to delegitimize Israel. Yosef's statement was also quickly condemned by the U.S. State Department in words that invite derision: "These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”

Of course, Yosef’s statement should be condemned and no one in Israel will do anything other than condemn it. Yet as a left-of-center Israeli intellectual once put it, we have our Kahanes--referring to the extremist hater Meir Kahane--but most of the other side’s leaders are Kahanes.
What Yosef uttered, however, is a curse, not a political program. It is a call for the divine being to act, not for humans to commit terrorism. No one will praise what he said; no one will take up this as instructions to carry out violence. Ten years ago, in the midst of a massive wave of terrorism, Yosef made a parallel statement.

It is worth mentioning, which the news reports didn’t, that Yosef is currently 90 years old. The progress of senility has been clear for him during the last decade. His role in Israel has been a fascinating one. He led Sephardic Jewry to demand religious equality. He practically created a whole new Sephardic system of worship and worldview. Sadly and ironically, it imitated the more rigid Ashkenazic Haredim (European-origin Orthodox) rather than the traditionally more flexible Sephardic religious style.

Yosef also created Shas, a party which might be best thought of as a patronage group for the poorest and mainly Moroccan-origin Sephardim. Think of it as being like an old, corrupt Democratic big-city machine that provides goods and services for its constituents in return for their votes and a cut of the money. By putting them into a very bad educational system which downplays worldly skills in favor of religious ones, Shas is not doing its followers a big favor.

But Shas cannot be classified as much of the Western media portrays it, as merely a “right-wing” party. During the 1990s’ peace process, for example, Shas and Yosef advocated trading territory for peace on the religious basis of saving lives. Even now, the Shas position, for example, is that buildings should only be constructed in the limited number of settlements just across the pre-1967 border that Israel wants to claim. The party is thus supporting turning over the vast majority of the West Bank to a Palestinian state, presuming (which is doubtful) that the PA ever make Israel a good and serious offer in exchange.

What makes Crowley’s statement a joke, of course, is that the U.S. government ignores the avalanche, tsunami, tidal wave, or whatever weather-related metaphor you want, of hatred, incitement to murder, delegitimization with an aim toward genocide, and actual terrorist violence that daily spews out against Israel, and also against America itself and the Western world.

During the dozen years since the signing of the Israel-PLO agreement in 1993, it is virtually impossible to find a single--and I do mean, even just one--statement in Arabic by a PA, PLO, or Fatah leader (don't even mention Hamas) calling for peace, recognition, conciliation, or empathy with Israel. In contrast, there are thousands of statements rejecting Israel's existence, calling for armed struggle, urging children to become terrorists, insisting that one day the Palestinians will achieve total victory and eradicate Israel, and demonizing Israelis. Here's just one rather typical example.

Consider the above paragraph. That is not a statement of my politics but of unfortunate facts. And notice I said Arabic directed to their own people, not English directed to the Western suckers.

Will the U.S. State Department condemn this statement made the same day by a PA government minister standing next to Mahmoud Abbas himself? PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash in his Friday sermon said that unless Israel “returns” Jerusalem to the Palestinians “its owners” there would be war. While not as categorically vicious as Yosef's remarks that is a far more credible and inciteful threat of violence which, in addition, comes from an official government source.

Or how about these three programs on official PA television teaching children that all of Israel is Palestine and thus Israel should be wiped out? Or Abbas's personal participation in a ceremony honoring one of the terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics? Or the PA naming a city square after a suicide bomber who killed Israeli civilians? Or official PA textbooks demonizing Israel and calling for its destruction? One could go on with such examples for many pages as has indeed been done in this report.

These words and the organizing efforts designed to implement them have immense consequences. They explain why millions of Muslims take such extreme stances in supporting revolutionary Islamism. They explain September 11 and the London subway bombing; thousands of acts of terrorism; the PA’s political inability and refusal to make peace; the transformation of the Gaza Strip into a mini-state with a genocidal agenda; the seizure of Lebanon by Islamist forces that will once again carry that country into war; and the horrors in Iraq; and the expansion of Iranian influence; and the driving of Christians out of Iraq and Gaza; and the murder of tens of thousands of Muslims by radical Islamists in Algeria and elsewhere; and the decapitation of Buddhist peasants in southern Thailand, and the murder of Christians in the Philippines, Nigeria, and Indonesia; and far more.

All of these things hurt the cause of peace--Let me put it plainly: They make peace impossible--but are not fully taken into account by Western policy or spoken of in the universities because their power requires real courage to do so. Yet it is precisely because of their power and thus the threat they pose that they must be exposed and fought against.

Abraham talked the divine being into sparing Sodom and Gomorrah if only he could find ten righteous people there. Today, Israel and Western societies are condemned as evil when one finds only a handful of non-righteous there. What of the societies where there are millions of bigots and haters calling for blood and murder? Millions who, by current Western definitions, are racists? That is the difference between individual evil, which will never vanish from this earth, and structurally approved evil maintained by political and ideological systems that must be changed.

What we need to do is to proclaim that all men are created equal but that some societies and world views are proven to be more stable, free, materially successful , and all-around preferable to others. True, one attribute of such societies is that they have a much higher level of tolerance toward others. But if that’s so then it is clear that these societies--even if marching under the banners of preserving multiculturalism and Political Correctness!--must combat the threat from those states, movements, and ideologies that extol the destruction of liberty, preach intolerance, and are full of violently implemented hatred and lies.

PS: In response to readers' requests for the reasons why such "double standards" are so prevalent, here's a brief summary in no particular order:

a. Fear of Islamist violence;
b. Fear of colleagues' or the elite's ridicule as being racist, Islamophobic, etc, with a negative effect on their career and reputation. They can thus shiver with fright (this also applies to point a) but portray themselves as courageous simultaneously;
c. Hope for profit (financial, electoral);
d. Belief that national interests are best met by flattering those who might otherwise (that's the theory any way) enemies who will then become friends or at least not attack them;
e. Fear of their own people who they think are bigoted yahoos who if not held back would massacre all the Muslims around. Thus, the crazed racists must be lied to in order to soothe them into unconsciousness.
f. Dislike of their own societies and systems which they view them as inferior to those of others. this includes an element of romanticism and masochism. A belief that attacking your own people, nation, religion, system is noble but to do so to any other is an unforgiveable sin.
g. Hope (wrong) that if they feed the Islamists other victims (Israel, Lebanon) that will satisfy the appetite for conquest.
h. The following definition of racism: If you criticize anyone of any other nationality for any reason whatsoever, that makes you a racist.
i. The following definition of Islamophobia: If you criticize anyone who is a Muslim or any Muslim belief or action this makes you a dreadful bigot.

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 and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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