New York Times Opinion
November 6, 2001
Fighting bin Ladenism
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
DOHA, Qatar -- If you want to know why the U.S. is hated in the Arab street, read the recent editorial in the semi-official Egyptian daily, Al Ahram, written by its editor, Ibrahim Nafie. After saying that the U.S. was deliberately making humanitarian food drops in areas of Afghanistan full of land mines, Mr. Nafie added: "Similarly, there were several reports that the [U.S.] humanitarian materials have been genetically treated, with the aim of affecting the health of the Afghan people. If this is true, the U.S. is committing a crime against humanity by giving the Afghan people hazardous humanitarian products."
This was an editorial written by Egypt's leading editor, personally appointed by President Hosni Mubarak. It basically accuses the U.S. of dropping poison food on Afghans -- according to unspecified "reports." So is it any wonder that people on the Egyptian street hate us?
This is the game that produced bin Ladenism: Arab regimes fail to build a real future for their people. This triggers seething anger. Their young people who can get visas escape overseas. Those who can't turn to the mosque and Islam to protest. The regimes crush the violent Muslim protesters, but to avoid being accused of being anti-Muslim the regimes give money and free rein to their most hard-line, but nonviolent, Moslem clerics, while also redirecting their public's anger onto America through their press. Result: America ends up being hated and Islam gets handed over to the most anti-modern forces. Have a nice day.
What these Arab regimes still don't get is that Sept. 11 has exposed their game. They think America is on trial now, but in fact it is stale regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which produced the hijackers, that are on trial. Will they continue to let Islam be hijacked by anti-modernists, who will guarantee that the Arab world falls further behind? Will they continue to blame others? Or will they look in the mirror, take on intolerance, and open their societies to a different future?
Here's the good news: Some Arab-Muslim voices are popping up, rejecting the garbage peddled by the regimes. The London-based newspaper Al Hayat just published a letter from an Egyptian film critic, Samir Farid. It said: "I felt ashamed while reading most, if not all, of the commentary [on Sept. 11], primarily in the Egyptian press. ... Most, if not all, of what I read proves that the poison of the undemocratic, military Arab regimes has also entered the bloodstream of the [intellectual] elite. These [people] no longer see ... destruction for its own sake as disgraceful. What murky future awaits this region?"
Here in Qatar, on the Persian Gulf, Al Jazeera TV, the freest and most popular in the Arab world, recently ran a debate featuring the liberal Kuwaiti political scientist Shafeeq Ghabra versus an Islamist and a radical Arab nationalist. While the latter two tried to excuse Osama bin Laden, Mr. Ghabra hammered back: "The Lebanese civil war was not an American creation; neither was the Iran-Iraq war; neither was bin Laden. These are our creations. We need to look inside. We cannot be in this blame-others mode forever."
Dr. Abdelhameed al-Ansari, dean of Qatar University's law school, wrote in Al Raya: "How does a terrorist [bin Laden] become a hero? What is happening to the collective Arab outlook? What is happening to our famous Islamic scholars? ... We should solve this problem from its roots. Education is the key."
While Arab leaders have refused to acknowledge any Palestinian responsibility for the stalemate with Israel, a few weeks ago the Jerusalem-based Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh had the guts to criticize Palestinian strategy: "We're telling the Israelis we want to kick you out: it's not that we want liberation, freedom and independence in the West Bank and Gaza, we want to kick you out of your home. And in order to make sure that the Israelis get the message, people go out to a disco or restaurant and blow themselves up. The whole thing is just crazy, ugly, totally counterproductive. The secret is to get Israelis to side with you. We lost our allies."
The Bush team should tell our Arab partners: Look, we don't need your bases or armies. We just need you to open your societies so the voices of those who want a different Arab future can really be heard. We'll take care of bin Laden but you have to take care of bin Ladenism.
This article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/06/opinion/06FRIE.html
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