Wednesday, March 26, 2003

During his second hour today, Dennis Prager conducted an interview with a Jordanian businessman who runs the largest Arab language online community. The Jordanian man had clearly been to the West, had contacts with Israeli businessmen, and regularly watches the western media. Nevertheless his opinions were eye-openers for people overly optimistic about "democracy" in the region. He thought Al Jazeera was a source of greater truth than the Washington Post. He thought the Iraq war is a tragedy and big mistake for the United States and that support for Saddam among Arabas was increasing as he is increasingly seen as defending the Iraqi people from American agression. He thought that one of the reasons the US is hated in the Arab world is its support for Israel. He blamed the US and Israel for the millions of Palestinian refugees still in camps after 55 years. While he thought that peace with Israel was ultimately necessary, he rejected Prager's characterization of Israel having offered the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank and Gaza and instead asserted that what was in fact offered was 10-20% of the original territory lost (clearly referring thereby to the 1948 conflict in which Israel was established). At the same time and somewhat in apparent contradiction he thought that Israel at minimum should withdraw from all the territories conquered in 1967. He thought that while the 9/11 terrorist attack was to be condemned, the US made a mistake by overthrowing the Taliban regime and should have instead looked at the "root causes" of the hatred generated by American policies with respect to Israel and the Arab states. For example, he thought that the main reason that there are Arab dictatorships is that the US supplies them with weapons.

What is one to say to such fantasies?

Add to that Barry Rubin's column titled "Can the 'wall of lies' be breached?" Rubin recounts his participation in a "a panel discussion on the US war with Iraq, facing journalists and academics in three Arab capitals." Here are some choice excerpts of some of the assertions he encountered:

* The United States was leveling Baghdad, deliberately attacking residential areas and hitting such buildings as hospitals. One panelist said he knew Baghdad well and that the neighborhood being hit was a place where many people lived.

* The plan for the attack had been set at a 1997 meeting to honor the centennial of the first Zionist Congress.

* Americans hated Arabs and Muslims.

* Bush was the true leader of the Axis of Evil, and basically the United States was seeking world conquest. Of course the widespread opposition to the war in Europe and even in the US was cited in this regard.

I can only echo Rubin's conclusion:

What remains so disturbing is the disconnection between reality and the beliefs and ideas offered up by most of the Arab world. What will it take to shake these misperceptions, which have led to so much suffering and failure? Perhaps Iraq, at least, might escape the treadmill to nowhere.

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