Sunday, May 04, 2003

‘Reformat’ Hard Disk

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

When I wrote my article last week about what we want from America, I asked American readers to help me out with what they want from us. I also talked with the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan.
Many who responded sounded angry. Some were very angry, even insulting. I can’t say that surprised me. I have written before about our problem with the American public’s lack of interest in foreign affairs and the influence of pro-Israel groups on the media from cinema to TV, magazines to radio shows. Testifying to the success of government propaganda, the issues many raised were based on unfounded assumptions and connections. A link was somehow established between Palestinian suicide bombers, Iraq’s alleged possession of nuclear and chemical weapons, Al-Qaeda, the Arab dictatorships, the “clash of civilizations” and — of course — Sept. 11.
The link made by readers was that Arabs and Muslims are dangerous and have too much unchecked extremism and hatred against the West and Israel. Unless they reform, the West will not be safe. America will never “dump” Israel because it is the only democracy in the region, the underdog, and the best ally. The best option for the Arabs is to make peace at any cost, and meanwhile, stop blaming Israel for every problem. Finally, Arabs should free their women and religious minorities and generally liberalize their societies.
To understand the present situation, let’s compare US experience with that of their closest allies, the British. The British Empire has a long experience with what it defined as terrorism and terrorists. Most of these organizations and movements were funded by Americans. The IRA, for instance, is dependent on its American supporters. The same can be said of terrorist organizations all over the world. From India to South America, Israel to South Africa, the money-trail starts in the US, via US banks, with government knowledge, and/or direct support (remember the Iran-Contra scandal?).
In the 1980s, the US appropriated some $5 billion as a first installment to support the same Islamic groups and schools it attacks today. American individuals and groups still openly support the most extreme and bloody Jewish settlers and “kill-&-kick Palestinians” advocates.
So the empire suffered and bled, but the British never accused the whole Irish population and Catholic community of being terrorists and/or responsible for harboring terror. They didn’t bomb Ireland, invade Boston, and demand the Vatican take a stand or else. What they rightly, if belatedly, did is decide to leave Ireland after years of occupation, and work hard to establish peace in Northern Ireland.
Now, let’s go back to what America “reasonably” wants from us. The American ambassador would like to see a better and safer environment-reforms, progress, prosperity, freedom, tolerance and “human rights” for women and minorities. They agree that we need peace to encourage such a project. The Arab-Israeli conflict, therefore, must be solved fairly and quickly. They rightly think that only in such an environment we could end hostility to the West that produced so much threat to its security and commercial/political interests with more than a billion Muslims.
Now, that is a reasonable expectation. Yes, we urgently need to “reformat” our hard disk, reinstall our operating system, update and debug our software, and then reconnect to the worldwide web. Moreover, we shouldn’t wait for the peace process to be complete before we start our project on “our own” or with some technical help from our expert friends. We should do that right away, not only because we are in desperate need of reforms, but also because we need our peoples to actively participate in the peace project, and our nations to be stronger partners for peace. If that is what America is all about today, then count me in. But if it’s just a distraction and lip-service, count me out.
Arab News Features 4 May 2003

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