Sunday, August 31, 2003

In Defense of Amr and Reem

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Father, may his soul rest in peace, was a fan of American foreign policy. For him, the last great American President was Eisenhower, who ordered Israel, Britain and France out of occupied Egyptian towns in 1956.
Since then, America, for him and his generation, equaled Israel itself, if not worse. He first began to modify his stand during the first Gulf War of 1990. This was not the result of US actions or policies, but rather of the demonstration of its democracy.
I remember him relaying with amusement the anti-war views he heard on the Voice of America, asking with some confusion: How can American radio talk this way about their president?
When I told him the radio was owned and funded by the government, his amusement — and respect — increased.
“A nation that is independent and free enough to say to their leaders a brave NO deserves my respect. A system that allows such debate and differing stands without fear of oppression is closer to Islam than any Arab dictatorship,” he often said.
When I wanted to study for a doctorate in journalism in America, he agreed only because of his admiration for its democracy and freedom.
“Learn how to present your views they way they do and the trip is worthwhile,” he said.
Five years later, I learnt what he had hoped and I returned a better journalist. By that time, he had had two strokes but was well enough to know about what I had done. I told him also how well my wife, American-born children and I had been treated and how good the American people and schools were.
He smiled and nodded, and I felt that he no longer confused America, the country and people, with its government’s foreign policy.
My father died after the “mega-crime” of September 11, but by the time it was committed he was no longer mentally fit to see what had gone wrong with the American democratic system.
He probably went away thinking America of Bush Jr. was still the same America that treated Bush Sr. as a public servant, rather than a divine prophet.
I remembered my father’s positive view of American democracy with sadness as I followed the media campaign against my friends Amr and Reem Mohammed Al-Faisal, and indeed against myself, in such “respected” media outlets as The Wall Street Journal and United Press International (UPI) — not to mention all the hate mail. It seems the great American democratic system has no stomach now for intellectual criticism and opposing views.
- Arab News Opinion 31 August 2003

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