Sunday, July 31, 2005

Terrorist Attacks: Where Is the Outrage?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,

An American friend protested once: If Muslims really are against terrorism why don’t I hear strong condemnation coming from every direction — religious leaders, intellectuals, media and all?
Recently, he called again surprised at the level of outrage against the London attacks and wondered: There are more brutal ones in Iraq, why only London you care about?
He meant to say: I understand the sympathy with Sharm El-Sheikh and Egypt, but the English standing in the Muslim world is supposed to be just like that of ours. Both countries invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. They are closest allies in the “war on terror.” Why the difference in treatment?
I explained to him what he probably already knew: Media is about new, amazing and shocking news. The terrorist attacks on London and Sharm El-Sheikh fit the bill. The story in each case was huge, surprising and new. It was more of one big fireball, rather than small and similar flashes. This is the problem with the Iraqi terrorist attacks — they are all the same. Just like the stories that streamed from the world’s troubled areas, like during the civil wars in Lebanon, Sudan, Congo, Nicaragua, Bosnia and Kosovo. Unless you have a new angle or dimension, they taste like old news.
During the Vietnam War, international media, including the American, was not as interested in reporting daily events as they were in the beginning. Yes, when there was a shocking new story, like the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam, the reports were front page. No one was as much interested in daily skirmishes.
During the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran, I remember how the news made front-page headlines. Months later, it started getting slimmer and withdrawing to inside pages.
People get used to repeat bad news. They become numbed and start to care and feel less about them. The first murder crime in a neighborhood might get people talking for a long while.
But in a dangerous neighborhood were crimes are daily affairs, no one talks about them as much. This is basic human nature.
My friend wasn’t totally convinced. He knew better. As he suspected, I wasn’t telling the whole story. Maybe because it was long and complicated. Maybe, I was in a hurry. And maybe I was self-defending.
Here is the rest of the story. The situation in Iraq is much more complicated than in London. Here, we have occupying powers that invaded a sovereign country under false pretexts. Occupation, as history of nations testifies, produces resistance. Resistance generates retaliation. The vicious cycle goes on and on, along with all the resulting resentments, mistrust and hatred from both sides. Such negative thinking about the “enemy” makes the heart colder, morality confused, and emotions mixed. Yes, people get upset when some of their own get killed in the crossfire, but they usually blame it on the other side, especially if it was the one who started it.
I am not trying to justify the muted reaction in the Muslim world to the mayhem in Iraq, but only to analyze and explain.
As for my own stand, here it is: I feel that the best for the Iraqis now is to continue their democratic reforms and nation-building. Only when they manage to rebuild their civil and security infrastructure, they may demand gradual withdrawal of foreign forces.
My stand is based on cool reasoning, not hot emotions. Public opinion is not always based on rational thinking. The French and Dutch said no to the EU Constitution for emotional reasons. Many didn’t even care to read it. They feared for the future, they were angry with their own governments and politicians; many were unemployed and poor. They said no to that more than to the constitution.
In the fog of war, accurate and objective intelligence is as hard to get as water in a desert hell. Information tends to be colored and biased. Emotions cloud reasons. Anger poisons perception, decisions and stands. As a result, the public, via the media and the rumor factory, gets a much-skewed picture of what is going on. This explains the different reactions to seemingly similar events. There are no easy answers to difficult questions. I hope my American friend is reading this right now. I hope this time I fully answered his valid, but tough questions. And I hope he would appreciate, accommodate, and understand!

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