America's War On Terrorism

Adel Darwish: Are Arabs really bitter about the West, or is it much more complicated?

 16 September 2001

 The most shocking response to the terrorist attacks on New  York and Washington shown by many in Syria, Egypt and the
 Gulf was that America had it coming. We all saw the pictures  of Palestinians and Iraqis dancing in the streets. But just how,
 one might ask, could people become so desperate and confused to the point of losing any basic human feeling, or the
 ability to share in the suffering?

 The contradictions in the Arabic- speaking nations were in  evidence when Palestinian police were ordered by the PLO
 chairman, Yasser Arafat, to disperse the dancing crowds. The Palestinian leader, who rejects any peace deal that will not
 return Jerusalem to the bosom of Islam, went on to pull a very Western PR stunt when he got a camera crew to show him
 donating blood for American hospitals. He may reject American hegemony, but he also adopts US mass-media  techniques when it suits him. This may be seen as a symbol for a relationship with the West that is not as some of the early reporting done in the heat of the moment might have suggested last week one of opposition of values and  outlook, but one of intense love and hate.

 The first images coming from the Middle East suggested that citizens of Arabic-speaking countries were either indifferent to,
 or actually enjoying, the American suffering. But appearances  are deceptive. The first thing to remember is that many Arab
 people have lived in non-democratic states for some time now. The state-controlled media of these countries have placed
 Israel and the West, led by Amreeka, in the same category and encouraged the masses to abhor both. This has been
 especially noticeable since the violence flared again in Israel in October last year.

 Language affects perspective. So what the West calls a  "suicide bombing" will be portrayed in many parts of the
 Middle East especially in countries in the Gulf and Lebanon where Palestinians and Lebanese control the editorial policy,
 and Iraq and Syria where the state-controlled media are styled on that of Stalinist Russia as an "operation of martyrdom".
 The education system and the Orwellian re-writing of history have occasioned this outlook. In addition, the backing that the
 West gave to various military coups and its support for the regimes of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, General
 Assad in Syria and Colonel Gaddafi in Libya undoubtedly aided this process. So we have, alas, a generation of  teachers, journalists and public opinion-makers who have brainwashed people to use their conflict with Israel as a  yardstick with which to measure the distance between friends and foes. But Israel is just one factor. What angers the Middle Easterners in general is the trend in the West for confusing what is Arabic with what is Islamic and with what is the  Middle East. Such confusion is generally to do with the ignorance (or, let's be honest, indifference) of Westerners. It is not a conspiracy, although it is often portrayed as one.

 Rejection of Western trappings thus comes to be seen as a kind of purification. In its most extreme form, this is  exemplified by Osama bin Laden turning away from his playboy lifestyle spent squandering money in casinos, in order to embrace the struggle against America. In this he is  following a pattern that many far less extreme Arabs would  instantly recognise: the nationalist struggle to shake off  Western influence from Suez to the Levant and the  anti-colonial movement in North Africa.

 Until a mixture of forced Arabisation and an invasion of  nouveaux riches stripped it of its unique Englishness in the  1970s, Victoria College in Alexandria was the Eton of the  Middle East. It produced King Hussein of Jordan, Omar Sharif  and the celebrated film-maker Youssef Chahine, as well as  half the Egyptian cabinet. The cafés in Beirut and Alexandria  were on the same level of sophistication as those in Paris,  Cannes and Nice. The Islamic fundamentalist fever of the  1980s pushed those marble table-tops running with beer and  wine behind wooden shutters. But they still do good trade.  The latest Parisian fashions appear in the boutiques of Cairo,  Alexandria and Beirut as quickly as they hit the trendy  London shops.

 The 1960s saw the peak of the love affair with Western  culture. Colonel Nasser's motorcade was made up of shiny  black American Cadillacs. The renaissance in Egyptian  theatre brought with it the translation of modern American  writers such as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward  Albee and Eugene O'Neill. The shows were very popular and  strongly influenced the budding theatrical movements of Syria,  Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf.

 Today, the mass media in the Arab world is undiluted in its  influence. The Arab masses, who never see Westerners  except as tourists, learn about them from mass-circulation  newspapers, colour magazines, popular TV series and films.  Just consider for a moment what impression you in Britain  would have of other nations if your sole exposure to them was  via tour groups. So Western women are portrayed as either  easy-to- get blonde tarts or as sly brunettes. In recent years
 another stereotype has been added: that of the hard-nosed  Western feminist who frightens her own men. National  stereotypes abound, too. American men are seen as gullible,  easy to con, violent and trigger-happy. French men are seen
 as womanisers, crooks and drunks. Italian men are all mafia  members. British men are well-dressed, devious,  cigar-smoking exploiters "perfidious Albion" personified.  They are generally portrayed as plotting furtively so that  everyone can go to war so that they, the British, will benefit.

 This, in outline, is the picture Arab viewers get of Westerners  as they go to the cinema. And yet they continue to wear the
 latest Western fashion labels, drink Coke, chew gum and use  Western mobile phones. In the Gulf countries, where women
 are required to cover up, underwear and fashionable dresses  have survived. The passion for the television series Dynasty
 and Dallas has given way to Friends. It is impossible to keep  cultural America at bay. The terrorists know this, and it feeds
 their hatred.

 The majority of Arabs may interpret every event and tragedy  that befalls them as a conspiracy by the West. Yet they
 happily adopt Western styles in many aspects of everyday life  and they would be furious if this were taken away from

 Much of the envy and anger we have witnessed in the  response to the attack on America is the result of this  paradox. The Arab world aspires in great part to enjoy the  material and cultural products of the West: the cars, clothes,  fast food, films, books, the internet and fashion. And yet its  citizens are deprived to varying degrees by dictators   benevolent or otherwise of the civil and political rights  enjoyed by Westerners.

 Many ordinary Arabs have seen over past decades how many  democratic movements in their societies were crushed by
 despots supported by the West and using Western weapons.  The memories linger. People carry on dreaming of justice, the  one Western commodity which is still denied so many of  them. Frustrated and trapped by leaders who want to close
 their windows on the world, they interpret an appalling  Western tragedy as some form of vicarious justice. That is the
 saddest legacy of all a love affair gone sour.
Western Intelligence agencies pool resources  to break a world wide alleged Islamists' terror network
Islamists' Terror Network.

Bombs in American embassies in Africa

Professor Barry Robins on The Bombing

 Bin Laden is now the most wanted man; as he replaces Abu 

Threats to America in the Gulf: The US Navy cancelled shore leave in the region and advised servicemen to be extra cautious. Two years ago this month a bomb went off in the US military compound in Al-Khobor killed several service men. Recent threats by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden- who is the prime suspect in the attack have also contributed to the tension. Security has been tightened around US at embassies throughout the Middle East. American citizens were advised to be alert and inconspicuous when travelling in the region. The US has withdrawn its Air Force Air Expeditionary Wing from Bahrain's Sheikh Isa airbase. Bahrain had agreed in March to extend the deployment of US aircraft on its territory for a further two months at the height of the crisis between Iraq and the UN over weapons inspections The last of 12 F-117 stealth fighters deployed in Kuwait last November returned to the US on 7 June

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