Examining the Arab Street

By John Lovejoy

Americans across the political spectrum obsess over convincing the Arab Street that we only want freedom and prosperity for them. They hold that demonstrating this will reduce Middle Eastern terrorism. This optimism is unfounded. No matter what the U.S. does to curry Arab favor, even totally disengaging from the region, the extremists will continue to hate and attack. Their hatred ultimately focuses on one issue: the existence of Israel. Even cutting off aid to Israel would matter little, since the terrorists would still blame us for assisting that country in the past.

Unless Israel is pushed from the Middle East, which will never happen, terrorism against us will continue. Any concessions short of that would only convince terrorists that their despicable strategy had worked. Our policy should be one of killing and disrupting terrorists, not addressing secondary causes of their hatred like our presence in Saudi Arabia.

Look at the results of liberating Iraq. A recent New York Times article described a group of Egyptian men who don?t believe the images of jubilant Iraqis toppling Hussein?s statue are real. ?Millions loved Saddam,? one claimed. If liberating Kuwait and rescuing the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims did not garner any gratitude for us, why would delivering the Iraqis from Hussein, especially since that action resulted in the inadvertent deaths of at least hundreds of Iraqi civilians?

Optimists have reacted to the widespread Arab sullenness that greeted the liberation of Iraq with shock. They counter, ?If only they had an objective press, they?d celebrate what we?re doing in Iraq.? The Arabs who watch Al Jazeera, rather than CNN or the BBC (which are only slightly less biased against America) choose to do so largely because that station parrots the views of America they already hold. If one doubts this, consider what kinds of Americans watch Fox News, or read The Nation. The people who hate the United States do not feel that way because they see a distorted picture of our actions and intentions. They have invented a distorted picture because they already hated us, because of the existence of Israel.

Over 50 after Israel?s founding, millions of Muslims will not even refer to it by name. Indeed, these extremists believe a whole array of ridiculous lies about Israel and the United States. These are the most prominent:

1) Jews use the blood of Muslims and Christians in their Passover celebrations.

2) Israelis, hoping to bring America?s might down on the Arab world, were behind the September 11 attacks.

3) Israel started the Six Day War in 1967, and the U.S. fought on their side.

I feel it?s important to address these fictions. The first two listed claims are such blatant lies that citing evidence to refute would confer undeserved legitimacy upon them. As far as the Six Day War, Egypt started it by blocking the Straits of Tiran. This international waterway was the only route through which Israel could receive oil from Iran, and blocking a country?s sea access is, by international law, an act of war. Egypt, Syria and Jordan got clobbered, so their only recourse was to cry foul. In 1973 they had no quarrels doing exactly what they claimed Israel had done in launching the surprise Yom Kippur War. The United States stayed completely neutral for fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia. Nasser invented the story of American planes destroying his air force on the ground to cover his incompetence and in hopes of drawing the Soviets into the fight.

If much of the Arab Street refuses to accept reality in these cases, how can anyone expect them to accept the Bush administration?s contestable claims about our intentions in Iraq? This is not a generalization or a value judgment about Muslims in the Middle East. Americans have believed lots of ridiculous lies about their foes in World War II and the Cold War. Only after those conflicts ended did Americans see those people of Japan, Germany, and the former USSR as human beings again.

A sizable block will never be satisfied until the United States and Israel have vacated the Middle East. Since that isn?t going to happen, we should focus less on pandering to their sensibilities and more on defeating terrorism. This demands less squeamishness about profiling and monitoring foreigners entering this country, since whatever consideration we extend will likely be unappreciated, especially by extremists. It also means an end to attempts to compel Israeli concessions, which only reward the terrorists who seek them. Finally, it means we should not be shy about invading countries to deprive terrorists of bases. The question of Syria should be less ?why?? than ?why not?? Extremists hate us so much already that taking military actions in the region is no worse than throwing a lighted match into a five-state forest fire.