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the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Press Sends Mixed Messages
WPR Contributing Editor
the days after the attack, the Arab press was awash in commentary.
Newspapers and their pundits expressed general shock at the
incidents and addressed subjects ranging from the possible
U.S. response and its repercussions to concern for a backlash
against Muslim and Arab Americans. Nearly all articulated
some form of condemnation (the widely reported instance of
Iraqi media being the main exception), but these words were
frequently coupled with pointed criticisms of U.S. foreign
policy, specifically in the Middle East. Commentators stressed
that while the grievous acts in the United States demand condemnation,
they also require American introspection as to why it is that
the United States has become a target of such violence.
For the preponderance of Arab commentators, the phrases misuse
of power and abuse of moral foundations
express the overwhelming sentiment in the region that U.S.
policy is unfairly biased toward Israel and American support
for unjust policies such as the devastating U.N. sanctions
against Iraq. But in the absence of concrete evidence about
the identity of the perpetrators, many in the Arab press offered
broad critiques of U.S. foreign policy.
Cautioning that it was still too early to determine who was
behind the attacks, Faisal Salman, writing in Beiruts
daily Al-Safir (Sept. 12), remarked that while the
enmity required to inspire mass murder such as that seen in
New York and Washington is difficult to imagine, it does reflect
the degree of frustration, despair, and hatred that
America inspires, calling for a very long moment of reflection
about U.S. policies. Perhaps the attacks will spark a moment
of American self-examination, he speculates. The strike
is painful, but it may push the American people to ask: Why
are the terrorists targeting us? The U.S. administration will
have to provide an answer to its peoples question.
Condemning the terrorism and echoing a similar sentiment,
the Palestinian expatriate Al-Quds al-Arabi of London
(Sept. 12) in its main editorial told its readers that it
has a duty to call upon American citizens to ask why,
among the interests and embassies of all Western powers, is
it their countrys embassies, buildings, and defense
establishments that are targeted by such terrorist actions?
In reality, U.S. interests are better served by adopting a
foreign policy that conforms to justice, human rights, and
international law rather than a continuation of current unjust
policies such as in the Middle East, where America sees things
only through an Israeli lens, unconditionally supports Israeli
aggression against Arabs, or targets Islamic countries for
sanctions. Such realities, the editorial said, have together
created a deep hatred for the United States in the region.
The paper added that as America prepares its response, it
should be said that cruise missiles and high-tech weaponry,
such as that used on Afghanistan after the African embassy
bombings in 1998, will not solve the current terrorism malaise.
And air strikes against a country like Afghanistan, already
weak and poor, will inflict only more suffering and not serve
George Semaan, editor of the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat of
London (Sept. 14), wrote that Washington must be far-sighted
and look beyond the short-term solutions such as nabbing the
perpetrators. The Americans will not succeed in uprooting
terrorism, no matter what its source or location may be, unless
it changes its attitude as to how to develop and defend its
interests by building a network of relations based on respect
of the interests of others, particularly the weak and those
whose rights have been denied.
Other Arab commentators stressed that the calamitous events
should prompt America to rise above the situation and take
a courageous, well-thought-out tack, especially in the Middle
East. Beiruts Daily Star (Sept. 12) commented
in an editorial that the perpetrators, Osama bin Laden or
whoever they might be, should not be allowed to hijack
U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Middle East.
At the same time, the editorial said, the recent tragedy should
prompt a renewed American resolve to understand the region
and to help redress the inequities that prevail here. To do
otherwise would be to surrender some part of Americas
sovereignty to someone elses designs. America has been
made to know the suffering that so many other countries understand
all too well. Now it should lead the way in finding solutions
to the problems that breed violence and desperation.