Middle East

The Arab Press Sends Mixed Messages

In 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 Beirut’s 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 people’s 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 country’s 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 much purpose.

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. Beirut’s 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 America’s sovereignty to someone else’s 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.”