Arab Reaction to the Terrorist Attacks on the United States

The United States Should Re-Examine its Policies First

Dr. Fayiz Rasheed, Al-Hayat Al-Jadedah (government-owned), East Jerusalem, Palestinian National Authority, September 21, 2001

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (R) gives blood at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Sept. 12, 2001. Palestinians have been donating blood in support of the victims killed in Sept. 11's terror attacks in New York and Washington (Photo: AFP).
Some American and Western media outlets have launched a feverish and deliberate campaign to disfigure and misrepresent the general Arab sentiment about what happened in the United States [on Sept. 11, 2001]. This despite the thousands of displays of horror and disapproval throughout the Arab nations immediately following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington—whether these displays were at the official or popular level. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, Arab political parties denounced the terrorist attacks in the United States. Palestinians demonstrated their sadness for the innocent blood that flowed in New York and Washington, beginning with a gathering of children in front of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem just a few short hours after the attacks. Arabs streamed to support blood drive campaigns. Millions of Palestinian students stood for a moment of silence to commemorate the victims. Yet from among all these touching images, the American media chose to show the dastardly image of rejoicing demonstrators in a few corners of the Arab world, and so reinforced Western notions of Arabs.

Despite the fact that the governor of Nablus [where Palestinians cheered the news of the attacks in front of TV cameras] condemned the celebrations of a few dozen youths, despite the fact that he explained that they had been protesting Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the majority of Western media outlets continued to discuss these isolated incidents, without mentioning that they were not indicative of the response throughout the Arab world.

These media outlets continued focusing on a few isolated and miniscule incidents as if they were expressions of the general reaction of Arabs and Muslims to the attacks. And so, in their over-simplified treatment of Arab reaction, the Western news media connected terrorism, inhumanity, and the backwardness of Arabs. U.S. television stations re-broadcasted images of Arab youths celebrating several times a day for days at end. This type of repetition plays into patterns made familiar by movies, television, and the press, the final goal of which is to produce a social and political guarantee that America will defend the Israelis from such people. The American news media immediately assumed that Arabs participated in these latest acts of terrorism in America, and extended this assumption to posit that all Arabs are guilty. And so the acts that Arabs and Muslims supposedly committed against Americans were made to serve to strengthen the old enmity some Americans already felt towards Arabs. It is easy to see how such reporting could lead to the assumption that all Arab and Islamic organizations in America are guilty for what happened in Washington and New York City.

What does this type of media manipulation do but put the long-held view that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists in the center of the American mind, while bolstering this view with claims that it had been impartially investigated and discovered? The mere occurrence of the attacks in America alone caused the media to hasten to a discussion of people with "Middle-Eastern features" in an effort to indict, by way of conjecture, Arabs and Muslims. And despite the lack of clear evidence tying Osama Bin Laden and his organization al-Qaeda—yet, that is—the media was quick to jump to the conclusion, within minutes of the explosions, that Arabs and Muslims had been responsible. Some commentators even went so far as to add that it was a distinct possibility that Palestinian organizations were likely behind the attacks—exactly as they had immediately following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing [in which 168 people died in an attack on the Alfred Murrah Federal Building].

And let us not forget that during the 1980s, Washington counted Bin Laden as an ally in the Islamic and Afghani resistance to Soviet armed forces in Afghanistan. Let us not forget that the U.S. Treasury paid millions of dollars to movements such as Bin Laden's during the United States' long war against the Soviet Union. And let us not forget the abrupt reversal of this policy as soon as U.S. goals had been reached and how it inconvenienced the U.S. government that Bin Laden did not deign to acquiesce to his "former master," but instead adopted as his new conflict the disruption of American foreign policies… This has created a new enemy… to be the new policy threat for the near future.

With this in mind, we must inevitably consider other relevant issues: First, it is a fact that there is not a formal or inherently hostile view of the United States in the Arab mentality. Nor do Arab criticisms of the United States reflect an inherently hostile view of the United States. Arab criticisms are aimed at the policies of the U.S. administration in general, and their Middle Eastern policies in particular. And to prove that what I am saying is true, please remember both the official and popular acceptance of the American position in 1956, which demanded the withdrawal of the forces of Britain, France, and Israel from Egypt after they had unjustly invaded it [In 1956, the United States refused to intervene on its European allies' behalf after former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal]. Arabs still remember the U.S. position on this occasion today, demonstrating that Arabs have always distinguished between the progressive, peaceful aspects of U.S. policy on one hand, and the more common tendency in U.S. foreign policy to avoid taking a strong stance on issues which don't necessarily have a direct relation to U.S. domestic politics.

Second, since President Bush II [U.S. President George W. Bush] came to office, the new U.S. policy on the Middle East has been characterized by a blind endorsement of Israel. The Bush administration's policies supposedly include the perspectives of Arabs and Palestinians, yet they have shrunk from putting any pressure on the Israelis to limit their military strikes or to stick to the agreements that form the sum of the "peace process." Despite the active involvement of the previous American administration, the current administration has failed to enforce even the recommendations of President Bush himself, [CIA Director George Tenet], or the report of the international committee led by Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Instead, the United States has offered only timid criticisms of Israeli methods towards the Palestinians, including the assassination of Palestinian leaders, the reoccupation of Palestinian cities, and a host of other heavy-handed tactics. Bush's administration even gave the Israelis the green light to use American weapons, including F-16 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters, in strikes that targeted cities and killed Palestinian civilians. All the while, the United States has threatened to veto any resolutions of the U.N. Security Council it deems unfavorable to Israel.

The last American administration, despite its complete bias in favor of the Israeli side, cultivated an atmosphere conducive to more balanced diplomatic relations between the Arabs and Israel. The current administration quit any efforts to balance the situation, relying instead on lofty diplomatic rhetoric. As Dr. Muhammad Husayn Haykal concluded in his article "A Summer of Danger in the Middle East," American foreign policy toward the Middle East under the current administration has been built upon the research and recommendations of American military and political analysts who are reacting against the approach of the former administration—which included the president's direct involvement—and have influenced President Bush not to continue Clinton's approach.

Lastly, the United States' complete support of the Israeli viewpoint at the U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which resulted in the withdrawal of both countries from the conference, is another example of poor policy. The U.S. stance begs two questions: "If Zionism is innocent of the charges laid against it, why does the U.S. dread having a discussion about it? If the Israeli practices towards Palestinians aren't discriminatory and racist, why does the United States dread the treatment of this issue?" Despite the United States' fear of entanglement, 3,000 non-government organizations felt there was enough reason to criticize Zionism and Israeli practices.

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