|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
4 - 10 October 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
The other cheek
Sir- To all who believe in God the merciful and compassionate: In response to the US's call to rid the world of the evil of terrorism with "infinite justice," a case could be made that this is what the Islamic "pilots" who struck the World Trade Center were doing. It is certainly what they believed they were doing, because they were striking at what they see as the "Great Satan." Americans, of course, are unable to see themselves as evil and react with horror at the assault on these symbols of capitalism and on the innocent people killed.
From the perspective of many in this world, America, the self-acclaimed only "superpower," has used its power with apparent impunity to make the world comply to its own economic and political needs. What is good for America has got to be good for everyone else. For someone in the Third World who does not believe in the scientific materialism of the West, it is very clear where the threat comes from. If that person has a fundamentalist religious tradition, he sees the American way of life as evil. This is true of fundamentalists in America herself, who oppose evolution theories and abortion, as well as Muslim fundamentalists who see the liberation of women and proliferation of pornography as unbearable temptations of Satan.
Faced with the reality that terrorism is bred in peoples who see America as an evil state and destructive way of life, the only possible way to not perpetuate the use of force -- an eye for an eye -- is for America to exhibit compassion. To use escalated force to stamp out evil without considering the consequences of one's policies as Israel has attempted to do will only perpetuate the cycles of destruction.
Instead of acting like the terrorists, America should set up refugee camps to feed the traumatised from Afghanistan. This will sustain the alliance and allow the American values overlooked by the US's enemies to erode the will of those bent on destruction. As winter sets in and the only possibility for relief is in the camps, the Taliban will lose their support as family by family the people vote with their feet.
This will require patience on the American side, as there is no quick solution. However, if the spiritual values found within all the great religions can be nurtured, the whole world, and eventually even the fundamentalists on all sides, will experience the patience of compassion. This is how the Marshall Plan offered a choice to our former enemies after they realised the path of military might was futile.
Afghanistan's people and the disenfranchised of the Islamic world are already in a state of hopeless despair which offers them no choice better than the Taliban and terrorism. This will require internal strength from America instead of the armour of its material might. If we truly desire to combat evil, we must begin by defeating it within. To overcome our own evil, America must transcend the forces driving it to use might to force others to comply. This is something that the other terrorists were unable to do.
This will also require Americans to give "infinite justice" to the Divine and love their enemy while he is held off by a firm inner resolve and unifying external actions. To hit our enemy with a bigger stick is to acknowledge that what the terrorists did to New York and Washington is the right way to react. This will require our leaders to take us through the times of anxiety and uncertainty in the manner of New York's mayor. It is a question of faith versus reaction. The Middle East has shown the world that the old way of a tooth for a tooth will never bring peace. Does America have the courage to live up to its Christian tradition and have compassion on those who despise it as evil?
What our Muslim brothers must realise is that a majority of Americans have compassion for the people of Palestine, Iraq and especially Afghanistan. Now that the world has shown compassion for America's suffering, we all have a "compassion equity" to work together for the well-being of all.
All in the details
Sir- I found Galal Nassar's "The American art of war" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 September - 3 October) to be a better informed piece of speculation than I have read in most Western media outlets. The speculation here is quite appalling and dangerous. One point of accuracy I would take issue with, however: the sentence "I personally saw the flyers that US planes dropped over Yugoslavia and Kosovo that depicted a red, white and blue Superman saving the children of Yugoslavia from the evil Milosevic and his cohorts." I presume Galal is referring here to something he saw in my office. But that was not a "flyer" -- it was a comic book -- and it wasn't dropped by planes, it was distributed on the ground. And it doesn't show Superman saving kids from evil Milosevic -- it shows him rescuing them from minefields. There is no mention of Milosevic. This was not part of some demonisation propaganda -- it was part of a mine awareness campaign. One may think these trivial points, but they are not in a dangerous global crisis.
Professor Philip M Taylor
Director, Institute of Communications Studies
University of Leeds
Sir- Estephan ("From the melting pot into the fire," Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 September - 3 October) was Black, not Arab. He is remembered during African-American History Month. He is also included in the tradition of honouring Black explorers, such as Matthew Henson who discovered the North Pole. A Navajo did not kill Estephan. If you want to find out more about him, consult the Association for the Study of African-American History located in Washington, DC.
C M Wimbs
Sir- I am an American of Irish descent. I enjoy your paper. I really don't feel too well-informed by reading US papers. Current events are frightening; worse, I feel most people over here are spoon-fed by the media. I just read "The death of their world" by Amira Howeidy (Al-Ahram Weekly, 20-26 September). It makes me feel really bad. I think the Palestinians are getting a bad rap, but I also wonder: if they had the power, would they crush Jewish people? I really do not like any of it, to tell you the truth, and it will always be here -- maybe in remission, but always here. Keep up the good work with your paper and thanks.
Sir- I often read your newspaper on-line because I agree with your continuous assertions that the media in the United States are somewhat biased. However, I am sure you are well aware that even your own newspaper shows the same amount of bias, only on the other side of things. I read Egyptian and Iranian newspapers to get a better perspective on the political situation in the Middle East (as I read Chinese newspapers for occurrences in the Far East), because reading culturally biased articles (which I assure you are found in every single paper I read) is the only way I can try to piece together global happenings.
It is simply a fact that media, no matter how free, are a tool used by a collective (cultural, political, or social) to sway public opinion. Media can serve no other purpose, as there is no such thing as objective journalism. Mankind is not capable of objectivity, no matter how we try. As history has shown us, media and propaganda are possibly the most powerful weapons in the political arsenal. Just because the media of the United States and the Middle East are not blatantly controlled by their governments as in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany does not mean that they are not effectively manipulated. The manipulation of the media today is just as sinister.
It is true that the Arab people, and Muslims in general, are getting a bad press. I agree wholeheartedly that it is a shame that the outpouring of Palestinian support in the aftermath of the 11 September attack was given scant coverage in the United States. It is also true, however, that the support pledged to the Afghan refugees by the United States ($25,000,000 from the government, not to mention support from American NGOs) is getting no more coverage by the journalists of the Middle East. No rational human being could want to increase the suffering of the Afghan people, or the Iraqi people, or the Palestinian people, or any others for that matter. Yet all I read in the Middle Eastern papers is how the imperialist self-indulgent Americans care not a whit for the suffering of innocent people. That is far from the truth, and the Palestinians do have wide support from the American people.
When extremist groups target innocent civilians, however, as with the bombing of the discotheque in Israel, and militant groups refuse to adhere to Yasser Arafat's calls for cease-fires by openly refusing them, what recourse is left? It is a disgusting fact that innocent Palestinians have died in the current Intifada. It is just a disgusting, however, that innocent Israelis have also been killed by suicide bombers and terrorist acts. The plight of the everyday Iraqi does not go unnoticed in the United States, and it certainly saddens my heart to see it, but Saddam Hussein's madness also does not go unnoticed. Far from looking better, his sons who are poised to take power (isn't it true that Saddam has been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer?) do not give the West any hope that they are people who can be dealt with.
The Arab people and people of the Islamic faith have legitimate grievances against the West and its policies, just as the people of the West have legitimate grievances with policy originating from Islamic extremism. Islamic extremism, however, is not an entity which can be defeated by Western powers, because the West (no matter what your perception may be) will never be willing to wage war against Islam itself. Your attempts to paint this current conflict in that light are not only irresponsible, but dangerous. The only way Islamic extremism can be defeated is by Islam itself. Islamic nations should treat Islamic extremism in the same manner that civil rights were gained in the United States. Until the full forces of public opinion were marshalled against racial hatred, segregation laws could not be repealed. Similarly, the only way that Islamic terrorism (by no means the only form of terrorism in the world) can be defeated is for the peaceful majority of Islam to denounce and destroy such sentiments.
True, the racial situation in the US is not perfect, but racial crimes are now at the fringe of society and, though the road is bumpy, the mixed society being built in the United States is a reality. The general feeling in the United States is of anger not against Islam, but against those who perpetrated this horrendous act. No nation on earth would allow this act to go unpunished should it occur within their borders, were the means available to prosecute those responsible.
As for the people of Afghanistan, there can be no doubt that it has become one of the most shattered nations on earth in the last 25 years. From a devastating Soviet invasion to years of internal strife, it is awful to see the suffering of its people. If you are familiar with George Orwell's book 1984, however, you will see that the Islamic regime in Afghanistan is far closer to mirroring the society envisioned in that story than any of the capitalist nations of the world, or any of the communist regimes which remain today. The government's crackdown on liberties in the name of religion is abhorrent to one who was raised in the way I was. I am not opposed to Islamic fundamentalist movements, but the extreme to which the Taliban has gone is just not acceptable. What should the United States do if the Taliban insists on protecting extremists who target American civilians, who fall into the category of innocent victims? Should we not protect our own people against terror? Would Egypt fail to protect its citizens if mad Westerners flew airplanes into buildings in Cairo which have tens of thousands of Egyptians in them? Would those Egyptians not be innocent civilians?
Regardless of the assertions I have read in Middle Eastern papers that there is no binding evidence that these attacks were carried out by Osama Bin Laden, it is a fact that Bin Laden openly calls for attacks on American interests and American people. That alone gives Americans a legitimate reason for pursuing him. If he is a danger to Americans at home or abroad, then he is an enemy of the American state as was Timothy McVeigh, and Americans have every right to eliminate that threat, regardless of whose protection he is under, even if that means coming into direct conflict with a nation-state. Egypt would do no less for its people. Any government which does not protect its citizens does not deserve to rule.
I realise that I have a jaded view of the Taliban due to my Western upbringing, and will be the first to admit that I do not completely understand all that Islam, and Middle Eastern culture, entail. I have had the honour of visiting Islamic nations, such as Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and found them to be among the most beautiful cultures I have come across. However, my upbringing cannot be reconciled with the atrocities carried out in the name of Allah in Afghanistan. I do not claim to know the will of Allah, or Jehovah, or Krishna, or the mind of Buddha, but I can't believe in my heart that any God would wish suffering on any of his creations, especially rendered by others of his own creations, and that extends to the Palestinian people who suffer.
The simple fact is that mankind as a whole must reevaluate how it views itself. The path to peaceful coexistence is not easy, nor can it be even seen at this period in our history. I fear that many centuries will pass before that possibility can even be met with optimism. However, with weapons becoming as powerful as they are, there can only be two possible outcomes to the human experience: one in which we squander the gifts of whatever God we subscribe to, and one in which we are victorious over ourselves. In the Christian Bible there are seven deadly sins, but if one could possibly be deadlier than the others, especially on a cultural level, then it is certainly pride. It could even be argued that the other six are nothing more than pride in a different guise.
In this world one must attempt to navigate the currents of diversity, and come out of the journey stronger for it. The media should become humanity's tool, not the tool of cultures, regimes, democracy or warmongers. The media are responsible for bringing understanding to people of different backgrounds. They are not just the news, and never have been. With the advent of global media, the challenge is for the media to have their own agenda as an independent entity, which could be instrumental in bringing wider global changes that are advantageous for all.
I hope I live to see the day when the media come out of their infancy and see their true power, not the false power given them by self-serving ideologies; but I doubt I, or anyone else alive today, will.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Not just cross
Sir- This is the first letter I write to you, despite having been a regular reader for over two years now. It was Fayza Hassan's "Identity crisis" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 27 September - 3 October) that made me decide to write. Her column this time was very moving, and her experiences and feelings so familiar. Congratulations, Fayza, I believe you have found the only "home" that no one can take away from you.
I also enjoyed Hani Shukrallah's culture piece, and Pascale Ghazaleh's article was thoughtful and very well-researched -- bravo! But there is one fly in the ointment for me: I like to do the crossword, to escape for a while from images of exploding buildings. It's frustrating, then, to come across omitted clues, typos and other glaring errors in almost every issue. Doesn't anyone edit the crossword before it's printed? I hope I see an improvement soon, because it's such a shame in a good newspaper like yours.
Sir- First I must say that nobody with any heart at all could help feeling deep sympathy with the American people and especially with the loved ones of the victims of the terrible and wicked disasters of 11 September. I am one of the millions who pray for them.
I would be interested to know where Mr Tom Knox (Letters to the Editor, Al-Ahram Weekly, 20-26 September) got his information about Egypt and Egyptians. I am a blue-eyed, blonde Englishwoman who could not possibly be mistaken for a Middle Easterner. I have lived in Egypt for more than 50 years and feel that I can rectify Mr Knox's conceptions.
1) Egyptians are not intolerant, which is more than most black and not-so-white people living in America would say of many white Americans.
2) Jews, all denominations of Christians and other religions are not discriminated against. Hence numerous churches -- Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Protestant, Catholic -- and synagogues exist side by side with mosques.
3) If, as Mr Knox says, one could not get a pro-Israeli editorial published here, how is it that his anti-Egyptian letter was published?
4) Any person who thinks that they have seen machine-gun toting police at street corners must be hallucinating.
5) All Egyptians, fanatics or not, love their country and would fight for it and for God.
6) Do American pharmaceutical companies not benefit from the medicines they supply to African AIDS victims? Otherwise, why should they have objected when some of those countries decided to produce their own at a fraction of the cost they were paying?
I have heard many Americans ask why they are hated. Well! Perhaps they should remember Vietnam and napalm. What business had America interfering in an entirely internal affair? The same applies to Korea, Cuba, etc. Why should America decide who should sell bananas to whom? Who encouraged the Taliban in the first place?
So Mr Knox says he is not biased in favour of Israel! Then why does he say that Egypt would have to fight America and most of Europe? He should not be so sure that most of Europe would be willing to join him. They probably remember the Stern Gang and the Irgun Svai Leumi, Count Bernadotte and Dag Hammershold and the more recent Sabra and Shatila, etc. etc. etc. There are decent and evil people of all races and religions.
Mr Knox, please know that Muslims believe in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and have the most tolerant of all religions.
I would suggest that you read a translation of the Holy Qur'an -- unless of course, with your extensive knowledge of Egypt and the Egyptians, you can read Arabic.
Persephone K Brigham
(Mrs P K Hamdy)
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