11 - 17 July 2002
Issue No. 594
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Facing up to unpleasant facts
One of the worst things that faces any Arab visiting the United States is the anti- Arab orientation of the media. It is a more or less universal sentiment with which the few Arab- or Muslim- American organisations that currently exist can hardly be expected to contend, and certainly not in an atmosphere characterised by the complete absence of Arab political and media interventions. The attempts of such organisations to clarify the picture, rectify prevalent misconceptions and defend the people they represent against the motley assortment of accusations levelled at them invariably appear as little more than pin pricks in the face of the overwhelming edifice of anti- Arab propaganda. And until Arabs understand that an effective media must be faithful to the facts, especially those concerning their own nations and peoples, any attempt to counter anti-Arab propaganda will boomerang, just like the 1948 War rifles used by the Egyptian army against Israelis.
My recent visit to the US coincided with the publication of the UN Development Programme Arab Office's report, which made far from comfortable reading. Freedom and democracy, the report stated, were at an appalling level. Indeed, the Arab world, the report concluded, is lagging behind many other developing nations. This unflinching gaze at the conditions in which Arab populations live was immediately picked up by Western media and research centres. Predictably, though, it received little notice from such organisations' Arab counterparts. This seems disappointing in the light of Arab political and intellectual discourse, which is constantly dominated by the question of why the conditions of the Arab people, despite the cultural, historical and natural wealth they possess, has deteriorated so constantly.
Nor does the report fail to indicate the reasons behind such deterioration: the effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel's aggressive expansionist policies, which over the last half century has absorbed a great deal of the energies of Arab states, slowing down development and impeding progress. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to argue that whole generations have been lost in the sand storm of frustration and isolation that has been brought about by Israeli policies. Yet just as some have viewed the Arab-Israeli conflict a pretext for hampering the growth of political and economic life, oppressing dissidence and endorsing corruption while eliminating plurality and individual freedoms, others view the call for its abandonment in favour of concentrating on internal affairs and national interests as an even greater danger in terms of its implications for Arab security and identity. But whatever the positions adopted, abuse of the Arab- Israeli conflict leads to a freezing of political and democratic life and further rifts in vital inter-Arab relations.
At the Middle East Institute tin Washington I was asked by one of the researchers why Egypt, having concluded a peace agreement with Israel, was not paying more attention to its people? Why, they wanted to know, is energy being constantly expended on defending Palestinian rights when, at the same time, there are no attempts to undertake the actions necessary to improve standards of living or to formulate the kind of policies that would more effectively meet the health care and educational needs of the Egyptian population?
It is exactly such questions, and the thousands more that can be asked along similar lines, that oblige Arabs to undertake a serious, deep reading of the UN Development Programme Arab Office's report. For one thing is absolutely certain, no changes will occur without Arabs first facing the facts, however unpalatable they may be.
Letter from the Editor
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