Al-Ahram Weekly Online
8 - 14 November 2001
Issue No.559
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Torn between the two

Sir- I am an Egyptian- American who is deeply affected by the tragic events of 11 September. I am torn between two countries and cultures. As I speak to my American counterparts and educate them about the Arabs and Muslims, I find that I also must communicate with my Egyptian counterparts and educate them about America. We Egyptians must stop putting the blame on outside forces and saying "oh well, it is the Mossad," or whoever. Let us start to engage in constructive criticism of ourselves and the world we live in.

It is easy to say it is a conspiracy, just as I hear Mohamed Atta's father say his son was framed and it was the Israelis. We give them too much credit. If we continue on this path of denial then we will never better ourselves.

Do not misunderstand me, Islam is innocent of these acts but we have people, Arab people, who say there is no god but God just like Muslims everywhere -- and then blow themselves up. How come there were no fatwas against Bin Laden when he said it was the duty of every Muslim to kill Americans? The interview was in Arabic and it was clear that he meant American civilians. Why did we not curse this person as anti-Islamic? How would Egypt or any other country in the world respond if this attack happened on its soil? We as Muslims and Arabs must stand up to these people and expose their false beliefs. These people have hijacked our identity and religion. They have raped all of us, yet we want to deny it all and put the blame on someone else.

Islam is more alive in the US than any other part of the world. Mosques in the US are freer then anywhere else in the world. Arabs are freer and have more rights in the US then they do anywhere else in the world. I wonder how much the Egyptians know about the Taliban, the true enemies of Islam. I wonder if Egyptians know that there are Egyptian companies in Cairo that forbid the hiring of women who wear hijab. Do they know that not one company in the US can have such a policy? How many Egyptians know that they hold collective Friday prayers at the Pentagon?

Just as the US is not the great Satan, it is not the great angel either; but these days, name one government that is a great angel. Do not judge the US based on MTV or Hollywood. The world changed on 11 September; I hope that we will change for the better.

Ahmed Amer
California, US

The other truth

Sir- Keep up the good work. As an American, I highly appreciate the opposing viewpoints that I can find each week on your Web site. I've got a feeling that American media isn't telling the whole truth, and Al-Ahram probably isn't either, for that matter, but the very fact that I can access a differing viewpoint and compare it to others is what makes all the difference in the world. I appreciate your coverage of our tragic world, and will continue reading your site each week.

Jesse Tuel

Cleansing Islam

Sir- It troubles me greatly that many Islamic "scholars" and commentators continue to delude themselves into believing that the war in Afghanistan is being waged by the West against Islam. Instead, such vitriolic energy would be better served by focusing condemnation on the ferocious hijacking of Islamic thought by those who killed so many innocents in New York in the name of Allah. Those who committed this atrocity are in the process of shaping the perception of Islam by the rest of the world, while pious Muslims remain silent. This is not a war against Islam. This is a war within Islam.

For years Osama Bin Laden has preached hatred towards America. His organisation has bombed our embassies in Africa (killing far more Africans than Americans). It has killed American soldiers in Somalia who were on a mission to protect food supplies for a Muslim population suffering in the midst of a man-made famine. In all these cases, America has done virtually nothing to respond. Bin Laden has stated that "it is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorise the enemies of God." He uses this as justification for countless attempts by Al-Qa'ida to obtain weapons of mass destruction: biological, chemical, and now we are hearing that he may have obtained nuclear materials from Taliban sympathisers in Pakistan. For years, America has essentially ignored these threats, aside from a couple of pointless and ineffective military strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan. And now Al-Qa'ida has de facto subjugated a nation: the Taliban and Afghanistan. 11 September has awakened America to the seriousness of the problem we all face. Given the history of attacks, and the continuous threats emanating from Al-Qa'ida and Bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan must be viewed not as retaliation, but as legitimate self-defence against an obviously clear and present danger. Not a war against Islam.

Americans are confused as to why this is characterised in Islamic nations as a war against Islam. Is the warped and twisted interpretation of the Qur'an by semi-literate fanatics to be given respectability and stature now just because these countries may have legitimate issues with American foreign policy? Nobody ever characterised our military action in Serbia -- in defence of Muslims -- as a war against Christians (Serbs).

We all know the contributions Islam has made throughout history in mathematics, science, and philosophy. We are aware of the tolerance that characterises Islam. Our history books are full of examples of Islamic tolerance and accommodation of Christians and other minorities. This great historic tradition is now being threatened, not by America and the West, but by a radical fundamentalism that has found a hospitable sanctuary in Afghanistan. Righteous Muslims face a historic opportunity to cleanse the body of Islam of this cancer. It is a shame that so many cannot see it.

Lee Cooper
Fort Collins, Colorado

Eternal bargains

Sir- The front page photo in last week's edition (Al-Ahram Weekly, 25-31 October) was worth not only one thousand but one billion words as it reveals the indisputable truth: when religion (any religion) gets entangled with politics, calamity always results. World history verifies this; demagogues of all kinds have used religion throughout the centuries to achieve their goals -- which, in most of the cases, have nothing to do with the particular religion they've taken advantage of.

Religion and politics can never mix or substitute one another; religions practice dogma ("do this, do not do that"). They demand irrevocable, inflexible dedication to that which God once dictated to mankind through His Chosen Emissary and which no successor is allowed to modify, dispute or renovate. Politics practices negotiations, and is subject to continuous renovation, transformation, evolution...

The world will be a better place if religions care only for our soul and its eternal honesty and purity (earthy and heavenly) while politics endeavours to develop on earth health, justice and the fair distribution of wealth .

Harry Poulos
Hadayeq Al-Maadi

Wondrous diversity

Sir- I am a Palestinian British Muslim. I take great pride in my dual heritage. I have always had an abiding and deeply felt love for Britain and for the British way of life. I studied English literature, wrote in imitation and in extension of it, read avidly in it and worked tirelessly to teach it. I have also maintained my Palestinian culture through its literature, its history and its people. I am privileged to enjoy a wonderful cultural diversity. I have a wide range of cultural backgrounds through my acquired and cultivated British roots (English), through my diasporic Palestinian roots (Arabic, and a growing appreciation of Hebrew culture) and through my Swiss stepmother's influence (French and a developing understanding of German and Italian cultures). I also had the truly wonderful privilege of being raised in the irrepressibly multicultural city of Beirut by a Lebanese mother.

So those who say that my love of Britain is a betrayal of my other culture (or, in my case, many cultures) or of my Muslim religious upbringing are wrong. The bitter harvest is invariably sown when I dare to show any pride in my Palestinian origins, when I work for peace in Israel and Palestine no matter how very modestly.

After the Oslo Agreement, my involvement in Israeli-Palestinian affairs increased. I gave talks on Palestinian perspectives. I linked with organisations such as the Israel Information Centre, the Anne Frank Educational Trust, Medical Aid for the Palestinians, the Palestinian Return Centre and the Palestinian General Delegation; I talked to anybody interested in peace in Israel and Palestine. As a result of this involvement, local radio interviewed me. I gave my usual message of the need for dialogue, negotiations and the need to understand each other's narratives.

A few days later, my manager called me into his office. He told me that, driving home one night, he turned the local radio on to listen to a recording of an interview on education with him. He went on to say that he was surprised to hear me "speaking eloquently about peace in Palestine." He informed me that I had broken the law on politically restricted posts by making the broadcast. When I pointed out that I had published extensively and that I had never had any problems with my employers, the manager became abusive.

I suggested that his reaction to my "Palestinian broadcast," as he called it, was somewhat exaggerated. He tapped his table repeating: "You have broken the law!" I suggested that no one had objected to my books on Margaret Thatcher and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, an article on King Hussein, various articles on education and so on. He became angry. "This is a sackable offence!" I asked why talking about Palestine broke the law whilst talking about Thatcher did not. "This is an arrestable offence!" He struck his desk. As I was about to make an inordinately sweaty exit from his room, he asked me if I understood the seriousness of my offence. Intimidated, I said that I had not, but that I would do as I was told. "Well, then, I am telling you to stop all Palestinian broadcasts from now onwards."

I remember feebly mumbling that I had a passion for such matters, hence my work with the Anne Frank Educational Trust and other organisations dedicated to citizenship and justice. He repeated his strictures against Palestinian broadcasts. I argued that my Palestinian roots were part of my cultural heritage. He said: "Don't you dare do another broadcast!"

I was to deny my culture, my language, my roots -- because of I knew not what, apart from the selective whim of a senior professional who had power over me.

Dr Faysal H Mikdadi

Root causes

Sir- Much discussion has occurred on your Opinion pages as to the "root causes" of the terrorist events of 11 September. One root cause that has not been discussed extensively is the failure of governments to provide social services to their own people. Most notable among governments who have failed their citizens are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Every year, Egypt graduates thousands of citizens from universities, medical schools, and law schools who have no employment prospects and have nothing better to do than join Islamic Jihad. In the meantime, your government squanders the $2 billion of annual US aid on building up your army for the next war against Israel.

In order to defuse anger against the government, you subject your citizens to a toxic opiate of anti-Jewish propaganda. For $2 billion a year to Egypt, we have received nothing in return except the destruction of our World Trade Center. If we had provided nothing to the government of Egypt, Mohamed Atta would still be living with his parents in downtown Cairo instead of killing Americans. I will lobby my congressmen to place Egypt on the list of nations that sponsor international terrorism.

Herbert Kaine
Berkeley, California

A little introspection

Sir- This letter is prompted by Hassan Nafaa's column "Friends and other enemies" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 18-24 October), but also responds to the general tenor of your newspaper.

Three primary themes have emerged in your paper with regard to the mass murder of Americans. First, the view that Americans are ignorant of Islam, Arabs, and Egypt. Second, the critical need for American introspection. Third, the culpability of America for producing the terror. I will respond briefly to each.

If Americans knew more about the response of the Arab and Islamic world to the acts of terror against the US, they would be vastly more upset than they are now with various governments. For example, if they read your newspaper they would be furious. Americans have no clue how widespread the celebrations were of the acts of terror (e.g., in France). Americans have no idea that the leading theory among Egyptians is that Jews did it and that tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of Muslims believe this grotesque lie. Americans have no idea that one of your frequent columnists intimates that US security services crashed the planes into the buildings. These beliefs demonstrate the depth and debilitating nature of hate. Your columnists rant about purported anti-Arab columnists in the US, but their vituperation and lack of concern for the facts vastly exceeds US columnists'. As I will discuss at the end, Hassan Nafaa's column follows this sad pattern.

Second, introspection is always a good thing. I suggest that it is a good thing for non-Americans as well. I also suggest that it is a logical fallacy to assume that because someone is hated they should change their behaviour. Bigots hate and advocate awful policies. The victims of bigotry are not presumptively evil. Hundreds of Muslims and several non-Muslims (including Sikhs -- proving that ignorance and bigotry are often compatriots) have been harassed in the US following 11 September. No US leader urges them to engage in introspection and consider changing their policies. Our view is that the people being harassed are entitled to our sympathy and protection and that the people terrorising them need to change their policies. I don't think your columnists can even conceive that anti- Americanism could be a form of bigotry. The absence of introspection in too wide a segment of the Egyptian intelligentsia is demonstrated every week by your columnists, who blame the problems of the Arab and Islamic world on the West.

The recurrent theme that the US is responsible for the terror attacks on the US is exemplified by Hassan Nafaa's column. A professor of political science claims that US policy has been guided "exclusively" by two concerns: getting a reliable supply of oil and "promoting the Israeli Zionist enterprise." Yes, oil is a major US and world concern. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has never recovered from the oil price shock caused by the OPEC cartel. Oil makes the US far more interested in being friendly with oil-producing states. Oil is also responsible for a very large portion of the wealth that exists in the Arab world. As the largest consumer of oil and a leader in oil production technology, the US has contributed substantially to the wealth of oil- producing states.

The real issue is Israel. This column takes the standard line of your newspaper: the problem is our "blind, absolute support for Israel." But that claim, no matter how many times you repeat it as a "fact" (not requiring support), is not true. US support for Israel is neither blind nor absolute. Indeed, Egyptians know this better than others, for the US helped stop Israel in 1956 and provided both carrots and sticks to Egypt and Israel to bring about the return of Egyptian lands and the peace treaty. Egypt is vastly better off as a result of that treaty.

If the columnist would actually use his skills at political science and study the Israeli and US political perspectives he would recognise immediately that the US has frequently pressured/ enticed Israel to change its policies to be more favourable to its Arab neighbours. I'm sure you think Barak's offer was inadequate, but think how far Israel's position moved on a Palestinian state and the extent of land to be returned. Do you seriously think that the US had nothing to do with that movement?

The columnist leaves Earth entirely with his conspiracy theories about Saddam and Bin Laden and the US. In the case of Saddam, Nafaa claims that the US used Kuwait as "bait" and Saddam fell into our "trap" by invading Kuwait and annexing it. We supposedly did this to help Israel and destroy Arab unity. In fact, the US helped put together a coalition that was one of the best examples of Arab unity and, for its troubles, Israel got the following triple whammy: Scuds, Palestinian celebrations urging Saddam to use chemical weapons against Israeli civilians, and a prohibition on retaliating against Saddam. No one had to "trap" Saddam. He tried to seize the oil-producing regions of Iran, he seized Kuwait, and he was preparing to seize (or at least extort) Saudi Arabia.

Nafaa, however, is determined to make America the villain, and Saddam the hapless stooge. "It was glaringly obvious that the US turned against Saddam first to protect Israel's security, and then to blackmail the countries of the Gulf." It is so "obvious" that it requires neither analysis nor citation. This is silly stuff. The US turned against Iraq because it invaded Kuwait, not because of Israel. Iraq, not the US, extorted the Gulf States. The column spirals farther into paranoid delusions with the claim that "the US used Saddam to deliver a lethal blow to the Arab world when it seemed on the point of overcoming its long- standing divisions." First, we didn't use Saddam. Second, he is the one who delivered lethal blows to so much of the Arab and Islamic world -- the Shi'ites and Kurds in Iraq, Iranians, Kuwaitis and Saudis.

Third, if the US had not defended Saudi Arabia and liberated Kuwait, and only the US had the power to do so, the results would have been awful for the Arab and Islamic world. Fourth, this is more of the "blame the US for all our problems." The US is not the cause of Arab disunity.

Nafaa compounds these errors when he brings Bin Laden into the equation. Here's the secret US plan as revealed by Nafaa: the US defended Saudi Arabia, which required basing troops there. The US must have known that Bin Laden (a Saudi!) would be enraged that US troops were risking their lives to defend his country. Nafaa puts it this way: Bin Laden "discovered that [the US] had established military bases in his homeland. Feeling deceived and insulted, the Saudi millionaire resumed the jihad, this time turning it against the powers he accuses of defiling the Islamic holy places." Discovered? The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia was broadcast on every network in the world. How was the US supposed to know that our defending Saudi Arabia would be perceived as "deceiving and insulting" by Bin Laden? His view that troops kept many hundreds of miles from Mecca and Medina "defiled" the holy places attests to his bigotry, but to suggest that we defended Saudi Arabia with one of our goals being to stir up terrorism by Bin Laden is again silly.

My concern is not Nafaa; my concern is his students who are being taught fantastic, bigoted conspiracy theories as if they were political science (or worse, law -- consider Nafaa's bizarre claim that the US cannot claim the right to self-defence under the UN charter because foreign nationals killed over 5,000 Americans in the US using American planes). When students are taught to believe absurdities the world suffers.

William K Black
Assistant professor
University of Texas at Austin
LBJ School of Public Affairs

Putting out the word

Sir- I first came across your newspaper a few days ago, after coming to the conclusion that I needed to find out a lot more about the Arab world, and also concluding that the newspapers in the West are hopelessly inaccurate in their portrayal of it -- in most English-language newspapers in the West, "Palestinian" has become practically synonymous with "terrorist"! Consequently, we don't see much of the reality of what is happening in Palestine, and the Jerusalem Post, for example, lacks journalistic integrity, in the same way that a perfect vacuum lacks oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc.

Keep it up! Would it be possible to put the Intifada files out, and grant readers the right to copy them to their own computers? I am thinking, the Christchurch press probably needs this information, because it is currently lacking in journalistic integrity as well. The point is that the media have avoided noticing that the Palestinians have a point of view just as valid as that of the Israelis, as far as common humanity goes, and an even more valid one as far as truth goes. But someone overseas is very easy to ignore, whereas a freelance redistributor on the doorstep may not be so easily ignored.

Wesley Parish
New Zealand

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