Bogey of Al Qaeda in South Africa :: Scurrilous scare campaign to demonise Muslim opposition to Israel ::

It is astonishing to read shoddy analysis of immensely significant issues by academics who invariably betray their own biases instead of providing any meaningful evaluation.

Larry Benjamin’s attempt to scare the daylights out of South Africans by raising fear and alarm about an al-Qaeda presence in this country, fits neatly into the above paradigm. "Al Qaeda’s strategy" [Sowetan June 1].

I am pretty certain that the renowned intellectual and literary genius, the late Edward Said would have characterised Benjamin’s piece as an interpretation of political and cultural actualities shaped not by facts but by unexamined presuppositions.

By juxtapositioning Egyptian president Hosni Mubaruk’s warning that a war in Iraq would spawn "a hundred new Osama bin Ladens" alongside the Bush administration’s insistence that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would be "a precursor to a new and democratic future for the beleaguered country", Benjamin vainly attempts to suggest that the US campaign is a noble one, deserving of support in order to neutralise "Islamic extremists hell bent on exporting their ideology to neighbouring states".

His robust anti-Islamic views are quite revealing. And so too is his choice of vocabulary used to demean Muslims: "Islamic extremists"; "hell bent"; "jihadists"; "battlefield"; "Great Satan". These negative adjectives invoke images of violence-prone terrorists – invariably Muslim, and therefore ideally qualified as legitimate targets for the US "war on terror". No point losing any sleep over their human rights being severely violated since they are "jihadists", and they all necessarily must belong to a "worldwide network" of Al Qaeda!

As his diatribe is resplendent material for a Hollywood movie that would thrive on stereotype and xenophobia, I am amazed that Benjamin has not traded his position as lecturer in International Relations at Wits for one as a script-writer in tinsel town.

In his study on the damage caused by cliches about Islam in the media, policy journals and academia, Zachary Karabell [World Policy Journal, Summer 1995] explores the unmitigated hatred of Islam spawned thereby. For example, he discloses how a wave of full-length feature films has as its villains classic Arab terrorists, complete with glinty eyes and a passionate desire to kill Americans. And usually for the American hero to justify killing them, these films follow a pattern which first demonise and then dehumanise Muslims. As in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, the "terrorists" are represented as evil, violent and above all, eminently killable.

It is doubtful whether one will ever read any substantive material lacking pro-Israeli bias by Benjamin. While hardline establishment papers such as the New York Times have recognised the imperative to apologise for misleading public opinion by placing blind faith in the infallibility of faceless intelligence sources in support of the illegal invasion of Iraq, Benjamin obviously has no such misgivings.

Even the BBC’s Alan Johnston has been able to inject appropriate depth in describing Israeli carnage in the Gaza. His footage of an old woman alongside the rubble which was her modest home and her painful words wherein she laments the fact that "they kill our sons and drive us out of our homes – and they call us terrorists?" is the only real commentary on the tragic reality facing masses of Arabs in that region.

Yet Benjamin’s analysis fails to scratch beneath the surface. In his simplistic and crude opinion, he conveniently ignores a well recognised truism: the US goes beyond simply accepting illegitimate governments such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan etc., and brutally opposes the forces which support legitimacy!

To the Americans, the corrupt leaderships of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan offer stability and more importantly security for Israel. According to Said K Aburish in his "A Brutal Friendship", in this context "stability" means governments which behave in a predictable manner and ones whose systems preclude the emergence of forces that are opposed to the West or wish to deal with it on an equal basis.

Does Benjamin not recognise that unelected leaders such as Mubaruk, Abdullah, Fahd and Musharraf of Pakistan suppress their people to stay in power?

Does he not give any credence to the overwhelming view that these surrogates use their control of their countries to provide a stability which serves American/Israeli political and economical interests?

The sum total of Larry Benjamin’s puerile analysis can be seen as nothing more than an effort to mobilise passions against a new phantom: Al Qaeda.