The world will never be the same after September 11. That is perhaps the only certain statement being repeated around the globe since that dreadful day when four airplanes were hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Center Towers in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a rural Pennsylvania. Everything besides that can be divided into two categories, allegations, which the world has yet to know whether they are credible, and venomous anti-Arab and anti-Muslim propaganda spewed on just about every news media outlet in the world.
The global human tragedy that we witnessed in shock on that Tuesday has been compounded by rightwing, anti-Arab propaganda that threatens to pollute intercultural relations for years, if not decades to come. The American Administration has announced, through its President, that Osama Ben Laden is now wanted “dead or alive”, just like in the “good old Wild West” days. American media, spreading its news and often-racist biases throughout the world, is now informing its shocked and quite terrified viewers and readers that “Islamic fanaticism” is to blame for their collective tragedy. “Terrorism”, an ever so evasive and gray a word, will now be blamed for all the woes of the “free west”. This old-new monster is now threatening “freedom” or better yet “civilization” and so these “evil doers” must be “smoked out of their holes” and then promptly “brought to justice”.
Yet, in a free and democratic society that respects human dignity, a defendant is innocent till proven otherwise. Exceptions seem to be in place for “terrorism” though, especially when they are Arab, or Muslim, particularly if these defendants are accused of attacking the sole superpower in today’s world.
Back in the Middle East, the current rightwing Israeli government seized what it believed to be a golden opportunity to attack, with revolting barbarity, various Palestinian cities, towns, villages, and refugee camps. Ariel Sharon believed that the world would be too busy to restrain his bloodstained hands from butchering even more innocent Palestinian civilians, with the events in the United States attracting everyone’s attention.
With that in mind, on the eve of September 11, Ariel Sharon sent hundreds of Israeli occupation forces into Jenin City. Tens of tanks and armored jeeps accompanied by a number of helicopters rumbled into the north West Bank City and two of its surrounding villages as well as the refugee camp in the area. The result of that premeditated attack was the slaughter of nine Palestinian civilians and the injury of 87 others, 15 of whom were critically injured. The following day, Israeli helicopters attacked an apartment building in Tammun village on the outskirts of the City, killing 9 year-old Balqis Al-A’rdheh, 19 year-old Wa’el A’ssaf, and 25 year-old Ahmad Doqqah.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), Israeli occupation forces prohibited medical crews from transporting wounded civilians in Jenin City to hospitals and detained some of them.
Careful, these cold-blooded murders received barely any news coverage. Then Arab cameras and news crews, who still had time to follow Ariel Sharon’s bloody path, were the visitors to the tens of Palestinian funerals in Jenin.
Until 16 September, Israeli occupation forces carried out violent attacks against Jericho, Hebron, Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip. The result was twenty-seven Palestinian deaths and at least two hundred injuries. More horrifying yet, these deaths were perpetrated in the shadows of the terrorist attacks against American and under the racist pretext that the West, especially the United States, now condemns all Arabs as “terrorists”. Unfortunately, Israeli estimates may after all be right, for no words of condemnations or reproach were uttered about Israel’s many offensives since that damned Tuesday morning.
Instead, Ariel Sharon and his fellow rightwing Cabinet members have been allowed to spew their venom in front of virtually every camera, microphone, and journalist in the globe. The world listened to Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials race to stress that President Arafat is “Israel’s Ben Laden”, making the revoltingly racist comparison almost part of the new media lexicon. Of course, such absurdity does not bother President Arafat and the Palestinian People, especially when it’s uttered by the Middle East’s most notorious war criminal.
What is bothersome however is the fact that some media agencies and outlets have been irresponsible enough to provide Ariel Sharon and other Israeli rightwing fanatics a platform from which to incite for mindless brutality against All Arabs and Muslims, particularly the Palestinians. These agencies have not been able to discern yet that what they report and who they host shapes public opinion and can incite many to commit heinous hate crimes, as has already occurred in the United States against Arab Americans, including two murders so far.
After the terrorist attack on the United States, various commentators in the United States went to great lengths to expose the unimaginably despicable hatred they harbor towards Arabs and Muslims. On 17 September, Zev Chafets, a New York Newsday columnist went as far as proposing that the United States use nuclear weapons against Syria, Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. He also had the audacity to call for the occupation of these countries, the destruction of their governments and the installation of puppet governments that would serve the interests and copy the values of the “democratic and free world”.
“After the war the U.S. and its allies will be obliged to run the Middle East for a while in the same way they occupied and governed Germany and Japan after World War II. That occupation can end when the Islamic Axis countries accept, as Germany and Japan accepted, the basic rules of democratic government and international behavior”, Mr. Chafets purports. He then goes on to charge, “If political Islam is inherently aggressive and hostile, then in the age of weapons of mass destruction, Islamic governments can’t be left to their own devices in the name of political correctness”. The Newsday advocate of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments then concludes by disregarding the argument that adopting such a plan would only cause Arabs to bear bitterness and anger towards the United States. His answer was simply, “who cares”.
What struck the United States on 11 September was an overwhelmingly dark force of violence. As the Peoples of the Middle East, they know all too well how that feels, not because they spend their days and nights planning for such monstrous attacks. Rather, because they have been the victims of such atrocities for much of the past one hundred years. The reported anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is not born with Arab children. It is forced on them by countless acts of cruelty that the United States funds and often instigates against them.
It escapes the intelligent mind however, why very few media organizations have dared to investigate who else could have carried out these attacks and whose interests did they really serve. It certainly didn’t serve any Arab or Muslim People. Why didn’t the major American news organizations report of the five Israeli citizens who were arrested on the day of the attack in new York after they were caught dancing with joy as they filmed the World Trade Center Towers come crushing down to the ground?
The international public, especially the American public, must bear in mind that whoever orchestrated and ordered these massacres does not represent his/their entire People(s). In fact, one must keep in mind that the perpetrator of this crime might have very well planed for the world to turn its anger on anything and anyone Muslim and Arab. After all, the sole beneficiaries of the terrorist attack so far seem to those forces that jump at every opportunity to instill racism against Arabs and Muslims.
To combat the dark force(s) that struck against the United States on September 11, the world must be prepared to unite and fight it with overwhelming light. No leader can deny that there is an abundance of embittered Peoples throughout the developing world who have been blinded by decades of pain, poverty, and oppression. These groups see in the United States, leader of the “free world”, the cause of all their deeply felt and lived woes. Not because they hate freedom but rather because at any given point in history, this superpower has supported a number of authoritarian and corrupt regimes solely because they serve American interests. Peoples in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Iraq, Palestine, and countless others have not healed from the scars that American foreign policy has brought upon them. They love freedom and yearn for a life of dignity and pride, not submission and obscene human rights violations. They certainly can not all be ridden off as “evil doers”.
Fighting this dark force of blind violence and mass murder, the “free world” must be prepared to spread the blessed light of freedom to the rest of the world. It must be ready to confront the fact that an oppressed nation will always be an angry nation that is driven only by its desire to break free from the humiliating chains of oppression, whether this oppression takes the form of a foreign occupation or economic and political submission.
In the Middle East, the People of Palestine yearn for a day in which they would finally experience freedom instead of being subjected to state-terrorism and oppression. They long for a season where rain can fall on their crops rather than American-made and financed missiles, tank shells, and bullets. Equally, they long for a day when the United States would finally stop monopolizing this “freedom” and come to terms with the fact that Israel’s brutal military occupation is no longer acceptable. They have prayed for the world that claims to be “free” to realize that Palestinians and other oppressed peoples also love freedom and yearn for it.
A free nation is a nation that worries about prosperity and development, not bitterness and historical wrongs that have been done against it. Now is not the time to darken the world further with the ugliness of war and bloodshed. It is time to realize that the light of freedom is not the privilege of the few. It is time to realize that uprooting the darkness that caused the terrorist attack will only happen if it is fought with light, the light of freedom. Darkness prevails when freedom’s light is denied access. Now is the time for the “free world” to allow this light access to all those who have been denied freedom for far too long. The People of Palestine, the land of peace and light, have dreamt and prayed for such a historical time for decades.
Nour Odeh is Communication Director of Palestine Media Center.