The other side of the coin

Washington The failure of the perpetrators of America’s worst peacetime tragedy to reveal their intentions, as is often the case with similar events, has touched off a mad race by supporters of Israel here to unlink the tragedy in New York and Washington from the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Arab Americans and American Muslims continue to be shielded by US officials and leading media outlets here, despite the large number of incidents – now slightly more than 600 – against members of the two communities. On the other hand, Arabs and Muslims are continuously subjected to harsh and irrational criticism, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, although the two US allies have condemned the atrocities, and Saudi Arabia has severed its ties with the Taleban, rulers of Afghanistan.

Former US ambassador Richard Holbrooke expressed, in a CNN interview, his disappointment with the Egyptian government’s failure to fully jump on the American bandwagon. Saudi Arabia’s cautious approach, particularly its alleged reluctance to grant bases to the US military for its mission against Afghanistan, has raised many an eyebrow.

Martin Indyk, former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and until recently US ambassador to Israel, wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times that the Saudis must “set the standard throughout the Gulf by ending private funding of extremism through Muslim charities.”

He added: “Politics in the Gulf have long been conducted in the shadows. We can find ways to take advantage of this reality as we insist that these nations no longer ignore or sponsor terrorism while we pay the price in American lives.”

Even the United Arab Emirates has not escaped criticism. Under the headline “Search for Accomplices Moves to UAE,” the paper said US investigators are finding new evidence that the UAE “served as a financial and logistical transit point in the hijacking plot.”

In the meantime, Israel’s friends here have been working overtime to divert America’s attention from the long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict as the root cause of the anti-Americanism rampant among Arabs and Muslims everywhere, as is now being reported by some key American papers, like the Chicago Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor.

Pro-Israel US congressmen, in the words of the New York Jewish paper, Forward, have meanwhile “savaged efforts by the (Bush) administration and its defenders to present Arab Israeli negotiations as a linchpin in the looming war against Osama Ben Laden”, the Saudi renegade and alleged mastermind of the horrific events here which cost the lives of some 7,000 Americans and others from some 80 nations.

The pro-Israel pundits were equally ferocious. Robert Satloff, executive director of the influential Washington Institute on Near East Policy, told a recent briefing that Secretary of State Colin Powell “misspoke – one hopes, inadvertently so”, when he implicitly mixed “the war against terror with the morass of Arab-Israeli politics.”

Amazingly, Satloff insisted that there is no connection between the Sept. 11 terror, the Arab-Israeli conflict and US policy in the Middle East. He argued: “It would be a mistake to draw any link between their actions and the failure of Arab-Israeli diplomacy, including the now-one-year-old Palestinian uprising. It would be an even more grievous error to believe that these mass murderers were somehow legitimate in their aims, if horribly misguided.”

Serge Schmemann, writing in the New York Times, last week disputed “the popular notion that if only Washington could forge a peace between Israel and all the Arabs in and around it – or if Israel ceased to exist – anti-Americanism would wane in the Middle East.” He continued that the “inferno in Lower Manhattan left no doubt that the scale and roots of the hatred, in a region rife with poverty, despotism and corruption, go far beyond the Jewish state.”

Another Times columnist, William Safire, a diehard supporter of Israel, urged the US to begin “identifying its anti-terrorist cause with that of mainstream Muslims around the world (and) work with our Islamic allies to form a Muslim legion.” But his Muslims of choice were the Kurds and the Turks.

Writing on the same day, David Makovsky, an Israeli journalist and at present a fellow at the Washington Institute, echoed the same theme as Safire’s; neither saw any link to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In an op-ed piece for The Baltimore Sun, he maintained that dealing with Islamic clerics in halting violence is as important as dealing with them in attaining peace.

“An international political coalition against terrorism must be matched by a religious coalition inside the Middle East of mainstream Islamic clerics who disavow a twisted ideology that claims to speak in the name of Islam.” But this other side of the coin may not be gaining much credence in a reawakened America, as evident in these two press accounts.

A lengthy piece in The Christian Science Monitor noted that there is “a great deal of popular sympathy” to Ben Laden’s themes, particularly “the injustice to the Palestinians (and) the cruelty of continued sanctions against Iraq.”

The Chicago Tribune underlined that “the hatred of the United States pervades parts of the Arab and wider Islamic world … (and) has been building for several decades (and) reflects primarily anger over a perceived anti-Arab bias in US foreign policy.” Specifically, the hatred was attributable to the “unbending (American) support for Israel” and the sanctions against Iraq that have inflicted huge suffering on Iraq’s civilian population.