The world press on the Muslim-bashing U.S. general

Guardian: "Scratch a neo-con and you find an Arabophobe."

Published October 21, 2003 8:54PM (EDT)

United Arab Emirates, editorial in the Gulf News

It should not come as a surprise if many in the Islamic world of 1.3 billion hold to the conviction that the current U.S.-led war against terrorism is one that is being waged against Islam. For them, statements given by American officials stand as a glaring proof.

Repeatedly, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lieutenant General William G. Boykin described such a war with religious overtones. ...Boykin once said of his dealings with a Muslim fighter in Somalia: "My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

Despite Boykin's apology for his recent remarks, the official reaction only inflamed the issue further. When asked about Boykin's comments, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "We're a free people. And that's the wonderful thing about our country."

To many Muslims, such statements could only add insult to injury and confirm the belief that a war is indeed being fought against Islam. It also highlights the West's double standards, in light of the criticism received by Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammed for his comments on Jews in his opening statement at the Organization of Islamic Conference, which according to Malaysian officials were misunderstood. After all, it was Mahathir who earlier this month called on Muslims to embrace the values of 'peace, friendship, brotherhood, and tolerance of people'.

No doubt, the state of the world today demands that such principles be put into practice, especially in dealings between the West and the Islamic world. Inciting and confrontational comments such as those given by some in the West against Islam, are guaranteed to allow extremism to survive and indeed flourish.

Hong Kong, Ehsan Ahrari in Asia Times

The man in charge of hunting down Osama bin Laden has bin Laden's exact frame of reference regarding the "enemies" of his religion, and about the mega-conflict that has intensified since 9/11. That man's name is William "Jerry" Boykin ...

As an evangelical Christian, Boykin believes -- according to a statement that he made to a religious audience -- that radical Islamists hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan". Bin Laden made very similar statements describing why the U.S. "hates" Islam, and why Muslims should cooperate with him in his fight against the "super-Infidel". Bin Laden regularly couches the current conflict as being between Islam and the "Judeo-Christian" West.

Boykin has dropped other pearls of wisdom as well. Discussing the US military entanglement with one of Somalia's warlords, Osman Atto, in the early 1990s, he described it to a religious audience as a contest between two gods, and added, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." ...

What is bizarre is that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on October 16, dismissed Boykin's religious drivel as his exercise of freedom of expression in a democracy. But wait a minute. Boykin also represents the U.S. government abroad. In that capacity, is he also expressing the real views of the Bush administration? I am sure Rumsfeld would hasten to say no, but that question is already being asked in the Muslim world: "Whose god is real, and whose god is bigger?" Bin Laden has been answering those questions all along. His answers are very similar to the utterances made by Boykin. Or, is it the other way around?

United Kingdom, Neil Clark in the Guardian

First, they tried to dismiss Iraqi resistance as the work of "Saddam loyalists". Then they sought to blame "outside forces". Now, as it becomes clear that Iraqis of all sects oppose the occupation, a third explanation has arisen. Terrorism, anarchy and criminality are prevalent in Iraq because ... er ... terrorism, anarchy and criminality are what Iraqis do.

Arabophobia has been part of western culture since the Crusades, with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden only the latest in a long line of Arab bogeymen. For centuries the Arab has played the role of villain, seducer of our women, hustler and thief -- the barbarian lurking at the gates of civilisation.

In the 20th century new images emerged: the fanatical terrorist, the stone-thrower, the suicide bomber. Now, as the Project for a New American Century suffers its first major setback in the back streets of Baghdad and Basra, Arabophobia has been given a new lease of life. "I read T.E. Lawrence before I came here," a British officer was quoted in the Mail on Sunday. "A century ago he recognised dishonesty was inherent in Arab society. Today is the same. They do nothing for love and nothing at all if they can help it."

The attitudes of the officer, shocking though they are, only mirror those of the people who sent him to war. Scratch a neo-con and you find an Arabophobe. Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, has berated Arabs on the "need to change their behaviour" ... And the veteran foreign policy hawk Richard Perle, when asked about the fears Egyptians had of the Iraq war provoking an Arab backlash, replied: "Egyptians can barely govern their own country, we don't need advice on how to govern ours."

Issues of mendacity have, of course, been a major theme in international events this year. The British public had to decide who was telling the truth: Tony Blair, with his claim that Iraq posed "a very real threat to Britain", or Saddam, with his repeated denials. The neo-cons knew that their case for war was painfully thin. But they banked on Arabophobia -- stoked by their allies in the media -- to do the rest: Tony, the white, middle-class churchgoer, or Saddam, the swarthy Arab? For many, there was no contest. Of course, Saddam couldn't possibly be telling the truth about not possessing WMD. He's an Arab. Arabs lie. We know this from T.E. Lawrence.

Canada, Tami Zer and Sjifra Herschberg in Maclean's

Arna Mer, the daughter of Gideon Mer, a distinguished Jewish professor of medicine, was one of the first Israelis to ignore parental warnings when she married Saliva Khamis, an Arab and one of the leaders of the Israeli Communist Party, in the 1950s. They were wed in a Catholic church by a priest who was drunk at the time. But Mer wouldn't realize how deep the divisions ran until 1958, when she joined a protest against the imposition of martial law on Arab villages in Israel. Mer was pregnant with her son Juliano, and went into labour. She was rushed to the hospital, "but the doctors refused to stitch her and she nearly bled to death," says her son, Juliano Mer-Khamis, 45, a well-known actor living in Haifa. "They knew she was married to an Arab. I experienced this racial lunacy from the day I was born." As he grew up, Mer-Khamis says, he constantly asked himself: "Do I hate Arabs and love Jews or do I love Arabs and hate Jews?" That question was on his mind when he met the parents of a Jewish girlfriend. "I was sitting with her translating an Arabic movie," he recalls. "Her father walked into the room. I eluded his questions, but he researched about me and forced her to leave me."

To compensate, Mer-Khamis for a time adopted his Jewish maternal name and joined an elite fighting unit of the Israeli army. "For a whole year my father wouldn't talk to me. He simply kept silent," he says. But he soon had to face his Arab heritage. The confrontation came in 1978 when he was stationed at the West Bank town of Jenin and a car arrived with three young passengers and their grandfather. When he refused an order to remove the old man from the car, he ended up in a fight with his commander and was imprisoned for a few weeks and left the army. "It was then that I realized," he says, "that I don't belong on the Jewish side." ...

Sometimes the struggle is so painful children grow up hating their parents for marrying outside their race. Suad is one of those: walking on a beach at Tel Aviv, the 30-year-old woman admits that she once became so angry, "I imagined taking a knife and killing my mother." Her father was Arab and mother Jewish; Suad is beautiful with long black hair. As two boys on the beach stare, she looks down, saying bitterly, "If they knew, they wouldn't be wasting their gazes on me." Suad believes her parents should never have wed. "My only consolation," she says, "is that I was born out of love."

Egypt, Nyier Abdou in Al-Ahram Weekly

Muslims and Arab-Americans in the U.S. military are in the spotlight following the recent arrests of two servicemen and one civilian translator working at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ... The arrests of Muslim military chaplain Youssef Yee, a convert to Islam, and translators Senior Airman Ahmed Al-Halabi and Ahmed Mehalba, both born in the Middle East, turn attention back to the U.S.'s contentious detention centre, where prisoners identified by the Pentagon as "enemy combatants" are kept incommunicado.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has insisted that Muslims and Arab- Americans in the military will not be "racially profiled" as the military tightens the screws on Camp Delta, however, it seems impossible that an internal revue of security concerns would not focus on those with ties to the Middle East -- something all three suspects share ...

Above the issue of how the military looks on its Muslim and Arab members, however, the widely covered cases of Yee, Al-Halabi and Mehalba could cement a lingering association in the collective American consciousness between Muslim and Arab-Americans and terrorism. In many ways, the arrests pose another setback for the image of Muslim and Arab-Americans.

Although Yee has only been charged with disobeying orders, the fact that he is a serving military officer and a graduate of West Point Military Academy makes his case particularly problematic, says ADC's Hussein Ibish. "It compounds the impression that being a Muslim in and of itself invites disloyalty to the United States under the current circumstances," he said.

Conceding that "there are many racist voices who have and will continue to frame these arrests in precisely this manner," Ibish also warns against looking at recent events in any "conspiratorial terms". The association between Muslim and Arab-Americans and terrorism, he notes, is unfortunately reinforced not so much by recent events, but by the continued reality of al-Qaida, "and the fact that it and its politics, or similar politics, are not without support in some parts of the Arab and Muslim world."

Nigeria, Abdulrazaq Magaji in the Daily Trust

Who cares if Washington is getting worried over the number of body bags coming out of Iraq since the end of hostilities last May? Sincerely, I don't. And why should I care? I am neither an Iraqi nor an American. I am a Nigerian, yes a Muslim. Aha, I can almost hear you say my position is informed by my religious beliefs ... I am not laughing at the misfortune of the dead Americans, and I am not crying either. Why should I? Who cried for the innocent Iraqi children and their harmless parents when the Americans rained bombs on them? Did the Americans think they were just shooting another of their Hollywood films? No! People were being killed. And some of those killed probably did not agree with Saddam Hussein and would have willingly sided with the Americans if somebody in Washington was not doctoring reports to justify a needless war.

Now, come to think of it, what makes war so appealing when there is a peaceful alternative? Why must thousands die simply because somebody in Washington does not like the face of a man in Baghdad? ...

In getting only one man, Saddam Hussein, out of the way, President Bush, the father, and President Bush, the son, must have killed close to one million Iraqis and permanently deformed many others. For others yet, the sorrow and agony of living with the tragic memories of loved ones are enough to melt a heart made of steel. Who cares for these innocent people? Certainly, not the murderers in Washington and not the misguided American troops bombing and shooting in the name of defending some foolish American interests. So why should I care for American lives if nobody cares for the lives of their victims? ...

Please don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the average American. Some of my long-standing friends are white Americans. I have benefited from the large-heartedness of Americans and the American society. But there is something odious about a policy which encourages killing innocent people in order to control their national wealth.

Israel, Daniel Ben Simon in Haaretz

Laurent Levy, a sworn liberal and a total atheist, noticed dramatic changes in his two daughters, but he did not attribute much importance to them. One day, about two years ago, the two girls stopped eating pork. "No problem," he said. A while later, they informed him that they intended to fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Levy thought it the most natural thing in the world that his daughters were adopting the religious customs of his former wife. Although she is a Muslim and he is a Jew, during their life together they never allowed their religious affiliations to stand in their way ... When Levy's daughters -- Lila, 19, and Alma, 16 -- told him that they were going to fast for the entire month of Ramadan, he did not stand in their way ...

A while later the sisters informed him of their intention to pray five times a day, as commanded by the Koran. There is no reason why they shouldn't do this, thought the father. Then they stopped going to the beach and wearing bathing suits, and even stopped using the family swimming pool during vacations. At night the two sat and learned chapters of the Koran by heart. Friends in the neighborhood and at school were amazed by the change in the two cheerful young women. Gradually they began to wrap themselves in long clothing, even in the summer, and covered their legs with thick stockings ...

Quickly the two sisters became a phenomenon. Even in Aubervilliers, the northern Paris suburb where they live, eyebrows were raised. In recent years this suburb has been taken over by Muslim immigrants from North Africa, and Parisians have moved away.

It is not only Islam that scares the French, but also any religion that lifts its head and threatens to blur the secular outlines of the Republic. Studies show that only one out of 20 French citizens sees himself as connected to religion, the lowest proportion in all of Europe ... The question that is being asked today is how to stop the spread of Islam.

Lebanon, Abdulwahab Badrakhan in Al-Hayat

The electoral battle that Bush will be fighting in the coming months will try to invest the Americans' fears and the results of both wars on terror and on Iraq. As for the radical and resentful gang surrounding the president, this battle represents a golden opportunity to test how strong the conservative rightist movement is, as well as how widespread and influential it is over the American society. In other words, Bush's victory and stay at the White House would mean to the hawks that the change they had operated on the administration's work has also taken over the voters' minds who, if they elect Bush again, would be giving a green light for further adventures abroad; they would also express their acceptance of the idea according to which controlling security necessarily requires restricting civil freedoms.

The Democrat candidates do not seem to have reached a plan that draws a limit between fighting terror and respecting freedoms. During their meeting with American-Arab representatives in Dearborn, none of them was able to suggest one single interesting idea, not only regarding the Arabs who are also Americans like others, but also for Americans in general. If Bush is not counting on the Arab vote to support him like last time, he is relying on the Jewish vote, which he has for granted this time. However, there is a great difference between both votes, as Jews are organized and united, not to mention that they have an efficient financing network, whereas the Arabs are divided and are a hopeless case in terms of getting organized and united ... Still, the Democrats are trying to gain the Arabs' support by making as many balanced speeches as possible. Joseph Lieberman, a Jewish candidate, went to the Arab conference, however, in Dearborn for an opposite purpose, as he defied the Arab anger by slamming the Palestinian terrorism and defending the Israelis' right to defend themselves, lauding the separation wall. The Arab vote is left with two bad choices, even if it is capable of making a difference. It would be hard to choose between them, unless they opt for changing the current administration that has gone too far in its radicalism.

The Philippines, Conrado de Quiros in Inq7

I don't know how anybody can sleep nights knowing the future of the planet is in the hands of someone who says, "I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe -- I believe what I believe is right." ...

Well, Bush himself admits the problem in another Bushism he regaled an interviewer with on Air Force One in June this year: "I'm not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things." Doubtless meant to suggest he is spontaneous, his unintended meaning better catches his true character, such as he has one ...

You suspect that Bush finds it the easiest thing in the world to embark on reckless adventurism because he really believes the U.N. is an extension of the American legislature, Latin American populations are predominantly white, the slaves from Africa contributed to American progress because of their love for freedom, the Middle East is somewhere out there, probably in Africa, suicide bombers are primitive cavemen who have no beliefs, the French have no word for entrepreneur and need to be educated, other cultures are inferior to the American one ...

This was the fellow we greeted with much fanfare the other day, whose path we literally cleared of human flotsam and debris, whose presence we took to be a favor granted to us, whose utterances we clung on to like pearls of wisdom. We have a saying that a man who takes a fool seriously is an even bigger fool. But how call a whole nation that does so?

Ah, but we always misunderestimate ourselves.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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