On a day when much of the world media reverberated with President Bush's statement that "he was sorry for the humiliations suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," Dr. As'ad AbuKhalil, an expert on Arab media at California State University at Stanislaus, says Bush's words are likely to ring hollow across much of the Middle East. Major media outlets from the region such as Al Jazeera (available in the U.S. by satellite), he says, are in fact downplaying Bush's apology, as well as the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.
"What Al Jazeera is covering right now is the car bombs in Baghdad, the fighting in Najaf, and events in Palestine. It's not about Bush's apology," he told Salon in a phone interview. AbuKhalil says he thinks one reason stations like Al Jazeera may not be blaring the images 24/7 right now is due to intense pressure from the U.S. and its allied Arab governments to refrain from flaunting the incendiary material. Whether or not Al Jazeera and others have been temporarily reined in, Bush's apology, he adds, comes up short anyway: "It's a passive apology -- like the [infamous Nixonian] line that 'mistakes were made'."
AbuKhalil believes that the administration's lastest move to calm world opinion will fail, because ultimately it will come off in the Arab world as little more than empty rhetoric. "Bush saying 'I'm sorry' plays very well in Arizona and Oklahoma; it just doesn't do it for Arab public opinion. This is the arrogance of empire. They think that 'if only we can refine our message,' if only we can put Bush on TV, then our problems will be solved.
"The main thing is that Arabs are deeply offended when the United States government tries to improve its image by better communication, and not by dropping less bombs and missiles on their heads. It's a common misassumption that Arabs need Al Jazeera to be anti-American. Arabs are already more anti-American than Al Jazeera."
AbuKhalil points to the growing circulation on the Web of doctored photos depicting shocking acts of abuse by U.S. soldiers, as another measure of the gravity of the torture scandal. "People are sending me pictures that are faked. The real pictures are so shocking already that any outrageous pornographic pictures are now believed to be real," he says. "Some militant groups are creating images to further inflame the situation. These pictures are circulating wildly in the Middle East. I put up a notice on my Web site saying that I don't want them. But they are being believed."