Arab commentators on Bush’s Middle East policies
COMMENTARY | August 30, 2006
The phrase ‘Islamic fascists’ draws rebukes. Says one writer: ‘Bush has no idea about Islam; he is unable to make the imaginative leap that would enable him to understand what Islam means, how it is practiced or why it is of such vital importance to people all over the world’
By John Burke
Ideology and rhetoric. The Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East, according to several columnists from the region, can be boiled down to these two encompassing words. Ideology in that segments of the American religious-right and neocons are out to destroy Islam. Rhetoric in the simple terminology Bush and friends use to bundle the region’s conflicts into one big war on terror.
For these columnists, the war in Lebanon only exacerbated what they view as Bush’s extremism. Unwavering American support of Israel was reinforced by the actions of Hezbollah, which in turn gave neocons further excuse to rant about the evils of Syria and Iran for funding and arming it.
They feel that Bush has perhaps gone too far. Rhetorically he and his supporters have pushed the boundaries of decency with phrases such as “Islamo-fascism” which in turn have contributed, along with the Iraqi debacle and support for the much-criticized Israeli bombing raids, to further skepticism of the neocon plan to spread freedom and democracy.
And because Bush has gone too far in this view, the already wounded reputation of the United States on the global playing field has suffered even more:
For columnist Abeer Mishkhas, a contributor to “Arab View,” the black and white manner in which Bush views the Middle East proves that he has little understanding about the reality of the distinct conflicts in the region. For political purposes, it is easier to portray the various situations as a “Fight Between Good and Evil: A Simplistic World Order”:
“When President Bush spoke after the cease-fire in Lebanon, he made it clear which side he was on. Nobody had really been unsure about his feelings but in a public address at the end of a month-long savage and bloody war, one expected a more balanced view of events…
“In his speech, Bush put Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents, along with Hamas, in one basket. A basket that he made sure, by the way, was enlarged to include the accused plotters of the U.K. plane bombings as well. He was generous enough to apply to them the label ‘Islamic fascists.’
“How, I wonder, is Hamas linked to the Iraqi insurgents or the London plotters? In George Bush’s mind, the answer is simple: They are all in the same basket because they are all Muslims.
“Of course with his usual logic — or lack of it — he said that those people hate ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘Western values.’ This is old stuff and is as false today as it was when he first said it a few years ago. What is being hated is inconsistency, double standards and failure to live up to one’s professed ideals. Regardless of what Bush or anyone else says, there has to be a distinction between the elements in his political basket.
“For starters: Al-Qaeda hates American policies; the Iraqi insurgents hate the occupation of their country and have their own agendas that they are following. Hamas was legally elected in a democratic election and Hezbollah, even if you don’t agree with it, made it their job to get the Israelis out of Lebanon. Now are we really to believe that all those people from different backgrounds, with different agendas, are all united by their hatred of America and its freedom?
“Interestingly, Bush referred to both Iraq and Lebanon as the two democratic countries in the Middle East. They are also two destroyed countries in the Middle East. Did democracy play any part in their destruction? And if so, what is there to rejoice about?
“According to…Bush, the conflict is a “straight fight between good and evil.”
“Something familiar there — the catchphrases and words, the simple child-like logic, the inability to think and reason. Just trot out the same old words — good, evil, freedom, democracy, war on terror. The list is not new, recycled over and over, whatever the circumstances, whatever the situation, whatever the tragedy.”
An inquiry from an Italian colleague about the political leanings of Islam led the Editor-in-Chief of English language Saudi paper Arab News, Khaled Al Maeena, to react to the impetus of the question: George Bush and his use of the phrase “Islamic fascists.” Al Maeena concludes that “Bush Will Never Get It”:
“…Bush has no idea about Islam; he is unable to make the imaginative leap that would enable him to understand what Islam means, how it is practiced or why it is of such vital importance to people all over the world…
“…Let’s start from the beginning. Mr. Bush used the word ‘crusade’ in the terrible confusion after Sept. 11, 2001. What Mr. Bush knew about the Crusades and how they are viewed — rightly or wrongly — in the Middle East is another matter but his use of the word was widely criticized in the Western press. Obviously somebody knew something that Mr. Bush did not. And then there was Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Bush’s born-again Christian attorney general. He made the most ridiculous and absurd statement about Islam — that it was a religion in which God required you to send your son to die for Him. Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of Islam would have known that statement was completely false. And then we had Lt. Gen. William Boykin of the U.S. Army who, while in uniform, made public statements about Islam, which outraged both Muslims and non-Muslims all over the country. The list goes on so I am not in the least surprised that Mr. Bush should have now got himself a place on it…
“…There is, however, another major problem — those in the Republican Party with ideological and political connections with Israel. For example, the person who coined the oft-used and oft-condemned phrase ‘Axis of Evil’ was a strong supporter of Israel. Many in the US administration share the same beliefs. And this is according to U.S. media reports.
“Personally, I don’t believe that the religious affiliations of those high in government should be a political issue. Unless of course, it interferes with the way they do their job and keeps them from working in what is perceived by the majority to be the national interest. I am certainly not a believer in any of the all-too prevalent conspiracy theories but I do believe a large number of problems are created by certain people who are well entrenched in the (Bush) administration and whose sole objective seems to be to create misunderstandings and confusion between the good people of America and the world’s Arabs and Muslims…
“… The Muslim world was always allied with the U.S. in its fight against communism. Despite Russia’s many overtures, Muslims rejected communism. I was very pleased that at its last meeting, our Saudi Council of Ministers expressed dissatisfaction with the unfortunate phrase, “Islamic fascists,” and its negative and detrimental effects…
“(Muslim intellectuals should) make so much noise and commotion that no one will dare to use such an offensive phrase as ‘Islamic fascists.’”
A review of Arab editorials points us to Jordan’s Ad Dustour which says that Bush is in an “ideological coma”:
“President George W. Bush, armed with his Christian-right ideology, continues to make ‘twisted summaries based on ignorance and lack of vision.’
“The mass-circulation daily added that Bush's explanation that Israel's war on Lebanon was just a round in the conflict between freedom and terrorism, or between good and evil, was naïve and superficial at best.
"’These words the leader of the strongest country keeps repeating like a parrot in every place and every opportunity underrates the world's conflicts and wars ... as he sinks into his ideological coma,’" it said.
“The paper, which describes itself as independent but is partially owned by the government, added that the American president praises the emerging democracies in Iraq and Lebanon because they came with collaborating forces that agree with his policies.
“But the more credible democracy in Palestine, it opined, is never mentioned because it did not fulfill Washington's policies.
“Worse yet, the daily complained, the Arab dictatorship regimes allied with the United States remain silent over Israel's ‘crimes in Palestine and against the elected officials.’"
Another Saudi writer, Lubna Hussain, blames the American news media for planting false images of Islam in the minds of the public and feeding the sympathetic bias for Israel. In the end, however, Hussain is happy to note that there is still plenty of opposition to the Bush administration’s Middle East policies within the U.S. and Israel:
“(What has been exposed) is the manner in which the majority of the American media has represented recent events with the sort of one-sided bias that is more reminiscent of the KGB than of a country which ostensibly has established itself on a constitution that espouses freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It is of course entirely possible that Uncle George has secretly scrapped the First Amendment altogether. You would just have to flick on any cable network news channel to see why. For there they were out in force last month, the buffoons (read ‘experts’) waxing lyrical their lunatic opinions about the Middle East. There was a wide selection of these ‘intelligent’ (huh!) and ‘well-informed’ viewpoints to choose from. You could take your pick from the theorizing of Ann Coulter, who had suggested after Sept. 11, 2001, that American policy toward the Middle East should be to ‘invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.’ Or Michael D. Evans who specializes in doomsday scenarios.
“In the same manner in which microwave popcorn and hamburgers are sold to the gullible American public, here we had a diet of good and evil, black and white, right and wrong being touted to a population that relies heavily on the power of the box to mold their perception of the outside world. No matter how distorted, far removed from reality or totally untrue that junk food for the soul may be.
“I sat amazed as I watched the developing Western-serialization of the conflict by Fox News. The scene was set with a star cast that included some familiar faces. The sheriff was beautifully played by Uncle George. His sidekick is the dapper and reasonable sounding Ehud Olmert. Auntie Condi looked immaculate as the iron maiden who would stand by her man come rain or shine (Tammy Wynette would have been so proud!). Tony Blair, desperately clambering for attention with his tap-dancing and other wonderfully effusive talents, is mostly relegated to the background, although he does make a memorable contribution by cozying up to his hero…
“It was, quite frankly, disgusting to see how the American media had turned so shamelessly into this one-eyed Cyclops when it came to basic coverage of the conflict. Any debate or discussion that did not favor Israel was treated with suspicion and a threat to national security…
“(Still), it is heartening to note that in spite of all this blatant propaganda there are many Americans and Jews who have voiced their opposition to this war. I am always surprised by the e-mails I receive from people who express their anger at Bush’s ridiculous foreign policy and their shame at how it has caused the destruction of yet another country.”
Arab editorialist Hassan Tahsin, writing in Arab View, looks back to lies told by British politicians during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis as well as their war-time practices and compares them to Bush administration rhetoric and actions in the War on Terror, asking “Who Will Save the World From All Those American Lies?”
“On the other side of the Atlantic, the White House fed similar lies to the people. President Bush decided to fight against Iraq on a previously charted scheme to destroy Islam with the dream of taking the full control of the huge hydrocarbon reserves in the region, reducing the Arab countries into feeble entities so that Israel’s safety is guaranteed.
“The lie has been expanded and enlarged to continue the savage attacks on Lebanon and Gaza Strip. The ugly face of the U.S. has been becoming increasingly evident to the world. The U.S., apparently, followed the old British policies of making proxy wars using the soldiers of other countries. Israel has been fighting a proxy war for the U.S. that guaranteed Israel the protection against any kind of international sanction. The U.S. protects Israel with Security Council veto, intimidation of the Israel’s critics and supply of internationally banned weapons. Even some of Israel’s Knesset members and a section of the public have realized Israel is waging a proxy war.
“The American aim is abundantly clear. It is to destroy everything related to Islam.
“This was what Bush had in mind when he commented on the British government’s moves against the anticipated terror attacks on the U.S.-bound planes saying that it was a fight against ‘Islamic fascists’. On the other hand, the political observers are aware that the British operation was nothing but a ploy to boost the popularity of Tony Blair whose support base has been fast dwindling even within his party.
“Unfortunately the times have changed and now no political leader is willing to acknowledge his mistakes as Sir Anthony Eden did half a century ago (when he lied about aspects of the Suez crisis and then resigned).
“Bush did not resign following the Sept. 11 attacks. Now he is likely to continue in the White House until the end of his present second term…
“Condi is also likely to fade into oblivion with Bush unless she wins nomination as a presidential candidate. In either case I hope she does not return to her old university because in that event, I fear, the young American generation will be learning extremist political ideas from her, not to say anything of the political lies she is fond of uttering.”
One Arab News columnist hit the streets to gather the opinions of the average Saudi about the Bush administration and America’s role in the Middle East. Generally, their quotations exhibit vehement opposition, especially when it comes to U.S. support of Israel:
“If the U.S. is hurriedly delivering bombs and weaponry to the Israelis to continue their carnage against the Lebanese people, why shouldn’t we supply those resisting such aggression with the armaments that would let them defend themselves?”
“The fact remains that the U.S. is currently using Israel to push forward their vision of a greater Middle East, as they themselves cannot get out of the mess they have created in Iraq and Afghanistan. The policies of Bush and company are to ensure that only Israel remains a military power in the region. This will allow them to continue with their expansion plans.”
“It is time to embargo the United States, period. They are the primary force behind Israeli aggression in the region. They will never waver in their blind support for the terrorist policies of Israel, regardless of reason or national interest. They have single-handedly vetoed every move by other nations to demand an immediate cease-fire and supply multinational forces to ensure peace. Peace is not their agenda for the region.”
“If George Bush is so blinded and in love with these transplanted East European Zionists who are squatting on land they have taken illegally and by force, why does not he generously declare Wyoming or Utah as their new homeland? I am sure they would be welcomed with open arms by the existing tenants.”
“Manipulating many God-fearing Christians into believing his evil message and his private communications from God, Bush has spread nothing but terrorism in this world. He is a failure as a world leader, and is now recklessly heading us all into Armageddon.”
“Americans…silence is giving birth to legions of those who will have nothing but hatred one day for the United States with their one-sided support of Israel. We bear no grudge against the people, but the sight of civilians and especially children being bombed and killed by Israeli aircraft is a sight which is too much to bear.
“Regardless of the outcome of the current carnage, a great deal of damage has already been done. Not just to the peace process, but to the image of the United States as an honest broker of peace. Vilified now as never before for its blind and unflinching support of Israel, the U.S. has lost many allies and eroded much support for its policies and image in the region. Thanks to Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld et al.”
- University of Southern California. Lecturer of an upper division writing course. I also freelance, authored Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics, and run the website www.compellingconversations.com .
11/30/2007, 09:16 PM
Burke's concise summary of conventional political commentary in the Arab press seems to feel that "Islamic fascism" is a figment of President Bush's imagination. Perhaps.
But perhaps not. Today CNN reported that thousands of Islamic protesters in Sudan are demanding the death penalty for a British elementary school teacher for naming a pet "Mohammend." Remember the huge crowds of Islamic folks demanding the death penalty for some Danish cartoons? This religious zeal for jihad and beheading infidels - almost a fashion among some Islamic terrorists - seems as intolerant as European fascism.
No doubt millions of gentle souls find solace, comfort, and wisdom in Islamic literature and faith. Nobody, beginning with President Bush, has ever denied this fact. It is wrong to libel an entire religion because of its most extreme, militant, and brutal advocates.
Mr. Burke seems sensitive to that injustice - and dutifully reports the reaction of press in Arabic world.
It's unfortunate, however, to note that so many of the quoted Arab writers label and libel other religions. Why is it that so many secular leftist who are so sensitive to the insults caused by "Christian rightwingers" remain so tolerant of Islamic fundamentalists who actually advocate the murder of secular people? What's up with that? It's also worth noting the obsession in the quoted writers with "Zionism" and projections of evil onto the West. Why should Mr. Burke, or any other gentle soul, be so indulgent toward extremist rhethoric in the Arab world and so offended by the phrase "Islamic fascism"?
Let's listen carefully to what the Arab press writes and says, but let's maintain some critical thinking too.