By Adel Darwish Tuesday, October 2, 2001
Support for President Bush's call to arms against
terrorism is falling short of that his father received 11 years ago at
the start of the Gulf War. Then, the majority at an Arab summit joined
the U.S. coalition that defeated Iraq, another member of the Arab
But unlike the clear aims of the Gulf War -- to defeat
Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait -- which were achieved seven months
later, the aims of this President Bush's undertaking are far from clear,
and the enemy has not been sharply defined.
"Who will America fight in Afghanistan?" screamed a
front-page headline in a Cairo newspaper last week. Below the headline
was a picture of starving Afghan refugees. A decade ago, Saddam
Hussein's brutality, aggression and violation of international law were
clear to all. Today America is being asked, both openly in Arab and
European editorials and in diplomatic talks, to provide material and
forensic evidence linking Osama bin Laden and the Taliban to the terror
attacks of Sept. 11. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw heard that
request in Cairo, just as American diplomats have heard it from some
Muslim leaders. Straw was told that military action should be confined
to "surgical strikes" that would harm no civilians.
With regard to Arab opinion, the Bush administration's
hands-off approach to the deteriorating situation between the
Palestinians and Israelis and the escalating violence between the two
sides hasn't helped. Arab regimes have nodded approvingly as Arab
journalists attacked Israel and the United States -- attacks that
provide a diversion from their own violations of human rights and their
undemocratic ways. Anti-American propagandists have been given a great
opportunity to make their case to the Arab masses that Israel and the
United States are acting in concert. They neglect, of course, to remind
those who celebrated the appalling attacks on America that U.S.
taxpayers have actually been helping to feed and house them.
Even in moderate Middle Eastern nations ruled by
pro-American governments, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, print and television journalists refer to suicide bombers --
regardless of their targets -- as "martyrs," while speaking highly
critically of U.S. policy. The current American rhetoric and the use of
the word "terrorists" instead of "terrorism" is also criticized by many
One of them, in a Kuwaiti paper, accused America of a
double standard for accepting Israel's labeling of Lebanese Hezbollah
fighters as "terrorists" when they "fought against uniformed Israeli
soldiers occupying part of their country while Israel's helicopter
attacks with American-made missiles to assassinate a Palestinian
activist in a block of flats, which also killed a schoolboy, were not
The anti-Americanism, which has increased greatly since
the "Palestinian Intifada" began a year ago, has been evident in popular
Arab media for years. Unfortunately for America, the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict long ago became the fulcrum upon which the political
equilibrium of the Middle East rests and the lens through which Arab
opinion makers view international politics.
"America had a golden opportunity to improve its image in
the Islamic world," said an editorial last week in the Cairo daily
Al-Guomhoria, which supports Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, "but
unwisely wasted it by siding with Israel against the Palestinians and
the rest of the Muslim nations."
The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt have both suffered
from the acts of Islamic fundamentalist terror groups, including bin
Laden's gang, and would -- in private -- welcome an alliance with
America as an opportunity to destroy organizations that assist
terrorists. "But they can't openly take part in a coalition that
includes Israel, as it would be seen in the region as furthering Israeli
aims," said a top Egyptian diplomat who has recently been in
consultation with Saudi Arabians.
Are the Saudis' fears well grounded? Perhaps they are
looking at Egypt, where the religious establishment seems to be out of
the government's control. Most of its 1,000 imams ignored requests to
hold special services in Egyptian mosques for the victims of the terror
attacks, even though four Egyptians have been confirmed among the dead
in the World Trade Center.
The writer is a British journalist
who has covered the Mideast for 30 years. © 2001 The Washington Post
Adel is a veteran Middle East News correspondent and regional expert. He
is a member of MidEastWeb and an editor of Mewnews, which is also
distributing the article.