From the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to the ostracisation of Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Irshad Manji and many others, it is hard for those in the Arab and Muslim world to speak out against suicide bombers, Jihadists, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in their countries.
Ali Salem, a brilliant Egyptian playwright, was boycotted by his Egyptian and Arab colleagues for favoring peace with Israel and writing a book about it. That seems to be the plight of Arab peace activists. Why would such a well-known, talented writer have to pay the price after bringing laughs to millions of Arabs through his witty, whimsical and satirical plays?
What happened to the old days when Jews in Arab countries were the elite, la crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me, movie stars, singers, writers, cabinet ministers, in what was dubbed as la belle epoch? Why was it replaced by so much hatred, intolerance and bigotry against the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and anger directed towards America?
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, many Arab regimes have taken a hard-line against it, conveniently recycling crude anti-Semitic images for their public. The Palestinian cause has proven to be a very useful tool for the post-colonial regimes that followed. To this day, after decades of brainwashing for Arab and Muslim masses, it is a hot button for many Arab leaders marshalling their masses to burn American and Israeli flags. The Palestinian issue has been effectively used by failing, dictatorial and oppressive Arab regimes to point the finger at an outside enemy to deflect their public's attention from the nagging domestic issues; it has all taken its toll on education, health care and a deteriorating infrastructure.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES are rampant in the Middle East. Many people are made to believe that America and Israel are running the whole world and are behind every problem in their countries - from defective chewing gum to Farouk Hosny's failure to head UNESCO.
The late president Nasser of Egypt imported former Nazi propaganda experts from the Third Reich and spread anti-Semitism through the whole region. Some Arab leaders were cheering for Hitler, hoping that he was going to liberate them from the British. The former mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, put himself at the service of Hitler and was sought as a war criminal after the end of WWII. Even president Anwar Sadat, the peacemaker and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was once arrested for his affiliation with a Nazi spy ring in Cairo.
Moreover, the Cold War brought Soviet propaganda experts to many Arab nations, bashing the United States, and of course, the old favorite target since Tsarist Russia's infamous forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Half the Arab countries are under brutal military dictatorships that came to power through military coups and have stayed there for decades, such as Colonel Gaddafi who has ruled Lybia since 1969. These regimes are secularist.
The other half are under absolute monarchies that use religion to get legitimacy, like Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Whether secularist or seemingly religious regimes, they both champion the Palestinian cause and exploit religion for political objectives.
Amazingly, fundamentalist groups find themselves using similar rhetoric to that of state-owned media across the Arab world. The result has been the demonization and dehumanization of the Jewish people, and Israelis in particular, in the eyes of many who belong to the Muslim faith. Hate speech has found its way into state-sponsored textbooks, brainwashing generations since the early forties.
It makes it almost impossible for an independent thinker, intellectual, moderate, liberal, secularist or writer to sing outside of the choir. Those who dare to sing anything other than the official tune can find themselves accused of apostasy, tarnishing the image of their country, arrested, tortured and dismissed from their jobs.
Saudi Wahhabi petrodollars have found their way into the media, academia and political circles in this region, and even in the West. The Saudis have influenced more than 60% of mosques, madrasas in America and the West, indoctrinating many in the intolerant, puritanical, Salafist, literalist dogma made in Saudi Arabia. It is no wonder that impressionable young men from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Iraq take up arms.
To make things worse, Iran has been competing with Saudi Arabia for decades now, supporting Hamas, Hizbullah, the Syrian Ba'ath party and Shi'ite militias in Iraq.
But what has all this brought to the region?
It has actually worked like magic and entrenched oppressive regimes for decades, thus enriching the elite around these regimes beyond imagination. But that's where the "achievements" end.
The writer is a lecturer and author of The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age. The Egyptian government banned his book for alleged security reasons; the first book banned by the nation in decades.