The Region: The missing Mideast moral compass

The PA has long been permissive about terrorism, but actually endorsing it is something new.

barry rubin column 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin column 88
(photo credit: )
Some time around the 1920s, a strange statue became wildly popular in the West. It consisted of three monkeys which, respectively, had their hands over their eyes, ears and mouth. The inscription said: "See no evil; hear no evil, speak no evil." This is a good approximation of how the Middle East is often dealt with, at least if one uses - as did the original statue - the word "evil" in an ironic manner.
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There are many examples of how this works when adapted to specifics in the region. The first might be formulated as seeing nothing but evil regarding the United States. Here's an interesting statistic. If one takes only economic and development aid over the last 12 years on a per-capita basis, US assistance to the Palestinians is almost as high as that to Israel, the number-one American aid recipient. Actually, even this formula undercounts US help to the Palestinians. After all, the US is the only country that gives Israel substantial economic help, but Washington worked hard to persuade other countries to donate billions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority as well. That is not the kind of fact you are going to find in the Arab media, which constantly harp on how America is anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian. But this is the kind of factor that should be taken into account when people say that anti-Americanism is a result of US policies. It is most often the result of ignorance about what US policies are. THE SECOND case might be characterized as defining as evil anything critical about those designated moderate Palestinians, especially in the new era in which many contend that Fatah represents the relatively good guys against Hamas. Yet while some things can be said in favor of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's intentions, they have little effect even on Fatah and often reflect a continuing extremism. For example, take the effort to overstate Abbas's moderation. His Hamas rivals picked as security chief for the PA not just a terrorist but a man who had been involved in the murder of US government employees and might even have direct ties to al-Qaida. Abbas responded with his own appointment of Mahmoud Damra (Abu Awad) who had headed Arafat's bodyguard, Force 17, and is wanted by Israel for involvement in terrorist attacks resulting in the deaths of at least five civilians. While his new referendum is being widely hailed as a moderate breakthrough, it actually says some devastating things about Abbas. Let's just focus on one: the program actually endorses terrorist attacks in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a stance totally in contrast to PA commitments under the Oslo agreements and the road map. The PA has long been permissive about terrorism and given it good publicity. Actually giving it explicit endorsement is something new. The third principle in this trilogy is a sudden US determination to define criticism of Egypt's regime as evil. Make no mistake: Egypt is at a turning point right now. President Hosni Mubarak is cracking down on any shred of the apparent openness offered for public-relations purposes in the last year. The main opposition candidate in the last election has now been sentenced to a prison term, the emergency laws have been renewed, and widespread arrests are going on. The visit of Mubarak's son, Gamal, to Washington and his reception by high government officials is being viewed in Egypt as official US endorsement of the plan to make him successor. WHATEVER happened to US support for reform and democracy? The next two or more decades of Egypt's future are being locked in place right now in a way that would doom Egyptian hopes for anything better. But to really understand the world view that underlies the above examples I had to look at the front page of the June 3 Washington Post. In big headlines there are two articles that sort of ask the question, "What the hell is evil, anyway?" One of them is entitled: "A Man of the People's Needs and Wants: Ahmadinejad Praised in Iran as a Caring Leader." The article explains that Iranians love extremist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because he promises to make everyone's life better. Now to point out that dictators are popular in Middle East countries and that making big promises is a way of gaining populist support is certainly valid. But to read this article one would not know that there is a huge dissident movement (possibly a majority of Iran's people), anti-regime riots, and bloggers ridiculing Ahmadinejad as a major embarrassment. And that's not all. There is another article on the same page with a remarkably parallel line headlined, "Cubans Jailed in US as Spies Are Hailed at Home as Heroes." It seems that Cuban spies in America are highly regarded by the dictatorship that rules the island. Presumably, most Cubans are really asking how anyone who got to the United States would want to work for the government that is oppressing and repressing them. In a society where so many intellectuals and journalists have lost any moral compass - and in fact, decry the whole idea of such a thing - it is easy for green to become blue; bad seem like good; and up appear to be down. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.