The Region: One land’s bigot is another land’s everyman

Racist actions in the US, Europe or Israel are usually those of private individuals; but in the Middle East it is often the governments that lead incitement.

News that a crackpot minister at an incredibly tiny church in Florida wanted to burn a Koran is a global story. The man’s plan was condemned by just about everyone, though some pointed out that he had a constitutional right to do so.
There were several reasons – all obvious – for this universal criticism, boiling down to two: It is disrespectful to another religion and inappropriate for a supposedly tolerant society. Also, such a deed might endanger Americans and US foreign policy goals by making Muslims turn to violence.
A lot of “proper-thinking,” good-hearted Americans are feeling mighty guilty – unnecessarily, I might add. One young man said: “Why do I feel the need to walk up to Muslims on the street, wish them peace and show them that Americans are not all bigoted racists?... What has happened to my beautiful country?... The day Americans start burning Korans is the day when Osama bin Laden has won...”
YES, THIS is what years of inducing and indoctrinating guilt has done.The tiniest blemish on Western society or Israel proves they are evil, while elephant-sized warts in other countries are to be ignored.
One doesn’t, however, define a country by its most extreme, isolated individuals. Muslims will only believe that Americans are all bigoted racists if they are told lies about America. Similarly, Americans are being very foolish if they believe this kind of disproportionate nonsense.
Nowadays, the US can easily win any tolerance competition in the world. On the other hand, a lot of Americans are very much in the race with the rest of the world about who can be the most anti-American.
What is never pointed out is that the threatened action’s equivalent happens daily in dozens of locations throughout the Middle East and the Muslim-majority world, not at the hands of marginal nut jobs with no following but by powerful political and religious figures or media outlets with huge bases of support.
Every day, there are massive lies told to incite people to hate the West. Every day, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Jews are being persecuted and, in some cases, driven out of Muslim-majority countries with no one in the Western power establishment even noticing, must less protesting.
Unfortunately, it is true that the Muslim-majority areas of the world are to bigoted racists what Saudi Arabia is to oil, Newcastle is to coal, Florida is to oranges and Hollywood is to movies.
I thought of appending specific examples, but since there are so many I suggest you refer to the sites of MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Survey of World Broadcasts or the English-language edition of Arabic newspapers.
OH, AND by the way, according to the FBI figures for 2008, there are 10 times more anti-Semitic incidents (1,013) in the US than there are anti-Muslim ones (105). How many anti-Christian hate crimes were there? Only four less than anti- Muslim ones, 101.
Remember that bigoted actions in the US or Europe or Israel are those of private individuals. Radio programs, Christian ministers and citizens act on their own. In such matters, they face 99 percent social and political disapproval.
But when religious, national, ethnic or other kinds of slander, incitement and hatred happen in the Middle East, they are the result of government or government-approved action. The people who do so are often drawing government salaries, given access to state-controlled institutions and rewarded for what they do and say.
And in comparison to 99% disapproval for “hateful” actions in the West, in the Muslim majority Middle East virtually nobody, outside of a tiny group of (often persecuted) moderates, dare raise their voices against these actions.
Moreover, no matter how many condemnations, apologies or acts of tolerance occur in the West, no matter how many mosques are built or repaired with US taxpayer money (often in countries where it would be impossible to build a church), no matter how many times Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says “holy Koran” instead of just plain Koran, no matter whether the words “Islam” and “Islamism” are barred from US government documents, these efforts will have virtually no impact on Middle Eastern public opinion.
Why? For one thing, because public attitudes have been thoroughly prepared to be hostile and disbelieving; for another, few will ever hear about such things because the media will not report them.
Does that justify bigotry in the West or the burning of Korans? Of course not. But there’s something else it doesn’t justify: refusing to report, analyze and condemn what goes on daily with far more public support and official approval in the Muslim-majority Middle East.
What are the motives for that behavior? • Fear that telling the truth will make “Muslims” angry.
• Belief that one only has the right to criticize one’s own country (or allies) and religion, but that exercising rational judgment in discussing others is somehow “racist.”
• Panic that reporting on the bigotry and extremism of millions of others will encourage a minister in Florida with 50 followers to burn a Koran.
Such paralysis is not how democracies are supposed to function. That is not how people keep their freedoms and way of life.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.
He blogs at