Yalla Peace: Muslims or Arabs?

Israel must choose wisely who it wants to be sitting opposite at the negotiating table.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Osama bin Laden’s terrorists hijacked four planes and destroyed the World Trade Center Towers in suicide attacks.
The event changed the dynamics of the world and political realities in the Middle East.
In one aspect, Israel immediately benefited from the attacks. Most Americans, who already supported Israel over the Arabs and Palestinians, only reinforced that support through the negative stereotypes bin Laden’s attacks fueled.
In truth, bin Laden’s terrorism did very little to impact the West. But his actions did much to reinforce what many Arabs believe are the injustices of the Middle East conflict.
Bin Laden, who tried, after the fact, to claim his attacks were intended to “help” the Palestinians, only reinforced public feelings in favor of Israel and against Palestinians. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was also quick to exploit the shocking stereotypes.
Immediately (and wrongly) a video of one Arab lady dancing and handing out candy after the attack created a false ugly perception that is still in place.
Ironically, although Israel benefited from the anti-Arab backlash, the terrorist attack actually strengthened global Islam and weakened Israel’s future. Those Muslims who supported bin Laden, and those many more who did not, all benefited from the terrorism in a way that bin Laden never expected.
The identity of the “Arab” was weakened, and the Islamist movement rose in stature. Suddenly news media talking heads were chasing anything “Muslim,” and several Muslim organizations that were somewhat obscure became major organizations overnight, like CAIR (Council on American Islamic Organizations).
On the one hand, Israel might see this division in the Middle East between “Arab” and “Muslim” as benefiting their agenda, but long-term, it does not. Arabs are secular, and secular Arabs would embrace the concept of “compromise” more easily than Muslims who are more religious and “less” Arab because they are not suffering the consequences of the 1948 war.
ALTHOUGH THE words “Muslim” and “Arab” are often used interchangeably, the causes each group represents are not interchangeable. Palestine is viewed as an “Arab” problem.
Although it has become one of many Muslim causes, it is no longer “the” cause – just one among many.
That has created a new imbalance in how the world views the Middle East.Today in the West, no one speaks about “better understanding the Arab,” but many officials, government agencies and societal leaders talks about the need to improve relations with Muslims.
In the United States, for example, the public drive is to find ways to work with Muslims, not Arabs. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009 was not to the “Arab World,” it was to the “Muslim World.” The focus of many of the upcoming September 11 10th Anniversary commemorations, which seek to bridge differences between the two sides, are appealing to the West and “Muslims,” not to Arabs.
Arabs are on the losing end of the battle. They are both blamed for the terrorism and punished for it. Muslims get blamed for the terrorism, too, but there is far more of a concerted effort to work with and better understand them.
No one is trying to understand the “Arab,” but the key to Middle East peace is there. On the face of it, that may seem comforting to Israel, whose primary fight is with the Palestinian Arabs. But it’s deceiving. By pushing the “Arab” identity out of the equation, also being pushed aside are the chances of compromise with those who are Arabs. The Muslims are a religious identity. Arabs are not. Muslims cannot compromise on faith or their beliefs; Arabs can compromise more easily.
The late president Yasser Arafat accepted many compromises with Israel. To this day, Hamas and its religious leaders refuse any compromise.
They’ll accept “lulls” and other devices to delay what they hope will be the inevitable destruction of Israel.
What it all means is that Israel faces a much tougher adversary in coming decades on the question of Palestine, which is not really a priority of the Muslim World but is not forgotten either.
The 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 will be here in a few weeks.
But the changes it has effected will be with us for generations. Some changes will be good. But when it comes to the Middle East, many, many more of the changes will be bad. Bad for the Arabs.
Bad for the West. And very bad for Israel.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Palestinian activist.