Well into the second year of a global war onterrorism, key Arab journalists and intellectuals continue to whitewash MiddleEastern terrorism. In effect, there currently exists a pan-Arab state ofdenial.
The shallow nature of America’s anti-terrorpartnerships in the Middle East is only partly a result of the StateDepartment’s ineffectual public-diplomacy campaign. Indeed, no informationcampaign can stand a chance so long as the region’s hearts and minds continueto be poisoned by a media concerned less with addressing the Arab world’s illsthan with spinning conspiracy theories and (to borrow a term from Fouad Ajami)»endless escapes» to explain those ills away.
The Arab media deny most of the terrorist threatfacing the world today, and excuse the rest. For example, in the wake of aHamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem on November 21, 2002, several Egyptiannewspaper editorials hailed the suicide attack as a «valiant, courageousoperation» and «most honorable mission» (Al-Gumhuriyya,11/22/02), and described the noncombatant, civilian victims as»terrorists» (Al-Akhbar, 11/22/02).
We can hardly expect the support of the Arabmasses in the war on terror when their most respected journalists andintellectuals are apologists for terrorism. The Arab public readily acceptssuch apologetics and blame-shifting as fact, hungrily consuming them so long asthe blame can be shifted elsewhere, and Arabs are not forced to take anyresponsibility for either the current state of affairs or the radicalism itfosters.
Regimes play on this rubber-and-glue mentality,molding their counterterrorism activities to suit their particular interests.Specifically, they cooperate in the war on terrorism only to the extent thatthe war coincides with their own interest in suppressing those elementsthreatening the ruling regime. Syria, therefore, provides limited cooperationtargeting radical Sunni elements threatening the minority Alawite regime, andYemen is forthcoming so long as America provides weapons and training to curbunruly tribal elements threatening Sanaas central authority.
The prime example of this state of denial andintellectual atrophy is Jihad al-Khazen, an outspoken apologist for MiddleEastern terrorist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah and one ofthe region’s most prominent editorialists. In fact, al-Khazen is not onlyconsidered the region’s Tom Friedman, he is a senior editor for al-Hayat, thepaper widely regarded as the New York Times of the Arab world. Hisprominence has gained him considerable prestige, including membership on theboard of advisers to Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary ArabStudies. With people like this feeding the Mideastern denial frenzy, it’s nowonder the Arab street has responded with such hostility to Western efforts toexpose international terrorist activities, even after September 11.
Jihad al-Khazen has now written threeeditorials in response to articles I’ve written about Middle Eastern terroristgroups. Would that he had taken issue with the substance of those articles,rather than merely dismissing my detailed analysis. Indeed, for denialists likeal-Khazen there is simply no need to offer a substantive critique orcounterargument to positions with which they disagree; for the Arab press,whitewashing terrorism requires no more than making personal attacks on one’sopponents and then spreading a fresh layer of conspiratorial conclusions.
Still, the best example of al-Khazen’swhitewashing of terrorism can be found in his assertion that the Damascusoffices of Islamic Jihad could not possibly be involved in the group’s terrorattacks because — brace yourself — the group’s leader told him so. That’sright, Ramadan Shallah, the Damascus-based leader of Islamic Jihad, told himso. But we’re to take Shallah, and by extension al-Khazen, at his word becauseal-Khazen «consider[s] Dr. Ramadan Shallah a personal friend.»
Al-Khazen is a perfect example of the widespreaddenial in the Arab world, where there is no need to accept responsibility orinstitute change because all wrongs must be the fault of others. Figures likeal-Khazen illustrate perfectly why the United States is not getting the kind ofsupport it needs from the Middle East in the war on terrorism. Moreover, as anArab Christian, al-Khazen can’t even hide behind Islamism to justify hisdenial.
At minimum, our government should bar al-Khazenand those like him from entering the U.S., where the sponsorship of Georgetownand other American institutions continue to burnish their credentials andenhance their prestige. Under the USA Patriot Act, the U.S. can now excludepeople who use their «prominence to endorse terrorist activity» orhave «been associated with a terrorist organization» from enteringthe country. Al-Khazen brazenly endorses terrorism by Hezbollah, Hamas, andIslamic Jihad, and opposes a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinianconflict. By his own admission, Ramadan Shallah the head of Islamic Jihad, andhimself a Specially Designated Terrorist is a «personal friend.»
The U.S. should not allow Arab elites to poisonthe Middle East with apologetics for terrorism and baseless, anti-Americantirades. It’s time to put an end to the mentality of denial in the Arab world.