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Iraq not Eye-raq, please
Despite the deluge of information on the Middle East in the US media Americans remain baffled and confused about basics in politics and culture. It is my guess that most Americans do not know that Kurds are generally Sunnites, that Iranian are not Arabs, that Arabs are not necessarily Muslim and that the Shiite-Sunnites divide is largely political rather than religious. Americans need
Friday, December 22,2006 00:00
by Ghassan Rubeiz
Despite the deluge of information on the Middle East in the US media Americans remain baffled and confused about basics in politics and culture. It is my guess that most Americans do not know that Kurds are generally Sunnites, that Iranian are not Arabs, that Arabs are not necessarily Muslim and that the Shiite-Sunnites divide is largely political rather than religious.
 
Americans need blame-the-victim theory to justify the crime of occupying Iraq and destroying it.  Nowadays, a popular US blame-the-victim theory is “Islamofascism” . There is a growing media movement portraying Arabs and Muslims as fascists. Muslims are being portrayed as the modern day followers of Hitler and Mussolini. Jihad is being equated with terrorism. National resistance in Palestine , Iraq and Lebanon is confounded with the organized crime of Alkaeda world.
 
Arabs and Jews are Semites, and yet hate crimes against Arabs are not considered a form of anti-Semitism. US Christian scholars have anointed themselves as experts on Islam. Islam is increasingly being connected with end-of-time American Christian theology. The difference between Islamic and Christian chauvinism has disappeared.
 
In the Middle East Arabs engage in a similar process of demonization of the West, especially America . Arab anti American and anti Jewish bashing is obscene. But there is a difference of some significance between Arab and American prejudice. Biased Arabs tend to see the Devil in America , as a political system, not in Americans as people. In contrast, Americans see the devil in Arabs, not in their political systems. The implications of this difference for policy planning are important.
 
At the roots of prejudice are ignorance and fear. I am amused how culturally distant Americans experts are from the Middle East . Their ignorance shows in cultural basics. Take for example the symbolic and irritating mispronunciation of Arab names. When talking about “Eye-raq” experts mean Iraq . When referring to “Eye-ran” they mean Iran . This is especially true among military consultants who tend to show little sensitivity to culture in politics.
 
More on language and policy. Iraq was an ailing but unified state before our invasion. Now Washington experts describe Iraq as territory of “rival Shiites, Sunnites and Kurds”.    US occupation fragmented Iraq by undermining its security and sovereignty.  Our policy makers wonder about the causes of Iraqi ethnic and sectarian fratricide. Civil wars are political phenomenon; they are not caused by sociometric differences among communities. No society is too strong to divide tribally when the economy is shattered, national security is eliminated and systems of law and order are abolished. 
 
 
Americans want to learn the facts about the Middle East but the political establishment is threatened by inconvenient realities. The popular Arabic Channel Aljazeera launched its English language program in Washington DC last month to express the voice of Arabs in the US .  Regrettably, Aljazeera is having a hard time airing its programs on American cables. The embargo on Aljazeera is phenomenal. Even Israel allows Aljazeera to broadcast its programs on its soil, but the US media empires consider this Arab Channel too dangerous for Americans.
 
Experience counts a lot in policy planning. US policy makers tend to have minimal experience in the Arab world. America invaded Iraq with a goal to democratize it by force. But Americans had little knowledge about its language, history, culture or sentiments. US experts do not know Arabic; they have few friends in the region; and when they visit the Middle East they are sheltered in first class hotels or in US Embassies that look like military camps.
 
American policy makers seek biased advisors who tell them what they want to hear. Neo conservative Christian Arabs explain Islam to them. Jewish advisors tell them how Arabs feel and think. The few Americans who have solid knowledge and insight about Arabia are labeled “Arabists”. 
 
Arabists are now marginalized. The Iraq Study Group is trying to revive the Arabist role in US politics but the chances of that happening are slim. In only two weeks the Hamilton Baker Report (ISG) has been marginalized by a hostile US media campaign that portrays the region as a jungle, its politicians as unreliable and its culture as violent. If the Arabist Baker says let us talk to representatives of the region in Syria , Iran and Turkey , the neo cons are alarmed: How can we talk to people who are crazy and criminal? The White House rebuked Congressman Nelson for his recent fact finding visit to Syria . Former President Carter is being targeted daily to discredit his revelations about the American policy in the Middle East .
 
Political perspective on Iraq help people screen the flood of information they receive daily. Many Americans still see Iraq war as a victory in the making. They believe that it is just a matter of time before Iraq is straightened out.  On December 20 our President said additional troops are needed to do the job. Those who disagree with Bush believe that intervention in Iraq was a big US mistake and the US should pull the forces out. But still few Americans consider the US invasion and occupation as a crime against human rights of a people and culture. Until Americans realize the depth of the Iraq debacle and the root causes of US hegemony around the globe the range of reflection on the Iraq tragedy will remain narrow and superficial. The view of the Middle East from Washington is out of focus.
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* Author’s email is [email protected]

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