Thomas Friedman’s columns in the New York Times are superb. Last Friday, he wrote what he had hoped President Bush might have answered Osama bin Laden, upon seeing bin Laden’s videotaped message. ‘What was most revealing,’ Friedman had Bush answer bin Laden, in part, ‘was what you didn’t say: You offered no vision of the future. This was probably your last will and testament – I sure hope so – and you could have said anything you wanted to future generations. Yet you had nothing to say. Your only message to the Muslim world was whom to hate, not what to build – let alone how.’
Columnist Maureen Dowd, meanwhile, as you may have seen, writing for the same publication, was struck by the visuals of the set against which the bin Laden message was taped – a lot of rocks. She wondered whether we aren’t at war with the Flintstones.
And here are some thoughts from an Arab-American journalist that struck me as worth sharing:
An Arab-American Looks at the Middle East
By Joseph Farah
It is a sad statement about the Arab-American community that I find myself virtually alone publicly denouncing the violence of the Palestinian Arabs. It is sad because it shows how little diversity of opinion exists among Arabs in America, where we have the freedom to speak out without repercussion. In the Arab world, by contrast, there is less freedom to state opinions. With more freedom here than anywhere in the Arab world, more Arab Americans should speak out.
I published a column titled “Myths of the Middle East” on October 31, 2000. I received in response 15,000 e-mails from just Israel, and thousands from the United States as well. The Jerusalem Post reprinted the piece and told me that it evoked more reaction than anything the paper had ever printed.
But the reaction was not all positive. I received death threats that were turned over to the FBI. Indeed, many Arab-Americans were quite distressed over the things I had written. But 10 to 20 percent of the Arab-Americans who responded said that my message was long overdue.
The column was designed to debunk two central myths about the Middle East. Myth-shattering is important to a journalist like me. Interestingly, I have two specialties as a reporter: the Middle East and Hollywood. The two fields have a lot in common, for both are characterized by myths.
The first myth is that the conflict in the Middle East today is about the struggle for a Palestinian state because Palestinian Arabs were displaced by the creation of Israel, and the world is now responsible to assist in the establishment of a Palestinian homeland. Regarding Palestinians as a distinct people, however, is a notion that must be reconsidered. There is no distinct Palestinian culture or language. Further, there has never been a Palestinian state governed by Palestinians in history, nor was there ever a Palestinian national movement until after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel seized Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian national movement has one primary goal: the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state to supplant Israel, with Yasir Arafat as its leader.
A second myth deals with the issue of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The myth is that Jerusalem is really an Arab city, and that the Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam, and a central focus of Islam. The truth is that the Palestinians expressed very limited interest in the Temple Mount before 1967. Further, Jerusalem has always been a city with a substantial Jewish population, even during the period of Ottoman rule, 1517-1917.
There are other myths which I explored in subsequent columns. If you believe the Western media, Arafat is a Nobel Prize peacemaker who is central to any settlement. He is portrayed as the place where the peace process begins and ends. But this is not the truth about Yasir Arafat.
I recently interviewed an analyst who worked for the National Security Agency in 1973. This man intercepted communications between Arafat and his murderous Black September organization in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. The communication involved the 1973 kidnapping of two U.S. diplomats and one Belgian diplomat. In the end, Arafat gave the order to kill all three. Why do the American people not know about this incident? Where are the investigative journalists? And why has the U.S. government not charged this man with the deaths of two U.S. diplomats? Because Arafat is thought to be Israel’s “partner for peace.” The charade continues.
There is only one country in the region with an acceptable level of freedom, and that is Israel. When I go to the Middle East and visit Syria or Lebanon or Egypt, there is no question that I am in a police state. And believe me, working as a journalist in a police state is no fun. By contrast, when I am in Israel, I feel that I am in a free country.
So, why is the media always critically focused on Israel? It is one of the few places you can take a television camera with virtually unlimited access. Why can’t we take cameras to Syria when the president there decides to destroy an entire town? Simple: we are not allowed.
The West has a different standard for the Arab Middle East than it does for the rest of the world. It is not a healthy thing, but shows a kind of disdain. Arabs need to be judged by the same standards as everyone else.
When I engage in debates with Arab-Americans, I constantly raise this. Their families came to the United States for freedom and opportunity, just like mine did. So, why, when they look at the Middle East today, do they side with the regimes that perpetuate the oppression that their parents or grandparents fled? Why do they think that they are standing up for Arabs when they justify the murderous actions of someone like Saddam Hussein?
Joseph Farah has worked over twenty years as a journalist, including stints as executive news editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and editor-in-chief of the Sacramento Union. He founded the Western Journalism Center in 1992 and has taught journalism at UCLA.