Published on Thursday, December 12, 2002 by the International Herald Tribune

Islam and the West: Incompatibility of Values

by William Pfaff

PARIS -- In the months following the terrorist attacks of September 2001, it was politically taboo to say that the United States had in some way brought these attacks upon itself. Television talk show hosts and print journalists lost their jobs for suggesting such a thing.

Yet anyone with any serious knowledge of the American relationship in recent years with the Muslim Middle East knows that it is true, even if it is only part of the truth.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a self-evident source of the alienation of Arab Muslims from the United States since 1948, and particularly since 1967, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The essential cause for conflict, however, is one that commentators are trying to get at when they talk about the "crisis of modernization" in the Islamic world. It is the incompatibility of values between Islamic society and the modern West. The power and material dynamism of the West seem inseparable from a value system that demands that Muslims give up their moral identity.

The British conservative writer Roger Scruton asked in a recent book why we should blame Islam for trying to reject "western technology, western institutions, western conceptions of religious freedom" when all of these "involve a rejection of the idea on which Islam is founded - the idea of God's immutable will, revealed once and for all to his prophet, in the form of an unbreachable and unchanging code of law."

Why indeed? The West takes for granted that the existing religious assumptions of Islamic society have to be overturned, not only because they don't suit the West but because the West believes that they are unsuitable for the Muslims themselves.

There is constant Western pressure on Islamic governments to conform to Western conceptions of human rights and promote free and critical religious and political thought.

In short, they are to become us.

We in the West are inclined to think that everybody must eventually become like us. Standard American discussion of American destiny and the "end of history" takes for granted an eventual benevolent Americanization of global society. To the orthodox Muslim that means apostasy, immorality and God's condemnation. Westernization, to Westerners, means liberation. Americans do not conceive of themselves as inheritors of a Western legacy of Promethean violence. For people in other societies, Westernization frequently means destruction, social and moral crisis, with individuals cast adrift in a destructured and literally demoralized world.

Cultural and political disorientation, violent resistance to the intruder and attempts to recapture a lost golden age are natural reactions to this. We see all of this today.

The violence of the shock is intensified when the foreigner establishes military bases and tries to shape an Islamic country's policies. This has been Pentagon policy during the past decade, with regional commanders for all of the world's major geographical zones and expansion of the U.S. worldwide base system. The New York Times a few days ago wrote about the rising importance of ultraconservative or radical Islam in Saudi Arabia, and acknowledged that its growing influence has been directly connected to the presence of American troops in that country since 1990.

Originally the bases were temporary, needed for the U.S. campaign to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. It was a moment when the Saudis believed they needed protection from Iraq.

However, when the Gulf War was over the United States rashly pressed a reluctant Saudi monarchy to allow permanent American bases. The Sept. 11 attacks, carried out mainly by Saudis, avowedly were revenge for the "contamination" of the Islamic Holy Places by those bases.

Relations between Washington and the Saudi monarchy today are so strained that the United States will probably be denied use of the bases for an attack on Iraq.

Almost certainly this will be so if there is no United Nations mandate for the attack.

The United States now has extended its base in Kuwait to nearly a third of that state's territory. There are new bases in the other Gulf monarchies.

The Afghanistan intervention has left American bases in that country, and in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The war against terror has expanded American troop presence in Georgia and the Muslim southern Philippines. A long military occupation of Iraq is envisioned by Washington.

Every base conveys the contamination of "infidel" modernization, as well as the oppressive suggestion of foreign military occupation.

Washington remorselessly expands its military presence in the Islamic world in order to fight the anti-American terrorism that its presence causes. No one in the government seems to see a contradiction in this.

Copyright ) 2002 the International Herald Tribune


Published on Thursday, December 12, 2002 by the Toronto Star

U.S. Scorned for Foreign Arms Stand

by Linda Diebel


What's a definition of irony?

It's the United States — the world's largest weapons seller and heartiest participant in the international arms bazaar — complaining about North Korea shipping 15 Scud missiles to Yemen, according to peace activists.

For Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to call North Korea the "single largest proliferater'' of missile technology is, as they say, the pot calling the kettle black.

"I guess you've got to remember that irony is essentially dead in the United States,'' said Scott Lynch, from Washington-based Peace Action.

"But even so, this one has got to be seen as highly ironic. One could even move up to hypocritical.''

It's simple. The bottom line is that the U.S. doesn't want any country to buy weapons from anybody else, and it wants to dictate who can buy weapons and who can't.

Rumsfeld's reaction, buttressed by Bush administration officials throughout the day yesterday, came after Spanish authorities discovered the Scud missiles, infamous for their attempted use against Israel by Iraq's Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, in a cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. Ultimately, the ship was allowed to sail on its way after U.S. officials said there was no legal basis under international law to detain them.

"The audacity of the administration never fails to shock me. The U.S. needs Yemen as a partner in the region,'' added Lynch. With President George W. Bush pushing for a second war against Iraq, "they can't afford to piss off Yemen, and that is cynical ...

"At the end of the day, the administration deigns unto itself the right to make the rules for everybody.''

On Capitol Hill yesterday, several lawmakers also saw a certain irony in U.S. criticism of North Korea, followed by an abrupt and red-faced announcement that the shipment would not be stopped.

Massachusetts Democratic Representative Edward Markey accused Bush of being "dangerously inconsistent'' for allowing the Scuds, along with 15 conventional warheads and assorted drums of chemicals, to proceed to Yemen.

"(He is) tough on Iraq, diffident on North Korea, ineffective in Iran, and hypocritical at home in initiating the development of `mini-nuke' weapons, plutonium pits and other signs of our insincerity towards curtailing our own (weapons of mass destruction) technology,'' he told Reuters.

"Let's not compound this further.''

Bruce Campbell, from the Center for Policy Alternatives, an Ottawa-based think tank, said that the Scud controversy was an example of "do as I say, not as I do.''

According to U.N. statistics for 1996-2001, the U.S. dominated the global arms bazaar, delivering 45 per cent of conventional weapons sales.

In 2000, the U.S. netted $14 billion (U.S.) in arms sales, double its closest competitors, Britain and Russia.

"It just seems as if they want to protect their territory from up-comers like North Korea,'' said Campbell. "It's a double standard. It's about proprietary rights rather than outrage about what's actually being sold.''

The view of the U.S. administration appears to be that "it's our God-given right to police the world, and never mind the contradictions,'' said Campbell.

U.S. policy is certainly awash in contradictions, agrees Steven Staples, arms and security expert for the policy group, Polaris, based in Ottawa.

"They are preparing to go to war with Iraq even though no substantive link has been found between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, North Korea admits it does have a weapons-of-mass-destruction program, and the U.S. isn't doing anything,'' he said.

"Furthermore, the U.S. has been arming the Middle East for decades. In fact, the United States helped arm Saddam himself,'' he said, referring to the 1980s when Saddam was a U.S. ally in the region and the Iran was considered the biggest threat. Many of Saddam's war crimes, now cited by Bush as reasons to go to war, were carried out during the days of friendly ties with Washington.

"The U.S. is in no position politically or ethically to bring peace to the region,'' said Staples. "My strongest hope is that the United Nations will hold out against the war. We are literally dangling by a thread between peace and war now, with the UN in the balance.''

Staples believes it will be a particularly difficult situation for Canada if the U.S. goes to war without UN support. That's because Canadian warships are already in the region as part of an international coalition under American leadership to enforce sanctions against Iraq.

"It's much trickier politically to actually pull your forces out, than to join a campaign,'' he said. "It will be very interesting to see what Ottawa will do (in those circumstances).''

At Washington's Center for Arms Control, analyst Eric Floden agreed that Washington has no business criticizing other countries for doing what it does.

"It's simple,'' he said. "The bottom line is that the U.S. doesn't want any country to buy weapons from anybody else, and it wants to dictate who can buy weapons and who can't.''

For example, Bush administration officials said Monday the U.S. will sell equipment to the military-backed government of Algeria to help combat Islamic militants. That makes Algeria just the most recent nation in a long list of countries who buy arms from the U.S., despite criticism from human rights groups.

Richard Sanders, co-ordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, says it's unfortunate that the irony of the U.S. position doesn't jump out at people.

"To us, it's mind-boggling,'' he said from Ottawa. "The U.S. sells the world's largest volume of weapons to more countries than anybody else, they have 1.5 million troops stationed around the world, they spend more than $500 billion (U.S.) a year on the military budget ... they just fought a war against Afghanistan and they are ready to bomb Iraq,'' he said. "I guess it's not the kind of irony you laugh at.''

Final comment must go to Toronto's Matthew Behrens.

"We find the situation very ironic, given that we went to jail,'' he said last night.

On Tuesday, Behrens, along with 25 anti-war protesters from Raging Grannies to a 7-year-old, showed up at the gates of Burlington's Wescam Inc. The company makes communications equipment with military applications, and is being purchased by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., a major supplier to the U.S. defense department.

The aim, according to Behrens, was to "conduct a citizens' weapons inspection of the facility,'' just as UN inspectors are inspecting installations in Iraq. It wasn't even a surprise visit, according to Behrens, whose organization, Homes Not Bombs, sent a letter to the company last week.

But when they showed up, police cruisers were on the site and Behrens and two colleagues were taken to the Halton Regional Police Station and charged with trespassing.

"While U.N, inspectors have enjoyed unfettered (and often unannounced) access to a host of suspected Iraqi weapons productions sites,'' the Canadian protesters ended their attempted inspection with a "free ride in handcuffs down to the local police station,'' said the group said yesterday in a statement.

"It was a clear indication of the hypocrisy that underscores the demands of nations which are armed (and arming) to the teeth that only one nation be disarmed.''

Behrens said the three accused plan to fight the charges in court.

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


Published on Thursday, December 12, 2002 by FAIR's Media Beat
Decoding Some Top Buzz Words of 2002
by Norman Solomon


How words are used can be crucial to understanding and misunderstanding the world around us. The media lexicon is saturated with certain buzz phrases. They're popular -- but what do they mean?

"The use of words is to express ideas," James Madison wrote. "Perspicuity, therefore, requires not only that the ideas should be distinctly formed, but that they should be expressed by words distinctly and exclusively appropriate to them." More than two centuries later, surveying the wreckage of public language in political spheres, you might be tempted to murmur: "Dream on, Jim."

With 2002 nearing its end in the midst of great international tension, here's a sampling of some top U.S. media jargon:

  • "Pre-emptive"
    This adjective represents a kind of inversion of the Golden Rule: "Do violence onto others just in case they might otherwise do violence onto you." Brandished by Uncle Sam, we're led to believe that's a noble concept.
  • "Weapons of mass destruction"
    They're bad unless they're good. Globally, the U.S. government leads the way with thousands of unfathomably apocalyptic nuclear weapons. (Cue the media cheers.) Regionally, in the Middle East, only Israel has a nuclear arsenal -- estimated at 200 atomic warheads -- currently under the control of Ariel Sharon, who has proven to be lethally out of control on a number of occasions. (Cue the media shrugs.) Meanwhile, the possibility that Saddam Hussein might someday develop any such weapons is deemed to be sufficient reason to launch a war. (Cue the Pentagon missiles.)
  • "International community"
    Honorary members include any and all nations that are allied with Washington or accede to its policies. Other governments are evil rogue states.
  • "International law"
    This is the political equivalent of Play Dough, to be shaped, twisted and kneaded as needed. No concept is too outlandish, no rationalization too Orwellian when a powerful government combines with pliant news media. Few members of the national press corps are willing to question the basics when the man in the Oval Office issues the latest pronouncement about international behavior. It's a cinch that fierce condemnation would descend on any contrary power that chooses to do as we do and not as we say.
  • "Terrorism"
    The hands-down winner of the rhetorical sweepstakes for 2002, this word aptly condemns as reprehensible the killing of civilians, but the word is applied quite selectively rather than evenhandedly. When the day comes that news outlets accord the life of a Palestinian child the same reverence as the life of an Israeli child, we'll know that media coverage has moved beyond craven mediaspeak to a single standard of human rights.

Although you wouldn't know it from U.S. media coverage, 80 percent of the Palestinians killed in recent months by the Israeli Defense Force during curfew enforcement were children, according to an October report from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. Twelve people under the age of 16 had been killed, with dozens more wounded by Israeli gunfire in occupied areas, during a period of four months. "None of those killed endangered the lives of soldiers," B'Tselem said.

Closer to home, in less dramatic ways, the concept of "human rights" melts away when convenient. Even an assiduous reader of the U.S. press would be surprised to run across some key provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations more than 50 years ago and theoretically in force today. For instance, the document declares without equivocation that "everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment."

Perhaps the Universal Declaration passage least likely to succeed with U.S. news media appears in Article 25: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and the necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Words expressing those kinds of ideas are scarce in our media lexicon.