Friday, May 20, 2005

The Middle East must be held accountable

I think the clearest thing that this Newsweek fiasco has put into perspective is that the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East is not founded on any sort of civilized basis. We're dealing with pure, unadulterated religious fanaticism.

Here's a ThisisLondon piece from earlier today. A quote:

Led by a man on a megaphone, they chanted, "USA watch your back, Osama is coming back" and "Kill, kill USA, kill, kill George Bush". A small detail of police watched as they shouted: "Bomb, bomb New York" and "George Bush, you will pay, with your blood, with your head."
Demonstrators in Grosvenor Square, some with their faces covered with scarves, waved placards which included the message: "Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow."

This is a demonstration protesting an event that didn't happen, let's not forget. But even if it had happened, the last phrase - "Desecrate today and see another 9/11 tomorrow" is telling.

Take a look at this piece by Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe, titled "Why Islam is Disrespected."

It's strange that in the wake of 17 deaths resulting from riots that were supposedly sparked by this Newsweek piece that the most intense finger-pointing has been aimed at either the Bush administration or American journalism, and not toward the society that breeds the kind of hatred and psychosis that allows murder to happen when an unsavory paragraph is published in a foreign magazine.

Certainly, journalism's standards and practices need a good, hard examination, and it's a shame that the media's Old Guard has been so hesitant to take constructive criticism from any outside source. Trying to excuse Newsweek's gaffe by accusing the Bush administration of deceit is ludicrous on its face, not because of innocence on the part of the administration, but because journalism, as a political entity, has never supposed to have taken its cue - or been granted any kind of ultimate license - from either the goodness or badness of the government and society in which it operates.

But that isn't the point. What's happened is, as the editors of USA Today pointed out in one of the more insightful commentaries published on the issue, a systemic misunderstanding of the Arab world that is now prevalent in western society.What USA Today fails to point out, though, is that the Arab world must be held accountable for its culture.

A certain amount of respect for other cultures is, of course, necessary in any international relations. However, when social policy is driven by fanaticism, there is a failure much more systemic than the one America is experiencing.

As Jacoby points out in his Boston Globe piece, there have never, in recent history, been stories of Christians or Bhuddists rising up en masse, rioting and killing, over perceived "desecrations" to either sect's "Holy Books." There haven't been stories because such things simply do not happen.

On the other hand, because exactly the same thing has happened in the Middle East due to an alleged - and debunked - incident of desecration to the Koran, westerners are wringing their hands and pointing fingers, all the while wondering why we haven't been "sensitive" enough to the "Arab experience."

I don't want to beat this point to death - although that's probably literally what would happen to me if I were to give voice to this opinion in, say, Riyadh - but what needs to happen in the Middle East is a very fundamental change. We can talk about double standards, cultural norms, and the rest until we are blue in the face, but two facts remain: The Middle East, and its supporters, need to extricate themselves from the self-imposed Dark Age they are currently in; and if democracy and/or freedom is going to take root in Iraq or anywhere else in the countries that lie between Egypt and Pakistan, then they must take accountability for the ideology of hatred that is not only supported by the government, it's a packaged product they export.

And let's not forget that the protestors outside the U.S. embassy in London are calling for another 9/11 - another massacre of innocent civilians, despite what Ward Churchill might claim - over a "desecration" that didn't even happen.


Update: Head over to the Mudville Gazette's Open Post when you're through here.

Update: Michael Jericho has photos over at Odysseus.