- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Almost any English-language newspaper anywhere in the developing world carries more foreign news than

America's top two or three dailies combined. Since the end of the Cold War, the melodrama of constant trivia, from Tania Harding to Monica Lewinsky and from O.J. Simpson to Gary Condit, blinded us to the new forces shaping the developing world.

In a comparable news period, Miss Harding garnered more ink and air time than the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that collapsed the Soviet empire and its communist ideology.

Following the twin victories in the Cold War and the Gulf war, editors and TV producers, in their infinite wisdom, decided Americans don't care about foreign news and focused instead on less expensive to cover domestic melodramas.

For the major conglomerates and mega-companies that own the media giants, the bottom line reigned supreme. The public good was a quaint concept relegated to academic debates, as was the journalistic duty of taking what's important and making it interesting. Stains on Monica's dress became more important than the growing popularity of Osama Bin Laden in the slums of Muslim capitals.

Prior to Sept. 11, ABC World News Tonight frequently reduced the rest of the world to a single foreign news item, more often than not of marginal importance. As the New York Times' Maureen Dowd put it, "It's somewhat embarrassing that we didn't look outward sooner, that foreign wars got less TV air time than the war against wrinkles."

The fact that bin Laden was running a global terror network in some 60 countries was unknown by 99 percent of Americans; or that Pakistan's Islamic schools (madrassas) are producing an endless supply of recruits for terrorist training in Afghanistan; or that Pakistan's crassly ignorant religious leaders are promoting bin Laden's hatred of America; or that fanatics have won the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses while they chloroformed the silent majority into submission.

And CBS' Dan Rather wondered out loud on Larry King Live, "How did we get sucker punched?" The dumbing down of the media was the slippery slope that led to the dumbing down of America.

For 10 years following the end of the Cold War, three administrations (including two Clinton terms) saw only the global triumph of democratic capitalism. Unbeknownst to the media, globalization became shorthand for American economic and cultural imperialism for countless millions, not only in the developing world, but also in developed European countries. From Seattle two years ago to Genoa last July. Anti-capitalist demonstrations were duly noted, but the dots were never connected to the forces that now lionize Osama bin Laden.

For most of the developing world it was still a matter of how to put food on the family table, not twice or three times but once a day. Muslim clerics from Indonesia to Pakistan, the world's two most populous Islamic states, and from Egypt to Morocco, tell their impoverished flocks that America lives in the lap of luxury from the sweat of their brows. And to add insult to injury, they say America is supplying billions in military hardware to Israel to keep the Palestinians enslaved. All the ingredients for the "Clash of Civilizations," posited by Professor Samuel Huntington in his famous book, have slowly hardened without the ever-alert mass media machine taking notice.

Sept. 11 snapped Rip Van Winkle policy wonks out of a long post-Cold War sleep. They suddenly advocated a "belt of democracy" to wean the masses away from a clergy that doubles in brass as witch doctors. Unfortunately, masses that can't read or write Pakistan is 70 percent illiterate have been led to believe that democracy is the smokescreen behind which the evil American empire advances its pawns. Obscurantist theocracy is the mullahs' vessel of choice to keep the masses at sea in the real world.

Gen. Hameed Gul, the retired Pakistani intelligence chief who plays Svengali as "strategic adviser" to the country's extremist religious formations, points to the feudal regimes of the Gulf to prove to his clerical followers that even America is not really serious about democracy as a global model. The retired general is also a friend and admirer of bin Laden and his son-in-law Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's "Supreme Leader of the Faithful."

The ruling royal families of the Gulf are the third most hated by the "fundos" (local jargon for fundamentalists) after the U.S. and Israel. For democracy to be meaningful to the masses, the divine right of rulers in the Gulf would have to morph into constitutional monarchies as unifying symbols over nonroyal governments elected by popular mandate.

The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, buys time by subsidizing the Qatari-based Al Jazeera TV station that acts as a mouthpiece for Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates keep their flat-Earth clerics at bay by ladling out largesse to Pakistan's madrassas, religious schools that produced recruits for bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Democracies have proved time and again that it takes a major international crisis to get them out of their preferred state of denial. Hopefully this time mainstream media will remain focused on the new world disorder.

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