- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

That coalition of ours has problems and not just politically speaking. That is, it's one thing to have to buck up a bunch of what used to be known as "weak sisters" with a shot of political courage now and then. It's another situation entirely when it becomes clear hopelessly clear that not only is there, among coalition members, no common grasp of political reality, there is also no common grasp of reality, period.
Let's begin with Saudi Arabia. Sure, it's a headache that this allegedly close ally has barred American warplanes from Saudi bases. And it really doesn't bode too well for the ties that bind when the Saudi interior minister, Prince Nayef, goes around telling the press that if the United States takes its war on Islamist terrorism beyond Afghanistan to any Arab country, "we will side with our Arab brethren."
But such political differences pale next to the mind-bending conundrum of dealing with a government in denial over the simple fact that between eight and 12 of the 19 suicide hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudi Arabian. But as Prince Nayef told reporters in Riyadh recently, he doubts whether the hijackers were even Arabs in the first place. "There were more than 600 passengers on the four hijacked planes," Prince Nayef explained, according to the London Telegraph. "We are still wondering why they [the Americans] have singled out Arabs, especially Saudis."
Or, take Syria, the newest member of the U.N. Security Council. Last week, Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass gave voice to a particularly heinous lie that has been surfacing with feverish frequency in the Arab and Muslim media when he told a delegation from a British military college that Israel is responsible for the Sept. 11 massacre. Not only that, the Syrian official continued, but the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, warned thousands of Jews employed in the World Trade Center not to go to work on the day of the attack. As the Jerusalem Post noted, comments like these indicate that this grotesque slander "has been commuted to fact among senior Arab officialdom."
Such eye-popping reports, often limited to Arabic, rarely seep into the Western media. Westerners, in fact, will sometimes get another story entirely. Consider the bilingual example of Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Gemeaha, Imam of New York City's Islamic Cultural Center and U.S. representative of Al-Azhar University, the Cairo Islamic center constitutionally associated with the Egyptian government. Incidentally, it is Al-Azhar, the New York Times reported, where "clerics … have cast themselves again and again as the guides to a gentle Islam." (More on that below.)
Dr. Gemeaha sounded gentle enough in New York City where he sermonized about being "hurt and saddened" after Sept. 11 by "this act against all humanity." He was anything but gentle, however, in an Arabic interview with an unofficial web site of Al-Azhar University a few weeks later.
In extended remarks translated by the web site, memri.org, Dr. Gameaha venomously elaborated on the same libel repeated by the Syrian defense minister that Israel perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks and added that Americans knew this but were afraid to say so. He dubbed the American campaign in Afghanistan "terrorism," predicted "this war will be the end of America" and said that "if the Americans knew that the Jews carried out the Sept. 11 attacks they would do to them what Hitler did." For good measure, he added that since Sept. 11, "sick Muslim children" in America have been murdered by "Jewish doctors."
So much for Egypt's mainstream clerics. Meanwhile, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak hasn't exactly followed President Bush's lead to repudiate hate-speech from the government mosque. In just a slightly more perfect world, this sort of talk, now circulating throughout Arab and Muslim quarters, would get you tossed out on your ear. But these days, of course, it doesn't even get you tossed out of the coalition.

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