I’m attending the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism in this Tel Aviv suburb and having a coffee while reading the International Herald Tribune. There on Page 2 is a feature, datelined Cairo, reporting that seven years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the “conventional wisdom” in the Middle East is that “the United States and Israel had to have been involved” in the planning, if not execution, of the mass murder.
A Syrian engineer says the United States organized Sept. 11 as an “excuse to invade Iraq for the oil.” An Egyptian driver claims “everybody knows” the Jews stayed home from work that morning. A student planning to go into the tourism business says Americans can’t be trusted because “they killed Saddam, tortured people.”
And Wahid Abdel Meguid, deputy director of the “government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies” says Arabs and Muslims believe “the United States has a prejudice against them. So they never think the United States is well-intentioned and they always feel that whatever it does has something behind it.”
No less distressing than these opinions is the pose adopted by the foreign correspondent, Michael Slackman. The demands of political correctness in the elite media being what they are, he has not found a single source who will suggest that the prevalence of such attitudes reflects the fact that governments and media in the Middle East routinely spread anti-American and anti-Semitic slanders. He does not note that schools in the region instill bias while neglecting critical thinking. He can’t even raise the possibility - however gently - that the persistence of such beliefs, long after the details of al Qaeda’s plot have been made public, may reveal a pathology in the culture of the contemporary Arab Middle East.
Instead, the only theory given ink is that such ideas demonstrate “the first failure in the war on terror - the inability to convince people here that the United States is, indeed, waging a campaign against terrorism, not a crusade against Muslims.”
So it’s due to the inadequacies of U.S. public diplomacy that the fabled Arab Street thinks Americans incinerated fellow Americans as part of a “crusade” against them?
Of course, it might help if reporters like Mr. Slackman mentioned to his interlocutors that there is no evidence the United States has stolen so much as a drop of Iraqi oil. Evidently, it did not occur to him to ask those he interviewed whether they are equally angry over the serial bombings of Iraqi civilians by al Qaeda terrorists, and the assassinations carried out by Iranian-backed militias. Or do they think those murders, too, were masterminded by the CIA and the Mossad? And he didn’t bother to ask them if they are aware such atrocities have dramatically diminished, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. military working hand-in-hand with their Iraqis comrades-in arms.
He might have elicited some interesting responses had he pointed out that Americans in recent years have repeatedly sacrificed blood and treasure to rescue Muslim communities.
Americans intervened in the Balkans to protect Bosnia and Kosovo from hostile Christian neighbors. Americans saved Kuwait from the savagery of Saddam Hussein. America liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban, an al Qaeda proxy. He could have mentioned, too, the billions in aid that American taxpayers have given to the Palestinians.
Instead, Mr. Slackman tells us “experts here” say Americans might better understand the region “if they simply listen to what people are saying - and try to understand why they are saying it - rather than take offense.”
He adds: “The broad view here is that even before Sept. 11, the United States was not a fair broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict and that it then capitalized on the terror attacks to buttress Israel and undermine the Muslim Arab world.”
Yes, it all comes back to Israel: Supporting the idea of a secure Jewish state living in peace next door to an independent Palestinian state, is just not fair! So, in response, it must be expected that extremists will slaughter innocents, while those of a less activist bent blame Israelis and Americans for the crimes, and the “experts” accuse Americans of exploiting their dead. After listening carefully to that, who could take offense?
Mr. Slackman concludes: “Trying to convince people here that it was not a quest for oil or a war on Muslims is like persuading many Americans that it was, and that the Sept. 11 attacks were the first steps.” And who can say which is true and which a deranged conspiracy theory? Seven years after Sept. 11, clearly not Mr. Slackman and the International Herald Tribune.
Clifford D. May is a nationally syndicated columnist and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.