Editor's Note: For decades, Israel has been expected to behave like a civilized nation, while its enemies are under no such strictures. Now that the United States has acquired its own Mideast fiefdom, we’re finding out what that’s all about. I’m not excusing our misdeeds in Iraq, but our behavior there in no way approaches what’s routine in a typical Arab country in the region. This may sound jingoistic, but it’s just realistic. We’re not perfect, but compared to our enemies ... well, there’s no moral equivalence, and we don’t need to constantly flagellate ourselves because we have higher standards of behavior to live up to. The Stamford Advocate found this article “a little harsh” and edited it down a bit, deeming it offensive to Arabs. It also ran in The Jewish Voice, but they didn’t edit it quite so much — evidently, they have a small Palestinian readership.
Lie down with dogs and you get fleas. This is something Colin Powell has probably learned since joining the Bush Administration. And it’s a lesson Americans are learning in Iraq.
After months fighting for their lives in a Mideast cesspool, it’s not surprising a small percentage of GIs “went native.” This in no way excuses their misconduct at Abu Ghraib, but since we’re going to be garrisoning Iraq for the foreseeable future, Americans will need to understand the double standard by which we’ll be judged.
As the only civilized democracy in a region suffused with revenge and violence, Israel has lived with this reality since 1948. For example, during the 1970 civil strife known as “Black September,” Jordan’s relatively “moderate” ruler, King Hussein, slaughtered more Palestinians than Israel has during its entire existence. Yet Arab hatred focuses almost exclusively and obsessively on the Jews.
In 1982, Israel was denounced worldwide because it failed to prevent Lebanese Christian militia from killing Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, as if it were responsible for protecting people dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. When was the last time Arab soldiers protected Israeli noncombatants from Islamic murderers?
Baruch Goldstein, a deranged Jewish fundamentalist, killed 29 Muslims in a mosque in 1994. Although the Israeli government had nothing to do with the massacre, it immediately apologized and condemned the act. Could you imagine the Syrian government apologizing if one of its citizens shot up a synagogue? It would be more likely to erect a statue of the killer in Damascus, next to that of Hafez al-Assad, who once used massed artillery to massacre all 20,000 residents of the Syrian town of Hama because they opposed his Ba’athist rule.
Hamas routinely claims responsibility for killing Jewish civilians, including women and children. Nonetheless, surgical air strikes against its leaders in Gaza — no different from our attempts to take out bin-Ladin in Tora Bora — caused “the Arab street” (as well as some Americans) to react as if Gandhi had been assassinated. (Realistically, there are no Palestinian Gandhis.)
When militants executed a pregnant Israeli and her four little girls, aged two through 11, at point-blank range, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority (PA) radio called these thugs “heroic martyrs.” Such atrocities are now so commonplace that Western media barely mentions them. It’s as if we’ve come to expect the people involved in the Intifada to behave like animals.
Arafat’s PA outnumbers both Hamas and Hezbollah, but he makes no attempt to control either of them. Just imagine what a future Palestinian state will look like — a theocratic thug-ocracy, run by baby killers, suicide-bombers, and their supporters and sympathizers: In short, it will be a typical Arab nation.
The Arab world greets each Muslim atrocity with either praise or deafening silence. Saudi Arabia funds the hate-preaching madrassas that supply al-Qaida’s recruits, while mainstream Muslim scholars and clerics fail to condemn even those acts proscribed by the Quran, such as hostage-taking and suicide-bombing. President Bush has referred to terrorists’ attempts to “hijack a great religion,“ but the reaction of Islamic leaders to the recent carnage suggests the attempt has been successful.
During the Crusades, the more-civilized Saracens were shocked by the brutality of the Christian invaders, but, while Christianity has evolved, Islam has lapsed into its Dark Ages. The worst excesses of American Protestant fundamentalism have no moral equivalence with those of radical Islam: Sept. 11th, the bombing of railroads in Spain and nightclubs in Bali, or the filmed beheadings of civilians like Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg. The cultural and religious contrast is epitomized by the fact that Muslims expect us not to shoot at Iraqi mosques, but have no qualms about shooting at us from within them.
Emulating the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose fatwah called for the murder of Salman Rushdie for merely writing a novel he found offensive, Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Sadr has offered rewards for killing or kidnapping British soldiers. When was the last time Pope John Paul put out a fatwah? Even Jerry Falwell doesn’t put a price on the heads of abortion doctors.
Arab media such as Al Jazeera will use the sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib to reinforce its portrayal of the West as depraved. But which is worse, compelling Muslim prisoners to disrobe in public or forcing little Arab girls to remain in a burning building, rather than be seen in public without their headscarves, as the Saudi religious police did in 2002?
Gulf War II is changing Americans’ view of Iraq as a land of decent people oppressed by an evil tyrant. Recent events make one question whether Saddam’s rule might have been just what the country required. And, after seeing Americans civilians’ bodies burned, beaten and hung from bridges, it’s harder to view a dog collar on an Iraqi prisoner as an “atrocity.”
Yet, despite demagogues like Rush Limbaugh calling them “campus pranks,” we’ll treat our crimes seriously, because we set the bar higher than our enemies do. Abusive soldiers will be jailed and disgraced, and, unlike rogue states such as Saudi Arabia, the U.S. won’t sponsor telethons in their honor.
The prevailing double standard is unfair and frustrating, but we should cling to it proudly. Better that than spending our season in hell and finding we’ve brought some of it home with us.
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