Thanks to the Internet, we can see for ourselves how the first war of the 21st century is being covered by the press in foreign countries. For the first time, access to news outlets in Arabic and Islamic countries is easy and current, and it's fascinating.
Presumably, in at least some of those countries, the Web has given at least some people access to the Western press. Someday this may be looked back on us a constructive development.
It's a particularly good time to start surfing the global Web right now. The daily news has taken on a "groundhog day" quality. The same anthrax stories and the same war stories run day after day. Despite our best intentions to be responsible news consumers, it's all getting relentless, blurry and depressing. So check out stories from distant lands for a change of pace and perspective.
A good palace to start is The World Press Review site, which has a special section, "After September 11," that's filled with English-language and translated stories and links organized by region. The Asia and Middle East/North Africa sections are the most interesting.
The range and diversity of opinion and reporting is far too great to analyze or even describe. But one thing sure to strike most Americans is the abundance of conspiracy theories and ideological interpretations of current events that seem bizarre to us, but seem to be taken as givens in many foreign venues.
"It is no secret, at least not at present, that America's war in Afghanistan was planned even before the September events ever took place," according to an editorial published in the Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Wafd, on Oct. 22. "America's goal is to control the oil-region of Central Asia, or at the very least share this control with both China and Russia. A world which endorses America's actions is indeed one without a conscience."
The view that the current war is simply another American adventure in economic imperialism is not limited to the Arab or Islamic worlds, or to the Left. On Oct. 13, The Hindu, a conservative Indian newspaper, ran an opinion piece that said, "It became clear that the U.S. was using, in a diabolic way, this human tragedy to further its imperialist hegemony worldwide and to invoke a more draconian domestic rule by curtailing democratic rights and freedom in the name of combating terrorism."
The author continued: "It is chilling to realize that it is such cold-blooded pursuit of economic interests and profits that defines U.S. maneuvers in the region and its attacks on Afghanistan. That all this should happen in the name of grieving the death of nearly 7000 [sic] innocent American lives is plain cuelty. The world today is being asked to side with the U.S. in a fight against global terrorism. This is only a cover. The world is being asked today, in reality, to side with the U.S. as it seeks to strengthen its economic hegemony."
Less surprising but more chilling is the relentless anti-Israel, anti-Semitic drumbeat in much of the mainstream Arab press. This excerpt from an editorial written Sep. 14 in Al-Akhbar, a pro-government Egyptian paper is typical, but relatively mild in comparison to some:
"It's true that some anarchist terrorist organizations seek to incite trouble and shake stability all over the world. But there are some countries, managed by terrorist governments, whose policies and strategies are based on terrorism without any regard for the laws, treaties, or resolutions of international law. Israel is a typical example of such states where terrorism has become a profession... There is no difference between the bloody terrorism that targeted the USA, and the daily brutal and oppressive acts against the innocent Palestinians…"
A useful site for following the even more extreme, hateful anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and anti-American currents in the Arab and Islamic media is produced by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a pro-Israel think tank that nonetheless provides reliable translations.
MEMRI made a little news recently, when it published an interview with Sheik Muhammad Gamei'a, leader of the high-profile Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Sheik Gemei'a left the U.S. soon after the attacks and the interview with him first appeared on a Web site connected with Al-Azhar University, a prestigious Islamic university in Cairo. Sheik Gemei'a is also affiliated with Al-Azhar. His credentials are "mainstream" or "moderate." But what he says in the interview isn't.
In the interview, Sheik Gemei'a described what it was supposedly like in American after September 11. "Following the incident, Muslims and Arabs stopped feeling that it was safe…" he said. "They stopped feeling that it was safe to send their wives to the market or their children to the schools. Muslims do not feel safe even going to the hospitals, because some Jewish doctors in one of the hospitals poisoned sick Muslim children, who then died."
Gemei'a goes on to say that the September 11 attacks were the work of Zionists, a fairly popular conspiracy theory in the Arab media. "All the signs indicate that the Jews have the most to gain from an explosion like that," he said. "They are the only ones capable of planning such acts… Jews control decision-making in the airports and in the sensitive centers in the White House and the Pentagon."
"Although the Americans suspect that the Zionists are behind the act, none has the courage to talk about it in public," Gemei'a said. "You see these people (i.e. the Jews) all the time, everywhere, diseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs. [Because of them] there are strip clubs, homosexuals, and lesbians everywhere. They do this to impose their hegemony and colonialism on the world."
You get the picture.
You can get a bigger picture from long lists of links to Arab and Islamic media that appear on the Islamic News and Information Networkat a site published by the Al-Hewar Center an Arab cultural center. It's a picture of how a war is viewed far away that civilians at home have never had before.
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