In his Memo from Cairo today, the NYT's Michael Slackman writes about Egyptian attitudes towards 9/11.
"Look, I don't believe what your governments and press say. It just can't be true," said Ahmed Issab, 26, a Syrian engineer who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. "Why would they tell the truth? I think the U.S. organized this so that they had an excuse to invade Iraq for the oil."
It is easy for Americans to dismiss such thinking as bizarre. But that would miss a point that people in this part of the world think Western leaders, especially in Washington, need to understand: That such ideas persist represents the first failure in the fight against terrorism -- the inability to convince people here that the United States is, indeed, waging a campaign against terrorism, not a crusade against Muslims.
The premise of the article is that the United States hasn't done a sufficient job of making its case to the Muslim world. But that ignores that the United States isn't alone in this battle for hearts and minds.
Slackman then lectures:
Americans might better understand the region, experts here said, if they simply listen to what people are saying -- and try to understand why -- rather than taking offense. 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 attacks to buttress Israel and undermine the Muslim Arab world.
Slackman is doing the talking here. "Experts" provide him with suitable cover to claim that this isn't his own opinion. But this is a common device in "journalism." If you want to say something, there's always an "expert" who'll say the same thing and "confirm" that you're correct.
Perhaps, though, there are other forces. From a State Department blog:
Conspiracy thinking has grown, especially since the September 11 attacks, says Mohamed Abdel Salam, Head of the Regional Security and Arms Control Program at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt. His article, "The Modes of Arab Conspiracy Theories," says "markedly non-scientific modes of thought prevail throughout the Arab world," one form being conspiracy theories.
My Right Word makes a similar observation (the one quoted above comes from an Arab source):
But that's what I and many others have been sounding out for years (okay, in my case, decades). There is something called a mindset. There is nothing racist in this. It is a fact. And the MiddleEast/Arab mindset is such that logic and rationality play much less a role in political education and wisdom than in other regions.
Well, I can't subscribe to it since the terrorists themselves claim to be acting in the name of Islam. There was one Muslim leader who said, not long ago, that it is wrong to speak about Muslim terrorism, because if a man commits an act of terrorism, he's not a Muslim. That's very nice, but that could also be interpreted as meaning that if a Muslim commits it, it doesn't count as terrorism.
When a large part of the Muslim world was under foreign rule, then you might say that terrorism was a result of imperialism, of imperial rule and occupation. But at the present time, almost the whole of the Muslim world has achieved its independence. They can no longer blame others for what goes wrong. They have to confront the realities of their own lives at home. A few places remain disputed, like Chechnya and Israel and some others, but these are relatively minor if you're talking about the Islamic world as a whole.
Lewis also points out that the entrenched tyrants of the Muslim world have a reason to resent the invasion of Iraq: the current Iraqi government is an imperfectly functioning democracy. If the government in Iraq is successful, it will signal to the rest of the Arab/Muslim world that change is possible. Not that Lewis expects quick political change, but he believes it possible over the long term.
The 9/11 conspiracy theories that are so prevalent in the Arab world result not from a rational assessment of the situation. (Amazingly Slackman's article never mentions that Egypt is the second largest recipient of American aid; that the United States and the West, continually provide the Palestinians with much more money than the Arab/Muslim world does.)
The Arab world thinks its grievances are real. But instead of shining a light on reality and asking why these grievances persist in resistance to fact and reason, Slackman lectures the West that we ought to understand and accommodate the mindset.
Opinion Dominion writes about the 9/11 "truthers":
In short, they encourage conspiracy belief in the Middle East, and that cannot possibly help achieve peace there.
Unfortunately articles like Slackman's effectively legitimize and entrench these beliefs, making them even harder to dispel. So that's how the New York Times celebrates the 7th anniversary of 9/11, by making the ideology that led to the terror more sympathetic to its Western audience.
UPDATE: More at Buzztracker.
Crossposted on Yourish.Posted by SoccerDad at September 9, 2008 8:21 AM