What are we to make of scenes from the eighth century in Fallujah? Random murder, mutilation of the dead, dismemberment, televised gore, and pride in stringing up the charred corpses of those who sought to bring food to the hungry? Perhaps we can shrug and say all this is the wage of Saddam Hussein and the thirty years of brutality of his Baathists that institutionalized such barbarity? Or was the carnage the dying scream of Baathist hold-outs intent on shocking the Western world watching it live? We could speculate for hours.
Yet I fear that we have not seen anything new. Flip through the newspaper and the stories are as depressing as they are monotonous: bombs in Spain; fiery clerics promising death in England, even as explosive devices are uncovered in France. In-between accounts of bombings in Iraq, we get the normal murdering in Israel, and daily assassination in Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, and Chechnya. Murder, dismemberment, torture -- these all seem to be the acceptable tools of Islamic fundamentalism and condoned as part of justifiable Middle East rage. Sheik Yassin is called a poor crippled "holy man" who ordered the deaths of hundreds, as revered in the Arab world for his mass murder as Jerry Falwell is condemned in the West for his occasional slipshod slur about Muslims. Yet the hourly killing is perhaps not merely the wages of autocracy, but part of a larger grotesquery of Islamic fundamentalism on display. The Taliban strung up infidels from construction cranes and watched, like Romans of old, gory stoning and decapitations in soccer stadiums built with UN largesse. In the last two years, Palestinian mobs have torn apart Israeli soldiers, lynched their own, wired children with suicide bombing vests, and machine-gunned down women and children -- between sickening scenes of smearing themselves with the blood of "martyrs." Very few Arab intellectuals or holy men have condemned such viciousness.
Daniel Pearl had his head cut off on tape; an American diplomat was riddled with bullets in Jordan. Or should we turn to Lebanon and gaze at the work of Hezbollah, its posters of decapitated Israeli soldiers proudly on display? Some will interject that the Saudis are not to be forgotten -- whose religious police recently allowed trapped school girls to be incinerated rather than have them leave the flaming building unescorted, engage in public amputations, and behead adulteresses. But Mr. Assad erased from memory the entire town of Hama. And why pick on Saddam Hussein, when earlier Nasser, heartthrob to the Arab masses, gassed Yemenis? The Middle East coffee houses cry about the creation of Israel and the refugees on the West Bank only to snicker that almost 1,000,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Arab world.
And then there is the rhetoric. Where else in the world do mainstream newspapers talk of Jews as the children of pigs and apes? And how many wacky Christian or Hindu fundamentalists advocate the mass murder of Jews or promise death to the infidel? Does a Western leader begin his peroration with "O evil infidel" or does Mr. Sharon talk of "virgins" and "blood-stained martyrs"?
Conspiracy theory in the West is the domain of Montana survivalists and Chomsky-like wackos; in the Arab world it is the staple of the state-run media. This tired strophe and antistrophe of threats and retractions, and braggadocio and obsequiousness grates on the world at large. So Hamas threatens to bring the war to the United States, and then back peddles and says not really. So the Palestinians warn American diplomats that they are not welcome on the soil of the West Bank -- as if any wish to return when last there they were murdered trying to extend scholarships to Palestinian students.
Are the citizens of Fallujah the victims of Saddam, or did folk like this find their natural identity expressed in Saddam?
I am sorry, but these toxic fumes of the Dark Ages permeate everywhere. It won't do any more simply to repeat quite logical exegeses like "Without consensual government, the poor Arab Middle East is caught in the throes of rampant unemployment, illiteracy, statism, and corruption. Thus in frustration it vents through its state-run media invective against Jews and Americans to assuage the shame and pain." Whatever.
But at some point the world is asking: "Is Mr. Assad or Hussein, the Saudi Royal Family, or a Khadafy really an aberration -- all rogues who hijacked Arab countries -- or are they the logical expression of a tribal patriarchal society whose frequent tolerance of barbarism is in fact reflected in its leadership? Are the citizens of Fallujah the victims of Saddam, or did folk like this find their natural identity expressed in Saddam? Postcolonial theory and victimology argue that European colonialism, Zionism, and petrodollars wrecked the Middle East. But to believe that one must see India in shambles, Latin America under blanket autocracy, and an array of suicide bombers pouring out of Mexico or Nigeria. South Korea was a moonscape of war when oil began gushing out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia; why is it now exporting cars while the latter are exporting death? Apartheid was far worse than the Shah's modernization program; yet
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May 2004 - 3 - Outpost