Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Is the Muslim world still in denial about September 11?

Is the Muslim world still in denial about September 11?

Author: Barbara Amiel
Publication: The Daily Telegraph, UK
Date: March 4, 2002

In a Gallup poll released last week, 61 per cent of nearly 10,000 Muslims in nine Islamic countries said they did not believe Arabs were responsible for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre last September. The poll did not ask the 61 per cent who they thought had hijacked the planes. One Gallup poll recently cited by Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times gave a figure of 48 per cent of Pakistanis believing that Jews flew the planes into the WTC after warning fellow Jews working there to stay home.

One is inclined to look at these results with gallows humour, as did columnist George Jonas in Canada's National Post. He found it "hopeful" that 61 per cent of Muslim respondents thought crashing civilian airliners into office buildings sufficiently wrong to deny that Arabs had anything to do with it. This, he pointed out, is certainly a moral improvement on the martyrs of Hamas and Hizbollah or al-Qa'eda who view indiscriminate murder with pride. Unfortunately, the poll also found a significant minority who thought the WTC atrocity morally justifiable. That leaves us with a Muslim world more or less split into two groups: the larger portion has moral reservations about the events of September 11 but is in a state of denial about Arabs being responsible, and a much smaller portion (but as high as 36 per cent in Kuwait) has no moral reservations about mass murder.

These polls can be easily manipulated by how the questions are drafted. Nor are they fully reliable in their measurement. I use polls strictly to determine the existence of a strand in a given culture or country. The very existence of such a strand may exert a strong influence on behaviour in that region. In that context, the proposal the New York Times attributes to Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that Israel should return to its 1967 borders and then the Saudis and Arab world would consider recognition seems a deal one can't immediately recommend - though there is a hint of some flexibility in it regarding Jerusalem. The many problems of the proposal begin with the question of whether it exists or is merely kite-flying. But, to mention only one objection, such a proposal would mean Israel giving up tangible assets in exchange for the promise of eventually getting a piece of paper signed by countries that you know regard Israel's very existence as "a catastrophe". This seems, to put it mildly, unwise.

What is on the Arab mind is redrafting UN Resolution 242, passed in 1967, to have it say what they had always wished it had said. That resolution called for Israeli withdrawal to "secure and recognised boundaries". For a long time, the Arab world insisted it meant a return to Israel's exact 1967 borders. Those borders give Israel security concerns, not least because it would assume the vulnerability of an hourglass, only nine miles wide in its populous northern end. But, Resolution 242 did not specify borders. In 1970, George Brown, foreign secretary at the time of 242, said in an interview:

"I formulated the Security Council resolution. Before we submitted it to the council, we showed it to Arab leaders. The proposal said 'Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied' and not from 'the' territories, which means Israel will not withdraw from all the territories."

Lord Caradon, sponsor of the UN resolution, added: "I know the 1967 border very well. It is not a satisfactory border; it is where the troops had to stop in 1947, just where they happened to be that night." According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Algosaibi, summed up the issue in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat last February 19 in this engaging way: "Once a [new Resolution 242] is passed, once Israel's commitment to this resolution is declared, and once an independent Palestinian state is established, Saudi Arabia will not be [more politically hostile towards Israel] than its Palestinian brothers..." Even by the ambassador's elegant standards, this was an impressive display of conditionality.

Postscript: responses to my column mentioning dinner-party anti-Semitism have been piling up. As media reports go into "the files", one is forced, apologetically, to correct factual errors. I'm perfectly happy to be castigated for views I hold, but I'll be damned if I'll be castigated for ones I don't.

I learn from the Daily Mails Geoffrey Levy, among others, that I am a "Jewess" (correct) and a "passionate Zionist". False. While I find Zionism a perfectly respectable position, it happens that I am not, and have never been, a Zionist myself Prior to Israel's 1948 establishment, I would have been on the side of those who believed the solution to the "Jewish question" was more tolerance within nations rather than the creation of a Jewish state. Just for the record, I have also argued since the late 1970s that a Palestinian state is both right and a necessity for peace. I believe the Israeli settlements should be disbanded and that the Israelis missed a great opportunity to establish all of the above when Prime Minister Menachem Begin produced his bogus autonomy plan in 1979. I can't blame my colleagues in the press for not going through my columns in North America or The Times, Sunday Times and Telegraph on this issue, but these views are available.

In the same newspaper, another writer matter-of-factly described me as "a campaigning Zionist". I am a journalist and I don't campaign for any side. It is precisely because I don't consider it my job to guide Israeli policy or its public relations efforts that I have not written on a number of issues (such as how badly Israel conducts its public relations compared with the Palestinians and why). The day I did that I'd resign my job and become a PR flack.

It is true that I have been writing more about the Middle East lately. When the Gulf war broke out and I was at The Sunday Times, those of us on the comment pages were told by the editor to write on that issue for several weeks. It was a logical request given the seriousness of the subject. My own instinct is to go from topic to topic. But if you are in a mood to write about something, the mere fact that people may pigeonhole you is not a disincentive.

There is a school of thought in the press, exemplified by Deborah Orr at the Independent, who wrote that "according to Ms Amiel, I too have been peddling anti-Semitism... Ever since I went to Israel on holiday I've considered it to be a shitty little country too." Actually, Miss Orr strikes me as muddled rather than anti-Semitic. However, her point, repeated elsewhere, is that I believe anyone who criticises Israel's policies or actions to be anti-Semitic.

For the record, I do not. Yes, it is possible to be anti-Israel both in general and vis-à-vis specific policies without being anti-Semitic That is so self-evident that the number of Jews since the days of Theodore Herzl, who were anti-Zionist not only equalled but periodically exceeded the number who were Zionists. That said, the fact is that these days, when anti-Semitism is not socially acceptable and anti-Zionism is, a number of anti-Semites hide their true colours under this distinction. '

I'm dwelling on this idiocy at length because, having worked as a journalist on both sides of the Atlantic, it is my impression that the British public is more likely to take its opinions from the media than either the Canadian or American public. In the past number of years, the British public, while not necessarily anti-Semitic, has acquired an anti-Israeli bias based on the tendentious and inaccurate information of the British media. (One example: the BBC's decades of letting Resolution 242 pass as demanding Israel's return, to the 1967 borders.)

To become anti-Israeli because of persistent misinformation may not be the same as becoming anti-Semitic, but it is still foolish and wrong.

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