Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A Bestial Competition With No End in Sight

Linda S. Heard, Arab News

CAIRO, 18 May 2004 — Shamed and indignant Americans have been calling for heads to roll after being sickened by the abuses perpetrated by US grunts at Abu Ghraib...but not literally. Just when the Bush administration has been doing some warranted self-flagellation with the president’s approval rating diving to an unprecedented low of 46 percent and public support for the invasion to a mere 41 percent, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an affiliate of Bin Laden, has changed the mood. According to the Islamist website, which put up a gruesome video showing the beheading of American Nick Berg, the man who personally did the horrific deed was none other than Al-Zarqawi.

If that’s true, Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who trained in Al-Qaeda terrorist camps, hasn’t done the Iraqis any favors. Like George W. Bush, who in one week during the run-up to the invasion disingenuously linked Saddam Hussein to Bin Laden nine times during public speeches, Al-Zarqawi has attempted to meld his extremist ideology with the struggle of the Iraqi people.

But was it Al-Zarqawi? There are those, especially in the Arab world, who doubt that Al-Zarqawi was the knife-wielding criminal in that video, despite the CIA’s assertions that after carrying out voice analysis, its experts believed it was. A few skeptics have noted the murderer’s agility, pointing out that Al-Zarqawi is thought to be minus a leg. Others have cited a US military report dated April 2003, which stated Al-Zarqawi was killed. Yet others have implied a far more sinister scenario. The Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuit worn by Berg has been mentioned by those who express doubt Al-Zarqawi’s group would have one readily at hand. Such conspiracy theorists also bring up the fact there was little or no blood shown on the video. Or they question why Al- Zarqawi bothered wearing a hood when he wanted it known that he did the awful deed along with the timing of the killing which served to deflect public opinion away from Abu Ghraib.

The main route to full Iraqi sovereignty is via US public opinion, and this is especially true during an election year when they will have a chance to vote with their feet. Now that a masked terrorist has brandished the head of one of their own while evoking Abu Ghraib, the link between those who attacked the symbols of American power on 9/11 and the long suffering Iraqis has been cemented in some American minds — especially those less informed or gullible.

When one of their own is attacked, most Americans aren’t big on nuances. The fact that Al-Zarqawi isn’t Iraqi and has merely hijacked their cause to suit his own ends isn’t a topic Americans will dissect over their morning coffee. They will see an Arab waving the standard on behalf of the Iraqi insurgents and it won’t matter how much the Iraqi people protest or the Arab newspapers condemn the grotesque beheading. American networks are already scrutinizing English-language Arab newspapers for outrage over the death of Berg as though Arabs must prove their abhorrence of that act. Again, the right-wing US media has missed the subtle difference here, perhaps deliberately. Bush, as commander-in-chief of the US military was right to apologize for the actions of his own troops, but why should Arabs collectively apologize for the crimes of a few thugs in their midst over which they have no control? On the other hand, the vast majority are as disgusted and saddened at the beheading as they are about the Abu Ghraib scandal, in the same way all decent human beings around the planet are.

Unless we can get away from this type of bigoted lumping together of all Arabs and Muslims and, for that matter, all Americans, never mind their beliefs or political persuasions, then Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” looms large. Stereotyping is one of the greatest enemies of peace today. Admittedly in our hectic world, it’s often the easy option to swallow the sound bite, fall sway to the dramatic image or be carried along by the public mood but when so much hangs on just who our leaders are, we must make the time for scrutiny and critical thinking. In the final analysis, Western powers must be above the revenge principle. They are the ones with the metal armies; with the big bombs and they are supposed to be the ones bringing democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people.

We’ve seen what happens when an occupying power adopts the settling-of-scores policy in the West Bank and Gaza: Small children are shot, civilians are bombed and thousands watch impotently as their homes are demolished. In response, the body parts of Israeli soldiers were used as trophies and held to ransom by militants. It’s a never-ending downward spiral of brutality and hatred with ordinary people the victims of their own flawed leaderships.

We cannot allow ourselves to compete in the bestiality stakes, for to do so would truly mark the beginning of a frightening, corrupt and heartless age. Iraq is a failed experiment. The occupiers are for ever tainted both in regards to their motives for invading in the first place and their subsequent cruel behavior toward those in their care. Too many red lines have been crossed; too much blood has flowed and too much credibility has been lost to support anything other than a complete pullout. Will the Iraqis do better? Who knows? But one thing’s for sure. They, surely, can’t do much worse.

— Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs and welcomes feedback at morgandewales@yahoo.co.uk


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