BAGHDAD – The 57-country Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in a meeting of foreign ministers in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur this week, could not manage to define what is terrorism. But at least the gathering managed to define what is not terrorism: and that applies in full to the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.
The OIC firmly stressed support for last week’s Beirut declaration of Arab leaders to establish peace and normal relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied in 1967.
This was all happening while Washington was accusing three OIC member nations – Iran, Iraq and Syria – of using terror in a “war against civilization.” Baghdad took no time to react. Foreign Minister Naji Sabri branded the allegations, made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as part of a US campaign aimed at deflecting attention from Washington’s support for Israel, “These are lies. It’s an excuse to promote American policies, which are completely biased in favor of the Zionist entity.”
Washington’s tirade, though, managed to accomplish a miracle: to unite Iran and Iraq – and not in an axis of evil mode. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi not only rebuffed Rumsfeld, but also voiced strong support for an Iraqi proposal for Muslim nations to restrict oil supplies to pressure the United States and Israel. This probable replay of the 1973 oil shock might be the only way out for Muslim nations to counteract what their public opinions consider an ongoing, pervasive process of humiliation by the West.
The hawkish, isolationist American right, Rumsfeld-style, loves to deride “resentful foreigners” for criticizing the contours of the global American Empire. But now even the New York Times has picked up on an Asia Times Online article published last October on “The New Imperialism.” Solid scholars such as Yale’s Paul Kennedy or would-be scholars like journalist-turned think tank cheerleader Robert Kaplan are now examining or theorizing the benefits of an empire. Part of the American intelligentsia is trying to sell itself the concept of an “attractive empire,” as if imperial domination – military, political, economic, cultural – could be condensed into a one-size-fits-all centerfold bunny.
A visit to an Iraqi university classroom is always instructive. Here, the concept of an attractive empire is a non-starter. After a lively lecture on European History at the Almustansyria University – where the students eagerly intervene with lots of questions and comments – the answers to questions posed by the foreign visitor quickly turn into questions themselves, and sharp comments on American and Western foreign policy. “Is Europe a slave of America?” “Does Europe have as many prejudices against Muslims as America?” “Why does the West does not react to what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians?”
A dead-serious bespectacled girl has a message for Donald Rumsfeld, “The real axis of evil is the US and Britain.” An overweight girl, with a smile on her face, says, “Look at me. I’m strong. We will defend our country against an attack the best we can.”
In three of the four authorized, official Iraqi TV channels – Al-Iraq, The Youth Channel and Iraqi Satellite Chain – the only news is Palestine tragedy news. But these students were not told by the ruling Baath Party what to say. They buy Backstreet Boys pirate cassettes for less than US$1 in stalls in front of the university, and they cruise the Internet searching for English editions of Muslim explorer Ibn Batutta’s travels or the writings of Shakespeare.
And they theorize about the Empire – on the receiving end – more sharply than many a self-satisfied scholar.
Trying to understand the point of view expressed by young people in Baghdad, one can also figure out the impossibility for the West to comprehend what it means for the Arab world to watch every day on their TVs the abominable humiliations suffered by the Palestinians.
This “voice of the Arab university,” represented by Baghdad students, has understood too well that the Bush administration is not remotely interested in a peace agreement in the Middle East. They have understood that a world leader mentally in perpetual holidays in a cowboy ranch has got a single obsession: to blame all the evils of the world on terrorism – and terrorism only.
But “terrorism” – undefinable even by a congregation of Muslim nations essentially on the receiving end of the American accusations – does not explain the war going on in Palestine.
The latest Palestinian war has happened because of an American leadership void. The White House Middle East “policy” since the beginning of 2002 has been reduced to announcing an attack on Saddam Hussein, probably between June and October. There has been absolutely no effort to prevent an escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
A Washington-based scholar has told Asia Times Online that as far as the Arab world was concerned, it all boiled down to an image problem. Washington had to polish its extremely tarnished image in the Arab world before attacking a controversial and still crucial Arab nationalist leader. Washington pressed pliable Saudi Arabia for an opening. Saudi Arabia delivered – in the form of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s “land for peace” proposal, unanimously adopted at the Beirut summit last week.
It was too little, too late. The void had turned into a deep black hole. George W Bush is under a terror of doing anything that the hard-worker and aspiring Middle East peacemaker Bill Clinton did. And he is also under a terror of doing anything his father George did that might alienate the hardcore Republican right. Ariel Sharon at the same time knew his government would implode if compelled to a peace negotiation. The Bush administration had been giving him the green light to invade the West Bank for weeks – since George W Bush refused to even shake hands with Yasser Arafat at the United Nations.
The Washington-based scholar says that the hawks in control of the Bush administration would never admit to it. But the facts are, for them, as follows. Arafat is over. Israeli colonies in Palestinian land are OK. A Palestine state is not a viable option.
But life is slightly more complicated than a Texas holiday. There’s only one interlocutor for a peace process in Palestine: Yasser Arafat. A delegation of the Brazilian Movement of Landless Peasants has just offered one of their flags to Arafat. He is considered by many to be the number one landless person in the world. “Terrorist” Iraqi university students could not agree more.