January 17, 2008
A culture of violence or a cult of the superficial?
From Bhutto to Gandhi to Al-Qaradawi
(Page 2 - Previous Page)And this brings me to the role of the media in this web of violence, counterviolence and broken symmetries. The statement: "They kill as they have been killed," is poetic, compassionate, even noble but not very accurate and not very helpful.
No, the murderers of Bhutto did not "kill as they have been killed," they killed because they were taught to believe that they are the helpless victims of an evil oppressor of which Bhutto is a symbol and, once a victim, so the teaching goes, tantrum rules.
The thousands of Saudis recruited for suicide bombing in Iraq are a more familiar example. They kill because they were told that Islam is being attacked by America, that America kills Iraqis out of pleasure and that the sole reason for the U.S. presence in the Middle East is to subjugate Muslims, steal their resources and humiliate them for fun.
This is, sadly, what an increasing majority of Muslims now believe, and Khouri knows how twisted a perception this is. He knows it because he spent time on fellowship at Harvard University and surely noticed that Americans have many worries on their plate -- humiliating Muslims is not one of them. He knows that America is genuinely trying to transport democracy to the Middle East -- if not for the love of humanity, then out of a selfish preference for political systems deemed less likely to wage wars.
No less important, they kill because they have been given a religious license to do so by clerics, such as Egyptian-born Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most prominent Quranic authority in the Sunni world, who issued a fatwa authorizing suicide killing of American civilians in Iraq.
Put more generally, hardships and grievances in themselves do not breed political violence of the type that killed Bhutto. For a grievance to turn into an act of terror, two additional ingredients are necessary, each nonviolent in isolation: a twisted prism of reality and a twisted license to kill -- e.g., a Gandhi and an Al-Qaradawi.
Sadly, the media in the region has not done its share to minimize these two perceptual ingredients. On the contrary, it did a lot to promote and propagate them.
We rarely find an article in the independent Middle Eastern press that attempts to dispel the myth of America being the enemy of Islam. Al Jazeera, for example, choreographs a worldview in which an irreconcilable struggle rages between an evil-meaning Western oppressor and its helpless, righteous Arab victims.
This twisted worldview does more to fuel the sense of helplessness, humiliation and anger among Arab youths than the physical presence of American troops in the region. (Let's not forget that in the absence of such propaganda, the Japanese managed to develop a thriving democracy, while benefiting from the presence of American troops.)
And what has the media done to curtail the production of twisted religious licenses like the fatwas issued by Qaradawi? Al Jazeera, again, has graciously granted the learned sheikh two hours every week to spew his Quranic teachings in a program called, "Sharia and Life." It is broadcast to tens of millions of viewers, including Hamas operatives, Al Qaeda recruits, schoolteachers and impressionable Muslim youths.
More distressing yet, liberal newspapers, such as the Daily Star, of which Khouri is a chief editor, have yet to call Al Jazeera management to task for spreading Qaradawi's ideology and thus committing Arab society to another century of helplessness.
I wish I could enjoy the poetry of "Who killed Benazir Bhutto? We all killed her." It is, unfortunately, factually wrong and strategically misleading. There is much we can do to curtail the banalization of violence, I agree, but this requires well-reasoned distinctions, not poetic equivocation.
Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a co-editor of "I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004).
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