Jewish World Review July 30, 2003 / 1 Menachem-Av, 5763
Bush dreams of democracy and Muslims dream of maidens --- both face disappointment
By Zev Chafets
The magazine's offense was publishing a story about a scholar who claims the Koran has been misinterpreted by Islamic clerics. The scholar, writing under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg, says the verse offering "dark-eyed virgins" to martyrs actually promises them, in a closer reading, "white raisins."
This will have come, I'm sure, as a disappointment to Uday and Qusay Hussein, recently arrived in paradise. I can picture them staring sadly at their boxes of Sunkist, wondering how the Zionists stole the virgins.
That's how it is in the Arab Middle East. You may not have much, but you'll always have a great explanation for failure.
That's because the Arab "world" (extending beyond Araby to Iran and Pakistan) is actually less a world than a bizarre parallel universe where military dictators lecture the United States on democracy, Saudi theocrats hold conferences on human rights and newspaper editors are paid by the Ministry of Information.
In this universe, the sons of Saddam are holy warriors.
"We pledge to you Iraqi people that we will continue in the jihad against the infidels," a spokesman for the Fedayeen Saddam proclaimed on Dubai's Al Arabia television. "The killing of Uday and Qusay will be avenged."
At least this guy believes the Hussein boys are dead. The parallel universe is full of people who doubt it, despite the fact that the Bush administration has taken great pains to present evidence that even the willfully stupid can't deny, videotapes of the corpses. Some are denouncing the images for their explicitness a joke in a region where the enemies of the regime are customarily hung from the lamppost or beheaded in the public square. Brutality is spoken here.
This kind of willful stupidity the product of centuries of indoctrination poisons the Islamic Middle Eastern mind. President Bush believes he has the antidote.
The President's domestic critics routinely describe him as intellectually lazy. But, wittingly or not, Bush has committed himself to an ambitious experiment. He means to test the hypothesis that humans are inherently disposed to liberty and reason.
The Islamic establishment from Morocco to Pakistan is intent on defeating Prof. Bush's grand experiment. And they are coming together in a coalition of the unwilling. They mean to prove that Bush is wrong and indeed that everything America is or does is wrong.
This coalition puzzles Western experts. It doesn't seem to fit together.
How, for example, can Saddam's "secular" loyalists speak of holy war against America? Why, they ask, should Syrian Baathist rivals of Iraq make common cause with dissident Saddamites across the border?
Farther afield, they wonder what explains the willingness of Shiite Iran to harbor Sunni Al Qaeda activists? Or of the Saudis to support Osama Bin Laden a man supposedly intent on overthrowing the House of Saud?
The answer to this is simple. The regimes of the Islamic Middle East, whatever their ideological, ethnic and theological differences, are more united than divided. What most unites them is their commitment to common means of control delusion and paranoia and xenophobia.
Depressingly, the war in Iraq shows that the coalition of the unwilling is holding the line. There have been no mass uprisings against dictators in Cairo, Riyadh, Damascus or Beirut. Even Iran, supposedly seething with a desire for freedom, has yet to produce a serious challenge to the ayatollahs.
No, the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has not knocked over any neighboring dominos. On the contrary. Unbending opposition throughout the Arab world to the American victory strengthens the certainty within the self proclaimed Iraqi resistance that despite the fall of Saddam all is essentially right within their familiar universe.
It is in this context that the skepticism over the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein should be understood. The people in the parallel universe who say that they're not dead and or who say that it's wrong to show them dead, are making the same point. They hate America.
Soon enough Saddam, too, will be killed or captured and once more millions of Muslims, in Iraq and beyond, will deny that he is dead and denounce the U.S. for doing away with him.
Bush is betting that they won't be a majority. He may even think that the end of Saddam will wake people up to reality and allow them to assert their natural love of freedom.
It is still too early to know if the President is right. I'm skeptical. In fact, when it comes to the Muslim Middle East, there is really just one thing I am sure of, and it comforts me. The mullahs and monarchs and modern major generals can ban all the magazines they like, but when the time comes, they're going to be eating raisins.
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© 2003, New York Daily News