Jewish World Review April 5, 2002/ 24 Nisan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When rhetoric and reality collide in the Middle East, reality never has a chance.
Here's Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister of our friends the Saudis, without whom there would have been no September 11, telling Time magazine that Israel and the West had better submit now before the mighty Arab war machine rocks and rolls.
"Ariel Sharon is driving the Middle East toward the precipice. Israelis rely on the superiority of their arms now. But how long will the superiority last? The Arab countries will not remain, 10 or 20 years from now, with their hands tied behind their backs, and see their brethren dying. We are graduating from the Arab world more scientists than there are citizens in Israel."
Hmmmm. There are 2 million Israelis, so the Arab world must be graduating 2 million scientists. The Saudi minister does not say whether this is 2 million every year, or just 2 million every once in a while. It doesn't matter. This is a boast of a piece with Sukarno's famous bit of bombast 40 years ago, when he boasted that he had a thousand scientists hard at work on an atomic bomb, and if the West. ... He didn't actually have a thousand Indonesians studying basketball, or even law, but the boast was not meant to be believed.
Sukarno was only baking a few rhetorical cupcakes, to take with afternoon tea.
The Muslims in Southeast Asia, though considerably more militant now than then, nevertheless still play in a higher league than the Muslims of the Middle East. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia learned that yesterday at a conference on terrorism, attended by delegates from 53 nations to the Organization of Islamic Conference, meeting in Kuala Lumpur. When the Islamic foreign ministers demanded that the United Nations invoke the U.N. charter and deal with the Middle East terrorists by force, Prime Minister Mahathir proposed including the Palestinian suicide bombers in the definition of terrorists "as people who attack civilians."
Poor Mr. Mahathir. You might have thought he had sent out for a sack of Memphis pulled-pork barbecue. "No!" cried Shiek Hamad Jassim of Qatar (obviously a very non-U place). "They are not terrorists. It is the Israelis who are the terrorists but not the Palestinians, because they are fighting for their land." Mr. Mahathir's call for a reasonable definition of terrorism, as "attacks against civilians," was soon lost in a din of denunciation of Israel.
In the Alice in Wonderland world where black is white, day is night and up is down, rhetoric has given way to incoherent rage now that the Israelis have finally decided that enough is enough and they aren't going to take any more of the kind of warfare where men wrap themselves in fraudulent piety and demonstrate courage and bravery by tearing apart the flesh of children.
Events career out of control and the "freedom fighters" of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement vie to express the most incandescent rhetoric. "Nothing is forbidden if Israel does anything to harm Arafat," says Sultan Abul-Aynain, an officer of Fatah. "We will set the world on fire and open the doors of hell on Sharon and Israel. We will take revenge the way never seen by the world before." Promises another Fatah wild man: "We swear to G-d that if anything happens to Arafat we will blow up embassies and planes whatever the price we will pay and whatever our fate will be."
Absurd and ridiculous such boasting may seem to the ears of rational men, given the Arab appetite for vainglory and the sorry record of Arab armies in three wars against Israel, but since September 11 we've learned what Israel learned earlier, that such threats are not necessarily empty. America and Israel are fighting the same enemy.
No amount of temporizing and fancy footwork can change that. We are dealing with those who regard pure evil as mere convenience. President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon, which is not so much a nation as a memory of a nation, denounces the United States for "treating the occupier and the resistance men as equals, and ignoring the fact that the Palestinian operations are only the result of the Israeli occupation and bloody policies."
Against this miserable reality, President Bush, alas, continues to send conflicting signals to the Middle East. The president spoke out forcefully in Texas on Saturday, correctly blaming Yasser Arafat for feeding the intifada by sending teen-agers to their deaths as suicide bombers, and demanded that he tell his terrorists in plain Arabic to cut it out. He retreated yesterday into the cover of rhetoric. He rescinded his earlier vow to regard those who harbor terrorists as terrorists, too, and now will make an exception for Yasser Arafat because in the past he worked to "negotiate peace."
Some negotiator. Some