(Don’t miss the perfect illustration of this theme near this article’s end, involving a “moderate” Islamic cleric from Ohio who went back to Egypt…)
You can bet that the leadership in Iran and other countries; many Middle East media outlets; and revolutionary Islamist groups will proclaim the earthquake that hit Washington and the area around it to be the work of divine intervention to smite the evil American rulers. Remember, this is the evil U.S. government of President Barack Obama, who thinks he’s proven himself the friend of Muslims and Arabs beyond any doubt. They will view it as proving that the final triumph of Islam is at hand.
It would not matter much if a small fringe of extremists believed this, but the size of that group will be far larger. To understand that this kind of thing takes place and is really meaningful is very hard for Western observers.
My first experience with such thinking came in 1976 when a very Westernized Egyptian college student I knew explained to me that Israel’s Entebbe raid to rescue hostages of a hijacked plane by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was all a set-up. Israel and Amin had planned the whole thing to make Israel look good. I was shocked not so much by what he said but by the fact that such an apparently sophisticated person could sincerely believe such a thing.
(Today we have Middle Easterners taking pride in revolutionary Islamists destroying the World Trade Center while simultaneously insisting that it was an American or Israeli conspiracy to make Muslims look bad.)
In the early 1980s, I spoke before an Iranian group shortly after the revolution there. I urged them to understand that the conspiracy-prone thinking was detrimental. Only when Iranians felt their fate was in their own hands could the country truly become democratic. Forget about the idea that everything in Iran — including the Islamist revolution — was due to British or American machinations.
A man in the audience raised his hand and I called on him. “Professor Rubin,” he began, “I agree with you completely. It wasn’t the Americans. It wasn’t the British. It was the French!”
Then yesterday a correspondent wrote me asking if what an Arab professor told him was true: that most Arab leaders, including Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and also Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were secretly Jewish.
We can laugh at these outlandish ideas and conspiracy theories or ignore them as if they weren’t really important. But they are important. They do shape political behavior. People die as a result.
So, for example, a smug Western observer can assert that Egypt would never get into a war with Israel because every Egyptian general or leader knows that they would lose. Or that the idea that revolutionary Islamists would ever attack the United States is ridiculous, as a professor wrote in August 2001 making fun of my warnings.
At the very moment I was writing this, my friend and a superb investigative writer on Islamism in America, Patrick Poole, passed on to me the following perfect illustration.
Dr. Salah Sultan is a lecturer on Islamic law at Cairo University. He just issued a religious decree saying that any Israeli in Egypt — including, say, a tourist or a child, could be murdered in revenge for the accidental killing of Egyptian soldiers by Israel. Remember that happened after Gazan terrorists wearing Egyptian army uniforms murdered seven Israelis in a raid from Egyptian territory. It was a natural mistake given the confusion and the blame should be on the terrorists for disguising themselves as Egyptian soldiers.
Well, who is Sultan? He used to be a resident of Hilliard, Ohio. At that time, in 2006, Poole wrote about Sultan, saying he was a radical Islamist.
What was the local response? The Columbus Dispatch defended Sultan as a moderate and attacked Poole as a racist. One of the newspaper’s Muslim columnists wrote that Poole’s “hatred runs deep and wide” against Muslims because he criticized Sultan.
Those Columbus, Ohio, journalists could not imagine that anyone — especially someone living in their area — could possibly be an advocate of terrorism, of murdering people for political reasons. Well, guess what? Poole was 100 percent correct. Sultan has proven Poole’s case. Sultan was the one whose “hatred runs deep and wide” against non-Muslims. Will anyone learn anything from this story?
To understand another part of the world you must understand how people there think and behave. Endless energy and money is spent by multiculturalism projects, complaining that Westerners don’t understand Middle East Muslims or Arabs or Iranians. They’re right, but in a far different way than they think.
Meanwhile, nobody spends any time ever exploring how those groups don’t understand the West, or Christians, or Jews.