True Liberation Starts with the Arab Mind
Heard of the Palestinian kid who brandished his sword inside the White House, plunging it into President Bush as he screamed: "Ahhh, I killed him"?
He is the latest cartoon character of Tomorrow’s Pioneers, the Hamas TV children's program sprouting all kinds of weird role models. His predecessors included Farfour, a rodent approximating Mickey who died under Israeli torture; Nahoul, a bomb-laden suicidal bee; and most recently Assud, the militant rabbit whose project is conquering Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Acre to "rid them from the Zionist filth," as he puts it.
Adult fare isn’t much different when it comes to fiction-mongering across the Arab world.
Al Jazeera, the slickest channel with a daily audience of 50 million, serves a steady diet of anti-Americanism, anti-secularism, and Islamic fundamentalism in which language plays a bridging role, with U.S. forces in Iraq as "occupation troops," Israelis as "the Zionist enemy," Iraqi insurgents either "resistance fighters" or "martyrs," and the Palestinians always "victims."
Over at Saudi-owned Al Arabia, the next most popular Arabic language TV network, the brainwashing is more focused on the primacy of the ruler. King Abdullah's only title is "Protector of Islam’s Holiest Sites," elevating his status to that of an infallible holy. The king’s men, the Saudi royal family, are designated as "Walley-Al-Amr," roughly translated as father-superior, or adult guardians. They only do well.
Language in Arab and Muslim societies is the monopoly of either the governments that control all media or the religious establishments that control all mosques where, alas, the discourse takes a further dip into nihilism.
A few days ago Sheikh Abdurrahman al-Barak, the most senior among Saudi Arabia’s all powerful theologians, ruled that two Saudi newspaper columnists must be executed. Their crime was to wonder in writing whether the Koranic branding of all non-Muslims as "unbelievers" is good for this day and age. Unless they publicly renounce these "heretical" opinions, his holiness ruled, they must die.
Never mind that branding non-Muslims as infidels in speech and sermons undercuts peaceful coexistence with such inferiors. The edict was a reminder of the girl of Qatif, condemned by the same religious judges last year to 200 lashes after being raped by seven men because "her greater sin" was being out when pounced upon.
As in that case, it will fall upon the "father-guardian" King Abdullah to pardon those wayward journalists just as he did the girl, which leaves them dishonored but alive and the venerable theologians free to issue more quirky rulings.
Back in that Hamas cartoon the boy assassin tells George Bush he is doing it to "avenge" Muslims, but in a Freudian slip extraordinaire, adds he also wants to "cleanse the White House soiled by Bush." Thus the place from which evil Americans oppress Muslims is secretly the same purist nirvana to which Islamist Hamas aspires. Or is it?
It all highlights a key fault line within the Arab mind: admiration for everything the West has achieved -- knowledge, personal freedom, equality of the sexes, modernity, secularism, and the right of individuals to pursue happiness -- is rampant among Arabs and Muslims and simultaneously branded a forbidden fruit.
Farfour is a copy of Walt Disney’s quintessentially American Mickey Mouse, a beloved character for Arab kids. But his Palestinian replica comes laden with guilt, furrowed brow, and a duty to cleanse the world of infidels and even so-so Muslims who do not adhere to jihad.
And killing Bush resolves the 100-year-old Palestinian-Israeli problem in one fell swoop. Indeed, instant and effortless solutions to durable problems, which permeate cartoons, have grown as substitutes to realpolitik among adults. For example, at the Arab summit of Damascus in March, kings and presidents issued a final communiqué "warning" Israel they will "abandon peace" as their strategic choice by next month if it does not resolve the Palestinian problem. The only alternative to peace is war. Did they mean to say this or has life become an animated cartoon?
Similarly, thousands of Muslim sheikhs weekly climb onto their pulpits to inveigh for Sharia laws, with their unforgiving punishments -- decapitation, stoning, crucifixion, whipping, and separation of sexes -- vowing that this one single move will bring an end to all earthly corruption and injustice.
One can fulminate over Hamas’ children's programs teaching babes how to spill blood, but the bigger misdeed is numbing their minds just as Al Jazeera deadens those of their parents, rendering all unequipped to resolve real problems when they unfold. In the end it all adds up to one gigantic suspension of disbelief.
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is a freelance writer and Mideast political risk consultant based in New York.