Two canards

Pakistani President Musharraf, one of our supposedly 'best allies' in the war on terror, has recently been on a world tour. After Washington and London, he went on to Paris to visit French president Chirac. Their basic vision of the world seems very similar. In an interview with Le Figaro on December 9, 2004 Musharraf gave the usual recipe for ending terrorism: tackle the poverty and despair of the third world countries and resolve the Israeli—Palestinian conflict.

It is high time to expose these two platitudes as canards.

1. Poverty is the root of terrorism:

It is NOT. Even though people like ex—president Clinton or ex—Prime Minister Chretien of Canada or French President Chirac would want you to believe so, poverty is not linked to terrorism. It is quite a simplistic, and indeed inaccurate, view to explain that frustration of people in the poor countries is pushing them to attack us. This is the typical 'Why do they hate us' syndrome that implies that we are responsible for attacks upon us. This makes the September 11 attacks our fault because of our arrogance and wealth and selfishness not to share with others.

But let's look at the hard facts which discredit this canard:

  • The biggest terrorist — Osama Bin Laden— is a multi—millionaire? Other terror masters such as Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat were billionaires.
  • All the 9/11 hijackers came from upper to middle class background; they were quite well educated— some of them were engineers and at least one was a doctor— and did not qualify at all as poor, desperate and hopeless people.
  • Most of the Muslim terrorists coming from the Western world (either Europe or the US) are not poor, and live in very rich countries. In Europe, where the social welfare support system is well developed, no one faces starvation or severe deprivation. But then defenders of the poverty theory claim that they are not integrated into their Western societies and (once again) it is the fault of the Western countries. A couple of examples just kill this theory: The murderer of Theo Van Gogh in Holland was a Dutch—born man of Moroccan descent who attended the best schools in Amsterdam and did not speak a word of Arabic. In a recent interview with Le Figaro, de Villepin, the French Interior Minister, acknowledged that most of the very fundamentalist French Muslims were indeed young, integrated and very educated.
  • How do you explain also all the Western converts to Islam who join the terrorist camps? For instance, John Walker Lindh, 'The American Taliban' did not come from a poor background, but rather from an upper middle class Matin County family, with no particular privation or injustice attached to it. In Holland the new in—vogue Islamic figure is a Dutch Catholic convert to Islam named Abdul Jabbar van der ven, who recently declared on TV that he was 'pretty happy' with the death of van Gogh and hoped that Geert Wilders, a politician, would also die within the next two years.
  • A last but most important fact: if the masses of third world countries are really the main actors in terrorism, why don't we see any terrorists coming from the poorest nations in the world such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Salvador, Honduras or sub—Saharan countries? Is terrorism not then linked to extremist Islam rather than poverty?

So, let's not fool ourselves by throwing around a second cliché to explain the cause of terrorism:

2. Ending the Israeli—Palestinian conflict would stop terrorism:

It would NOT. Musharraf said that it is this conflict which is the root of the frustration of the Muslim masses and their popular anger. He added that it was also the reason for the rise in anti—Americanism.

One of the best denials came from a quite unexpected source. In a December 8, 2004 interview with the Jerusalem Post, the French ambassador to Israel, Gerard Araud, a man not known for his pro—Israel views, to say the least, declared that the Palestinian issue is 'not the central problem' for Arab states. He added that most of these regimes are 'so fragile...They all have more pressing problems...being mostly obsessed with their own survival.'

This fact was confirmed by the outstanding journalist Amir Taheri who, after spending the whole month of Ramadan in Arab countries, just wrote a riveting piece for the Jerusalem Post on his amazing findings. Here is what Taheri wrote:

'When it came to ordinary people, almost no one ever mentioned the Palestine issue, even on days when Yasser Arafat's death dominated the headlines. When I asked them about issues that most preoccupied them, farmers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and office workers never mentioned Palestine. But when I talked to princes and princesses, business tycoons, high officials, and the glitterati of Arab academia, Palestine was the ur—issue. The reason why the elites fake passion about this issue is that it is the only one on which they agree.'

This testimony sheds light of what the famous 'Arab street' really thinks and not the usual clichés transmitted by the Arab elite and also by most Western politicians. It is mind boggling that, with the constant brainwashing and focus only on Israel by their media, the Arab world in its majority is not at all interested by this war. Blaming Israel for all the evils in the Muslim world allows the elites of these despotic regimes to put to sleep their masses' revolt against them. Arab regimes could not care less about Palestinians, and they prove it daily by keeping them as 'refugees,' not giving them any money except for suicide bombers' families when attacking Israel.

So, why is this war on Israel the only center of attention of the world? How come such a tiny country of 6 million people, representing just 0.1% of the globe's population and just 0.06% of its land area, is so vital for the establishment of global world peace?

Arafat said it better than anyone else when he stated that the biggest stroke of luck of the Palestinians was that they had a very notable enemy: the Jews. The world is still fascinated by the Jews and the fight between Arabs and Jews over the Holy Land is the biggest seller for the international media. But were Israel to disappear tomorrow, terrorism would still be alive and kicking. As the mullahs in Iran keep on saying for the past 25 years, Israel is only the little Satan, but America is the big Satan. It is just much easier to attack Israel than the US.

When Taheri made a very prescient point to his interlocutors in the Arab world, that Israel is hated because it is pro—American and not the other way around, the reactions were first silence and then muffled agreement. The major paradox of this hatred for the US is that in the past thirteen years, the US kept on saving Muslim lives throughout the world: first in Kuwait in 1991, then Somalia, Bosnia and more recently in Iraq. But nonetheless Muslim would rather side with their real enemies: Taheri cites the Serbs who massacred 8,000 Muslim in Srebrenica without any uproar from the Muslim world.

Actually Iran and Libya were on very good terms with the butcher of their Kosovar Muslim 'brothers,' Slobodan Milosevic. Then, more recently, during the Muslim summit in Malaysia, Putin was hailed as a hero even though his regime has killed thousands of Muslims in Chechnya. The last striking example of this myth: there are 22 active conflicts in the world involving Muslims. Does anyone in the Muslim world bother about them? No way. For the Arab elites, Palestinians are their 'brothers' as long as they fight against America's ally, Israel.

Keep that in mind when you hear about the support of the 'Arab street' for the Palestinian people, it is NOT true.  

We are at war with Islamists who are trying to destroy our civilization: first and foremost the US, then Israel, then the rest of the West — and that struggle has nothing to do with poverty or the Palestinians. The real issue that President Bush fully grasped is democracy in the Middle East and the demise of these autocratic regimes, which are at the center of terrorism.

Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specialized in the Middle East and Europe.

Pakistani President Musharraf, one of our supposedly 'best allies' in the war on terror, has recently been on a world tour. After Washington and London, he went on to Paris to visit French president Chirac. Their basic vision of the world seems very similar. In an interview with Le Figaro on December 9, 2004 Musharraf gave the usual recipe for ending terrorism: tackle the poverty and despair of the third world countries and resolve the Israeli—Palestinian conflict.

It is high time to expose these two platitudes as canards.

1. Poverty is the root of terrorism:

It is NOT. Even though people like ex—president Clinton or ex—Prime Minister Chretien of Canada or French President Chirac would want you to believe so, poverty is not linked to terrorism. It is quite a simplistic, and indeed inaccurate, view to explain that frustration of people in the poor countries is pushing them to attack us. This is the typical 'Why do they hate us' syndrome that implies that we are responsible for attacks upon us. This makes the September 11 attacks our fault because of our arrogance and wealth and selfishness not to share with others.

But let's look at the hard facts which discredit this canard:

  • The biggest terrorist — Osama Bin Laden— is a multi—millionaire? Other terror masters such as Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat were billionaires.
  • All the 9/11 hijackers came from upper to middle class background; they were quite well educated— some of them were engineers and at least one was a doctor— and did not qualify at all as poor, desperate and hopeless people.
  • Most of the Muslim terrorists coming from the Western world (either Europe or the US) are not poor, and live in very rich countries. In Europe, where the social welfare support system is well developed, no one faces starvation or severe deprivation. But then defenders of the poverty theory claim that they are not integrated into their Western societies and (once again) it is the fault of the Western countries. A couple of examples just kill this theory: The murderer of Theo Van Gogh in Holland was a Dutch—born man of Moroccan descent who attended the best schools in Amsterdam and did not speak a word of Arabic. In a recent interview with Le Figaro, de Villepin, the French Interior Minister, acknowledged that most of the very fundamentalist French Muslims were indeed young, integrated and very educated.
  • How do you explain also all the Western converts to Islam who join the terrorist camps? For instance, John Walker Lindh, 'The American Taliban' did not come from a poor background, but rather from an upper middle class Matin County family, with no particular privation or injustice attached to it. In Holland the new in—vogue Islamic figure is a Dutch Catholic convert to Islam named Abdul Jabbar van der ven, who recently declared on TV that he was 'pretty happy' with the death of van Gogh and hoped that Geert Wilders, a politician, would also die within the next two years.
  • A last but most important fact: if the masses of third world countries are really the main actors in terrorism, why don't we see any terrorists coming from the poorest nations in the world such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Salvador, Honduras or sub—Saharan countries? Is terrorism not then linked to extremist Islam rather than poverty?

So, let's not fool ourselves by throwing around a second cliché to explain the cause of terrorism:

2. Ending the Israeli—Palestinian conflict would stop terrorism:

It would NOT. Musharraf said that it is this conflict which is the root of the frustration of the Muslim masses and their popular anger. He added that it was also the reason for the rise in anti—Americanism.

One of the best denials came from a quite unexpected source. In a December 8, 2004 interview with the Jerusalem Post, the French ambassador to Israel, Gerard Araud, a man not known for his pro—Israel views, to say the least, declared that the Palestinian issue is 'not the central problem' for Arab states. He added that most of these regimes are 'so fragile...They all have more pressing problems...being mostly obsessed with their own survival.'

This fact was confirmed by the outstanding journalist Amir Taheri who, after spending the whole month of Ramadan in Arab countries, just wrote a riveting piece for the Jerusalem Post on his amazing findings. Here is what Taheri wrote:

'When it came to ordinary people, almost no one ever mentioned the Palestine issue, even on days when Yasser Arafat's death dominated the headlines. When I asked them about issues that most preoccupied them, farmers, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and office workers never mentioned Palestine. But when I talked to princes and princesses, business tycoons, high officials, and the glitterati of Arab academia, Palestine was the ur—issue. The reason why the elites fake passion about this issue is that it is the only one on which they agree.'

This testimony sheds light of what the famous 'Arab street' really thinks and not the usual clichés transmitted by the Arab elite and also by most Western politicians. It is mind boggling that, with the constant brainwashing and focus only on Israel by their media, the Arab world in its majority is not at all interested by this war. Blaming Israel for all the evils in the Muslim world allows the elites of these despotic regimes to put to sleep their masses' revolt against them. Arab regimes could not care less about Palestinians, and they prove it daily by keeping them as 'refugees,' not giving them any money except for suicide bombers' families when attacking Israel.

So, why is this war on Israel the only center of attention of the world? How come such a tiny country of 6 million people, representing just 0.1% of the globe's population and just 0.06% of its land area, is so vital for the establishment of global world peace?

Arafat said it better than anyone else when he stated that the biggest stroke of luck of the Palestinians was that they had a very notable enemy: the Jews. The world is still fascinated by the Jews and the fight between Arabs and Jews over the Holy Land is the biggest seller for the international media. But were Israel to disappear tomorrow, terrorism would still be alive and kicking. As the mullahs in Iran keep on saying for the past 25 years, Israel is only the little Satan, but America is the big Satan. It is just much easier to attack Israel than the US.

When Taheri made a very prescient point to his interlocutors in the Arab world, that Israel is hated because it is pro—American and not the other way around, the reactions were first silence and then muffled agreement. The major paradox of this hatred for the US is that in the past thirteen years, the US kept on saving Muslim lives throughout the world: first in Kuwait in 1991, then Somalia, Bosnia and more recently in Iraq. But nonetheless Muslim would rather side with their real enemies: Taheri cites the Serbs who massacred 8,000 Muslim in Srebrenica without any uproar from the Muslim world.

Actually Iran and Libya were on very good terms with the butcher of their Kosovar Muslim 'brothers,' Slobodan Milosevic. Then, more recently, during the Muslim summit in Malaysia, Putin was hailed as a hero even though his regime has killed thousands of Muslims in Chechnya. The last striking example of this myth: there are 22 active conflicts in the world involving Muslims. Does anyone in the Muslim world bother about them? No way. For the Arab elites, Palestinians are their 'brothers' as long as they fight against America's ally, Israel.

Keep that in mind when you hear about the support of the 'Arab street' for the Palestinian people, it is NOT true.  

We are at war with Islamists who are trying to destroy our civilization: first and foremost the US, then Israel, then the rest of the West — and that struggle has nothing to do with poverty or the Palestinians. The real issue that President Bush fully grasped is democracy in the Middle East and the demise of these autocratic regimes, which are at the center of terrorism.

Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specialized in the Middle East and Europe.