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America's Dangerous Mideast Assumptions: the View From Damascus

Syria sees Washington's policies as driven by fallacies and misinformation.

March 25, 2005|Bouthaina Shaaban | Bouthaina Shaaban is Syria's minister for emigrant affairs.

DAMASCUS, Syria — I recently picked up a newspaper and saw the following headline: "Rice Promises That Washington Will Build a Different Kind of Middle East." Unsure what this could possibly mean, I looked closer at Condoleezza Rice's remarks to U.S. troops in Kabul, Afghanistan, to see if I could learn what this new Middle East was going to be.

"A different kind of broader Middle East that's going to be stable and democratic," was what she described that day, "where our children will one day not have to worry about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those airplanes into those buildings on September 11th."

So let me get this straight. Rice believes that our region harbors "ideologies of hatred" and that it is populated by "those people." Those terrorists.

This absurd generalization embodies the fallacy that underlies the entire U.S. "war on terrorism," which has severely damaged America's reputation and credibility around the world and which has led to the disastrous policies that will harm relations between the U.S. and the Arab world for decades to come.

To suggest that a group of extremists is representative of the people of the Middle East is outrageous. It's as if someone were to suggest that the criminals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are representative of American people and American values. It's like considering the criminals of massacres such as Sabra and Chatila, or Deir Yasin, as representative of their people and their religious values.

The other dangerous idea in Rice's remarks is that the attacks of Sept. 11 are a reasonable justification for the wrongheaded U.S. policy in the Middle East. That's ridiculous. Americans should be aware by now -- but I don't think they are -- that the events of Sept. 11 have weighed heavily on Arabs and Muslims just as they have on the people of the United States. The terrorists of Al Qaeda have targeted Arabs and Muslims repeatedly. They are, therefore, our enemies just as they are your enemies. So why should we be punished for their crimes?

I'm afraid that Americans don't know what's really going on in the Middle East today. Apparently it doesn't come through from your "embedded journalism." What is happening today is that Palestinian groups are being dismembered, the Lebanese resistance is being disarmed and the Syrian government is being demonized -- all while Israel continues to occupy the Arab lands it has held since 1967 in violation of all U.N. resolutions calling for its withdrawal. Israeli extremists are seizing Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. An apartheid wall is being constructed that will separate tens of thousands of Palestinians from their cities and villages.

Here's something else that's happening: Syria's secular heritage and its long-standing tradition of religious coexistence are being threatened; the statements of many U.S. officials seem to indicate that the destabilization we're already seeing in the region could soon be extended into both Syria and Lebanon.

But why? Syria has never threatened the United States. Still, it is the target of the "ideological enmity" of members of Congress who support Israel's refusal to end the occupation of the Golan Heights and its continuous rejection of Syria's calls for a comprehensive and just peace.

Rice must know that nations do not surrender to injustice. The people of the Middle East have struggled against aggression and occupation throughout their history, and will continue struggling until freedom, justice and dignity are achieved.

The United States can help by assuring us that our region will be more stable and democratic -- and that our children will no longer have to worry about occupying forces, discrimination and bullets.

I'm sure Rice recognizes the great difference between the reports she receives from pro-Israeli think tanks -- which see nothing in the Middle East except resources susceptible to extraction and unarmed people vulnerable to occupation or oppression -- and the reality of the Arab people's long history of building civilizations and proselytizing for peace.

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