Home > Bruce S. Ticker, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon > Intimidation persuades many Arabs to never cross the party line

Intimidation persuades many Arabs to never cross the party line

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — Heartwarming words from Sarah Shiha, a student at Ain Shams University in Cairo: “Apart from the political issues, we are humans. I respect your religion, you respect mine.”

Her next comment, on Israel, sounded more robotic than humane: “What we see is that we had a land, and that people came and took this land. Now they want to stay here, and every day they are killing more and more of our siblings.”

Shiha is among 20 students from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon who participated in a five-week program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to learn how religious pluralism is among America’s great strengths, according to an article in The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.

It seems that Shiha and her associates could have been a tad more diplomatic, especially since her inflammatory comment might be read by thousands of American Jews. She could have easily sidestepped the question by insisting she needed to learn more about the Israeli/Arabic conflict, couldn’t she? She might have faced more than verbal disdain back home. She might be murdered by her own people.

In the Middle East, free speech can carry a fatal price. Arabs have murdered their own who were suspected of collaborating with Israel, and Arab leaders who suggested or acted upon peaceful existence with Israel. Remember Anwar el-Sadat?

Yasser Arafat indicated that he feared a comparable fate if he assented to the peace plan offered during the Camp David summit 10 years ago. In his book “The Missing Peace,” Dennis Ross (then President Clinton’s Middle East envoy) relates a conversation in which Arafat asked then secretary of state Madeleine Albright if she wanted to attend his funeral. This comment came out of left field, but why else would he say this?

Arafat’s comment could invite some sarcastic responses – such as, his funeral was long overdue. I think his top motive for rejecting the plan was fear that other Arabs would kill him because they refused to accept any peace settlement.

It is clear that many Arabs keep silent because they fear retaliation. Of course, it is impossible to determine how many Arabs really loathe Israel and those who follow the script to protect themselves and their families.

Examples do abound. Before returning to his current prime minister post, Benjamin Netanyahu was asked by a television interviewer to identify Arab businesspeople with whom he communicates; he refused because, he said, it would jeopardize their lives. I recently read a report of an Arab man who saved Jews during World War II and told them to say nothing about his help. Israeli leaders claim that Arabs who sold land to Jews denied doing so because they could be harmed.

Some months ago, a native Iranian on a German sports team refused to play against an Israeli team. He did not offer this as a reason, but he still had family in Iran who could be endangered by his participation in that game.
 

The Arab and Muslim world is tightly controlled in parts. Putting Israel aside, ordinary Arabs and Muslims must worry about violent feuds between families and tribes, honor killings of women and conflicts with the ruling class. On Aug. 8, an Iranian attorney fled to Norway after he defended a woman who faced being stoned to death because she allegedly committed adultery. An Afghan couple were stoned to death, on Taliban orders, because they allegedly cheated on his wife and her family-chosen fiance.

Those familiar with the Middle East attest that roughly half of Turkish and Iranian citizens are sensible people who yearn for more moderate leaders. Egyptian businesspersons worked well with their Israeli counterparts, and Turks in the military oppose their ultra-religious regime. 

Tom Friedman of The New York Times reported on a Gazan woman whose son’s life was saved by a Jewish physician at an Israeli hospital. Now she wants her son to blow up…er, grow up…to become a suicide bomber. Consider that she must return home to face not only her neighbors but also Hamas, which has the power to make life miserable for her.

It is most annoying that American Muslims readily complain of bigotry, yet are less consistent in condemning Islamic-related violence – especially when Israelis are victimized. Muslim society in America appears to be closeted and hard to figure out.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, dodged a radio reporter’s question as to whether he concurred with the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist group, The New York Jewish Week reported.

Said Rauf: “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question…I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder…I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”

Far from an exercise in clarity.

It is strange that free speech exists on two levels in our own country – one standard for most of us and a self-imposed standard for a stifled and bewildering minority.

*
Ticker is the Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
 He may be contacted via bticker@comcast.net

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