Delegating the dirty work

Several months ago, the Washington Post published a report disclosing the methods that are being used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency in their hot pursuit of the terrorist Qaeda. We learned that the United States commissions friendly Arab countries to carry out some of the tasks needed to pursue its security interests. In fact, it only gives the ethically-dubious jobs to the security apparatuses of countries that do not really care a lot for human rights, thus delegating to others the work of violent interrogation and torture.

Given the knowledge that the security apparatuses are the main tools of stifling any democratic aspirations of the Arab citizenry, one can imagine the impact of this information on public opinion. The issue offers one idea of muddled US policy confronting a region more complex than the Pentagon’s oversimplified analysis. This crude US vision of the Middle East revealed by the events following September 11, 2001 has tragic ramifications. If the war against terrorism requires the use of police and interrogation measures, uprooting terrorism requires facing a more difficult challenge: allowing the countries of the region to produce their own pattern of democratic practices and to work on integrating those countries into a just international governing system. The recognition that "almost anything goes" in the war on terrorism has consolidated an image of the West that exploits the weak Arab and Islamic world. In turn, this perspective is an excuse and pretext manipulated in the strong polarization of terrorists.

There are two main factors that feed this image. Exploiting the US reaction to the September 11 events, a group of regimes in the region began to narrow the ceiling of freedoms and liberties of their citizens (which had little margin to start with). Thus, the corrupted power structure whose systems contradict in principle democratic precepts felt that it was becoming stronger by contributing or demonstrating cooperation in the war against terrorism, which is also a good excuse for oppressing those who oppose the regime. Since the Islamic movements in most cases represent the sole credible opposition, the war against terrorism frequently became a war against Islamists. As for the Arab and Islamic element that feeds this confrontational vision of civilizations, it is of course agitated by the lack of any settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by the international community. The pain and suffering of a people that have lost 78 percent of their land and who continue to remain at the mercy of a shameful occupation goes on.

The irrefutable reality is that the Palestinian cause is central vis-à-vis Arab public opinion and its relationship with the West, in general, and with the US, in particular. The similarity and congruency of the positions of US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the hegemony of the Israeli right-wing lobby over US foreign policy have convinced some Arab citizens that a peaceful and just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is only an illusion.

In the same context, the war on Iraq and its occupation, accompanied by United Nations indifference, has consolidated the idea that the US defies international law when it comes to its own interests. And this perception, of course, obliterates any credibility afforded the many speeches averring global values and the need to respect international law.

On the other hand, will the Americans learn something of value from the problems that they are facing in Iraq? The simplistic tendencies of the US administration have run headlong into the complexities of the Middle East region. Will the current situation imposed by force, such as that in Iraq today, require US decision-makers to change their vision for the region? Will they be afforded better understanding of the dimensions of Palestinian society so that one will be able to ask whether there is real interest and concern about our region? We certainly hope so.