So at last, it seems that the Bush government is now convinced that there will be no anti-terrorist coalition working unless an effort to making public diplomacy more efficient is consented. Still it is obvious that such well-purposed endeavor has to go beyond the old stiff positions of the administration, if it is to succeed. It must not sound occasional and just related to the current crisis. A real shift in the American tackling of some topics has to be felt. It is not enough, for instance, to say that: ” OK. Now Mr. Bush is rather favorable to the creation of a Palestinian state neighboring Israel”, for people cannot help but think: ” this is a reaction caused by the Sept.11 attacks.” Thus, forgetting that they were condemning that terrorist act as inhuman, some of them are now saying:
” After all, if such an operation caused that acknowledgement, so it is good! Another of that kind and we will have all our problems resolved!” And even if this is not exactly what the Bush administration was seeking, its late acknowledgment about the necessity of the Palestinian State has only contributed to create more confusion in the Middle East.
Why the Americans have waited until they were hit to recognize the right of the Palestinian people? The question has been inevitably raised, and whatever Washington would say about a plan that was already under way prior to Sept. 11, there is little chance to persuade people. The wide spread idea is that since the US needs the Arabs to take part to the anti-terrorist coalition, and by the way, to justify the war against the Muslims of Afghanistan, Bush is ready to promise anything! Is it not significant that the Taleban are now perceived as ” Muslims ” and ” brothers” in most Arab countries, where they used to be labeled ” extremists”, and ” fanatics” by the media? Just one day prior to Sept.11, the Taleban were demonized in the majority of the Arab countries where they did not have any diplomatic representation, Saudi Arabia and U.A.Emirates excluded. Today, their plight under the bombs is making almost the whole Arab world shedding tears in the official media! Something is wrong with that behavior? Not at all! This is just the reverse side of America’s own irrationality. The Arabs are actually sending to the Americans the image they got of them in the mirror of contemporary history: It is obviously a distorting mirror.
For so many years, the Arabs have been at odds with the American positions in respect of the Middle East conflict. And while their cause – the fight against the Israeli aggression against their lands- seemed the most justified in the world by all the moral principles recognized by the United Nations’ charter, the USA was not only ignoring it, but also supporting Israel’s continued aggression. The irrationality of such a behavior was incomprehensible to the Arabs, because for all what they were representing as independent states and standing for, the USA rarely condemned Israel, and its positions often expressed the untold intention to humiliate the Arabs.
Lately, the USA pushed that irrational endeavor to the extent of asking the Emir of Qatar to put more pressure on Al-Jazeera broadcasting from Afghanistan! If such an odd demand concerned an American company, wouldn’t that have caused a scandal in the country? What about freedom of information? Is it only good for the Americans and no good for the other nations?
Today, we are told: ” if Bush were asked to speak on al-Jazeera, he would consider that”! Of course! Not that CNN and the American media are not enough to communicate with people, but it seems that there is an increasing interest in ” public diplomacy”. However, maybe the Bush administration has understood at last that it is more decent and certainly more efficient to accord an interview to al-Jazeera than to ask for its censorship.
Still, there is a long way before the administration if it is determined to sell its vision of freedom and democracy to the Arabs. As Mr. Edward P. Djerejian – assistant secretary of state for the Near East under G. Bush- put it lately: it is ” only if we are perceived to be not only talking the talk, but walking the walk”, that America can convince the Arabs.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.