Arabs should also turn their fury at their own

Posted in Other | 18-May-04 | Author: Massoud Derhally| Source: International Herald Tribune

Lessons of Abu Ghraib

AMMAN, Jordan To the majority of Arabs, the United States is a country of double standards, and its leadership expounds the arrogance and belligerence of an imperialist power. Thus the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison will be etched forever in Arabs' minds: If only the American people knew what their country did abroad, many Arabs think, if only Americans understood the anguish brought on by Washington's self-serving foreign policies, then they would understand why so much Arab hate is directed toward them.

Unfortunately, most Arabs end the argument here. Yes, the repulsive prison pictures vindicate some Arab grievances. But if there is a lesson to be learned, it is that Arabs should be equally enraged by the deficiency of human rights in their own countries.

Countless acts of violence have taken place in the Arab world that dwarf the abuse of Abu Ghraib. There are wretched human rights violations every day in the Middle East, yet they somehow aren't met with the same indignation and high standards of accountability Arabs hold America to.

Why is that? The United States is a beacon of democracy, freedom and transparency. It is the very absence of these fundamental values that underscore the impotence of the Arab people. Arabs need to ask themselves why it is that so many places have experienced their own form of renaissance - be it Latin America, South Africa or Asia - and why they haven't.

That is the lesson to be learned from this fiasco in Iraq. If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can exhibit some humility, so can our leaders in admitting their mistakes - and so can we, in our struggle to define ourselves in this century.

It is true that America's unrelenting support of Israel, now anchored more than ever after President George W. Bush's unconditional endorsement of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, provides ammunition to hate. But invoking the Israel card for most Arab governments has, by and large, meant giving the stamp of approval to crackdowns, the denial of civil liberties and the creation of systems that instill fear and paranoia.

In this sense, Arab anger at America is a culmination of the frustrations in their own lives: the inability of people to vent their anger openly at their own governments, the failure to rise up against injustices committed in their own backyards, and the absence of checks and balances that in democracies ensure that those in authority are held accountable.

Democracy, some say, is not viable or applicable for Arabs. Arabs need to be ruled by an iron fist, the argument goes, and the culture of the Arab world doesn't allow for the expression of different opinions or the coexistence of different ideologies. Such statements expound the very stupidity that lead to the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, of Jews in World War II, and of Armenians by Turks after World War I. It is this line of reasoning that has fostered an environment that nurtures zealotry - a defeatist mentality that perpetuates the subservient role Arabs have become accustomed to.

If there were a single transparent and democratic system in place today in the Arab world, those calling for reforms would be hailed and not arrested. Women would be empowered. Were pictures of torture, abuse and humiliation of prisoners to come out, then perhaps the region would escape this twilight zone and experience its own renaissance. So when Arabs look at those pictures of Iraqis being humiliated, they should also take a look in the mirror - they may not like what they see.

Massoud A. Derhally is a freelance journalist and a former correspondent for Agence France-Presse.