A lot of things may have changed in the Middle East since the Stars and Stripes were raised triumphantly over Baghdad, but the Arab world’s hateful anti-Western rhetoric certainly isn’t one of them.
While the sweeping assertion of American power initially left much of the Arab world in a state of utter disbelief, that incredulity has quickly dissolved into the familiar stream of fierce and violent rhetoric.
Take, for example, some of the prayer sermons that were broadcast a week ago Friday on official state-run channels throughout the region. Delivering their homilies before nationwide audiences, the sheikhs and imams of the Arab states left no doubt about their feelings vis-à-vis America and its policy in Iraq.
“O Allah, deal with the enemies of Islam including Zionists and Americans. O Allah, shake the land under their feet, instill fear in their hearts, and freeze the blood in their veins,” cried the Yemeni preacher in Sanaa’s Grand Mosque, as his words were carried live across the southern Arabian peninsula.
Further north, in Saudi Arabia, the message delivered over the country’s airwaves was no less shrill or confrontational. In a sermon broadcast on the kingdom’s official TV2 television station, the impassioned cleric lambasted America for invading Iraq, beseeching the heavens as follows: “O Allah, deal with them for they are within Your power. O Allah, make their plans destroy them. O Allah support jihad for your sake everywhere.”
A similar theme ran through the oration on Syrian radio that day, where the speaker, addressing a gathering of worshippers at Damascus’ al-Zahra mosque, referred to Coalition forces in Baghdad as the “new Mongol invaders.” With evident pride, he openly acknowledged that Syria had sent people across the border to Iraq to fight American troops, saying, “Our youths, who went to the aid of the Iraqi people, were noble and chivalrous. You could see real manhood in their faces. We are proud of them.”
And if you thought that the presence of Central Command headquarters in Qatar’s capital of Doha would have a moderating influence on that country, think again. Qatari television carried a sermon from the Omar Bin-al-Khattab mosque in Doha, in which the presiding sheikh said that the “infidels” (i.e. America) may have the military might, but their “oppression” would not continue forever.
But perhaps the sharpest tones could be heard coming from the Palestinians, whose regret over the fall of Saddam was laced with outrageous accusations against the United States. Official Palestinian television aired a sermon delivered at a Gaza mosque in which the preacher accused America of overseeing the devastation of Iraq. “America organizes the systematic destruction of Iraq,” he said. “America organizes the looting, plundering, and destruction operations… America organizes these campaigns by thieves and traitorous plotters in order to strike at honest Iraqis and the upcoming Iraqi resistance.”
Lest anyone doubt where the Arafat-appointed preacher’s sympathies may lie, he concluded his harangue by praying for victory for the Palestinians and Iraqis “against the Jews, Britain, and the United States and their allies.”
It would be easy to dismiss all this as just more of the same boisterous Middle Eastern rhetoric that often characterizes this part of the world. Easy, but dangerously misguided.
After all, television and radio stations throughout the Arab world are not independent outlets broadcasting a range of views. They are mouthpieces for their respective regimes, feeding the public a stream of pre-approved, carefully calibrated messages for public consumption. They represent the ideas and attitudes which the governing powers wish to convey to their subjects.
As such, the pattern that emerges is clear and unequivocal: The Arab world still hates America and everything it represents. There may be lots of shock ringing throughout Arab capitals, but there appears to be very little awe.
— Michael Freund served as deputy director of communications and policy planning under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is currently a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.