In the Muslim World Blame Israel

In the Muslim world it has become an unfortunate wont to blame Israel for its follies; the New York Times examines this sentiment in Jordan in light of the bombings.  

Many in Jordan See Old Enemy in Attack: Israel
By Michael Slackman
New York Times
November 12, 2005

ZARQA, Jordan, Nov. 11 – The Maktoum Mosque was crowded with worshipers for Friday Prayer as the imam sharply criticized the suicide attacks on three hotels in Amman, saying those who committed the crimes were not Muslims, no matter what they called themselves.

Afterward, on the street, people agreed that whoever committed such an act could not be a Muslim. But many meant this literally, that the attack must have been carried out by outsiders, namely Israeli agents.

“Who said it is them?” asked Ahmed al-Zawahrah, referring to claims that members of a radical Islamic group were behind the blasts. “It could be Israel.”

Zarqa is the birthplace of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. His relatives and neighbors prayed in the mosque, so one could imagine that it might be especially hard for them to accept that Mr. Zarqawi had taken responsibility for killing so many civilians. But the sentiment heard here is echoed across this country and region.

While most Arabs have long viewed Israel as their enemy, the extent to which Israel weighs on the regional psyche and diverts attention away from social, political, religious and economic issues that cannot be ignored, many social and political analysts say. Blaming Israel is not just a knee jerk, they say; for many Arabs, it is their reality.

“People don’t blame Israel out of a vacuum,” said Rami Khoury, a Jordanian political commentator and writer based in Lebanon. “There is a very strong historical reason, because Israel has caused a lot of grief for Arab people one way or another.”

But he added, “The consequence is that this became an easy way not to deal with our problems that are based in our own society.”

The suspicion of some here over the hotel killings mirrors the unfounded rumor that thousands of Jews did not show up for work at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, because Israel was behind those attacks.

In Egypt, Israel was also widely blamed for the bombing attacks in Taba and Sharm el Sheik over the last year, and for the recent sectarian violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Alexandria. In Syria, officials at the highest levels of the government have blamed Israel for killing Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

While it appears that most Jordanians have accepted that Mr. Zarqawi was involved – with many saying they are sickened by his actions – there is little criticism for those who scapegoat Israel. A former prime minister, Tahir Masri, who said it was clear that Israel was not involved in this attack, said he understood why so many people blame Israel.

“You have to understand, Baghdad was the capital for Arabs and Muslims for 1,000 years,” Mr. Masri said. “It is occupied by Americans now. Jerusalem and Baghdad are both occupied. It is too much for ordinary people to bear. If you add to it the misery that people are facing because of the lack of democracy and humiliation by their rulers, that kind of scapegoat we have to have.”

Whether it is the Sharm el Sheik bombings or the assassination of Mr. Hariri, the theory is almost always premised on two ideas. The first is a logic that says those who benefit must be behind the deed.

When Muslim residents of Alexandria in Egypt tried to attack a Coptic church last month after word spread that a play held in the church two years earlier denigrated Islam – and that the play was being distributed on videodisc – one local member of Parliament charged publicly that Israel was behind the strife.

“Israel is the only country in the region that does not want Egypt to be stable,” said Muhammad al-Badrasheni, the member of Parliament. “It wants to cause sectarian strife that would result in international intervention like what is happening in Iraq now.”

The second factor routinely pointed to as proof of Israel’s involvement is the idea that Egyptians, Syrians or other Arabs are not clever enough to have carried out such an effective attack.

Gen. Fouad Allam, former director of state security in Egypt, said, for example, that the attack on a Hilton Hotel in Taba last year – in which mostly Israelis were killed – had to be the work of the Israeli secret service, the Mossad. “It was very well planned, studied, professional, and with a very high capacity,” he said. “We never had this kind of capacity over the past 50 years.”

One government official in Egypt, citing multiple military defeats, spoke of a deep-seated feeling of inferiority, even a kind of mental illness. The official also blamed Arab leaders who have deflected criticism of domestic issues by focusing public anger on Israel.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same: “In the first place, people don’t even recognize the reality around them,” said Muhammad el-Sayed Said, a political analyst at the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt. “Secondly, they continue to overlook and ignore the problem without supporting a consistent anti-terrorism campaign, which the government might be seeking.”

Dawoud al-Shoryan, a prominent writer and journalist from Saudi Arabia, says he is not convinced that those who blame Israel really believe it. But, he added, many people are deeply angry at United States policy in the region, including its occupation of Iraq, and blaming Israel is a way of conferring some degree of legitimacy on a crime that would be considered unspeakable if committed by a Muslim.

“They try to hide the hideous face of terrorism by hanging it on the United States and Israel,” he said. “Shifting the accusation is nothing but a subconscious attempt to justify the act.”

Mona el Naggar contributed reporting for this article.



Filed under Arabs & Muslims, Middle East & Muslim World, News & Politics, Society & Culture

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