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It is dangerous for US and Israel to blame religion for actions taken by Muslims and Arabs — El-Asmar

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This interview with the distinguished Palestinian author, activist and poet Fouzi El-Asmar. excerpted below, is a follow-up to one this author published in Arabisto in February 2012. There Dr. El-Asmar shared his thoughts about the Arab uprisings and the importance of culture to the Palestinian liberation movement, in the context of analyzing Zionism, Israeli nationhood and related matters that affect the lives and well-being of Palestinians. Here Dr. El-Asmar discusses Al-Ard [The Land], a political organization he helped found in Palestine during the late 1950s but whose history and perspective have been marginalized if not largely absented from most narratives about the Palestinian liberation movement. In turn Dr. El-Asmar draws instructive connections between that political experience and relevant issues shaking the contemporary Arab and Muslim world.

TG: There seems to be a contradiction in the Western focus on Muslims in the Arab world. On your argument, the West supports the Muslim Brotherhood on the basis of an incorrect view that it will cooperate with the Gulf states and thus serve Western interests (oil, military industry, etc.). Yet many of these same supporters express rabid anti-Muslim sentiment. On the other hand, but by the same token, it has been argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is not extreme in light of the moderates within its ranks. Would you say these counterpoints are meant to cloud the real issues-the expansion of corporate interests and the propping up of governments, whether dictatorships or nominal democracies, which enable them?

FE: For eight years, the George W. Bush administration successfully convinced Western public opinion that Islam runs counter to Western interests. That’s in fact why 9/11 occurred. Afterwards, instead of emphasizing Al-Qaeda’s extremism, which exploits religion to garner Arab support, the Bush regime blamed Islam generally, despite occasional claims to the contrary. Public opinion in the West accepted that, because that’s what the people saw. That was “terrorism” to the West. And when the US tried to fix the problem it had created, it didn’t know how. It couldn’t distinguish between Islam and Muslims who are extremists. So now that the US is claiming to be on good terms with the Muslim Brotherhood, nobody is buying it. Instead they see the looming specter of Bin Laden. The Western image of the Muslim is that of a terrorist. Other religions also carry extremist tendencies, such as Christianity and Judaism, but that fact goes largely unremarked.

This attitude has provoked tremendous reaction in the Arab and Muslim world, which wants to correct the Western view, to emphasize that the West is stealing Middle Eastern oil, supporting dictators who are oppressive, and so on. That’s a perspective rarely heard in the West-but it is not religious. The US and Israel would like to blame religion for actions taken by Arabs and Muslims. This is very, very dangerous.

Take the question of nuclear weapons. When Pakistan got them, the political conflict that ensued between it and India was contextualized as religious. The fact was never discussed that Pakistan was concerned about Israeli aggression, which was being facilitated by India. The Muslim Brotherhood has achieved support in the Arab world because it fights against this image, as such trying to prove that it is not really a religious party, even though people support it because it is. This is a rather confused position.

How the West is going to get out of the quagmire it has helped create is uncertain. It will take a lot to persuade Arabs and Muslims that it supports the rights of the people and not their leadership and dictatorships. That’s another mistake: the US has good relationships with dictators while ignoring the people. When the Muslim Brotherhood took power, the US saw it as approaching the people, which is a mistaken view. The Muslim Brotherhood represents only twenty percent. Think about the eighty percent!

Of course, one of the main determinants of this view is unconditional US support for Israel, which only serves to antagonize the Arab and Muslim people. Regarding the stance against Iran, for instance, the US can say it doesn’t want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons-but what about the US? What about Israel? The US and the West don’t mention that! The US claims it doesn’t want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons because that would threaten the Gulf, where the US has interests. If Iran were to threaten Russia, however, that would be okay.

TG: The US doesn’t mention India, either, which like Israel has a nuclear arsenal but has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

FE: That’s right. But when it comes to Pakistan, the US’s immediate fear is that any nuclear weapons it may have will fall into extremist hands-even as the US bombards and kills Pakistani civilians on a daily basis. People are reacting to that. But it should be a national reaction. If a combined national and religious reaction produces a bulwark against Western attacks, people will go with that instead. That’s why the wave of Islam is taking over in the Arab world.

TG: Another variable in this picture is Syria, for a brief time Egypt’s partner in the (pan-Arabist) United Arab Republic.

FE: Syria is different. The history of Syria is that of a national state. Syrians are Arab nationalists. They have a clear foreign policy vision-about the Palestinian problem, about involvement with the US and the West, about Israel and its expansion. Syria is now considered the only Arab state that is really standing for the principle of nationalism and against imperialism and Zionism. Because of Syria, the US has been unable to implement Israel’s desire for a “New Middle East,” “Greater Israel,” etc. From the perspective of having supported the Lebanese resistance (Hezbollah), the Palestinian resistance, and of having taken a political stand on their behalf, Syria is not acceptable to the West or to Israel. But many aspects of the regime are corrupt, and that has to be changed.

One must differentiate between the regime and the state. The state stands for certain principles. The regime can be changed. The West refuses to accept that. In one of my columns, I refer to Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha, who during a presentation last year in Washington conveyed three demands presented to his government by the US which, if met, were to have ensured an end to the diplomatic impasse between the two countries: Syria must cut off relations with Iran, stop assisting the resistance, and expel Palestinian organizations from its borders. Syria would not comply, and that was the reason for US belligerence. Syria doesn’t have oil, so it’s not being invaded in the same way as was Libya, but it borders Israel, making it strategically important in the context of the US commitment to Israel.

Terri Ginsberg

Terri Ginsberg is a film scholar and Palestine solidarity activist based presently in Cairo. She is author of Visualizing the Palestinian Struggle (2016), co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema (2010), author of Holocaust Film: The Political Aesthetics of Ideology (2007), and co-editor of A Companion to German Cinema (2012). Her co-edited collection on cinema of the Arab world is forthcoming.

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6 Responses

  1. Les on October 19, 2012, 2:12 pm

    Do the US and Israel blame the resistance of the Christian Palestinians on their religion? Would they be better Christians if they simply submitted to ethnic cleansing and occupation?

  2. seafoid on October 19, 2012, 6:22 pm

    It is also stupid

    Is our situation in the world, in terms of public opinion, much worse than we think, than what we’re told?

    Yes, definitely. The State of Israel is a bipolar state. On the one hand we say: We’ll help ourselves, and who needs the UN, and all those mantras. On the other hand, the prime minister and the finance minister maintain that our situation has never been so good. And it’s so hard for people here. The same is true in terms of security, when they tell us that the army is strong.

    There are days when I feel like a stranger. In a strange land. The lack of solidarity, the relations between people and also, to my regret, I have to mention what’s happening around us: Ten minutes from here, to the east, is Qalqilyah. Right next to us people are living in terrible poverty and under occupation. For 40 years. I dreamed that it would be possible to separate [our people], and I believe that it will happen in the end, but after a lot of blood, pain and suffering. Today this vision is gradually receding. The insensitivity and the gaps between the leadership and the people − us, our children. I often experience alienation and pain. I hear about people who are saying, we don’t want to live here. Look how the politicians talk, how the public discourse is conducted, the behavior of our leaders. And above all, the feeling that the leadership is not concerned about us. Only about themselves. The feeling that we may embark here on a campaign or a war, with our near or distant neighbors, when protecting the country’s security is not the only consideration, is terrifying. It’s terribly complex; it’s possible that Netanyahu thinks that his survival is crucial to Israel’s security. I’m willing to give him that much credit, but the fact that something impure is involved in these considerations − and I’m sorry, it’s impure − that scares me. I think it’s terrible.

  3. piotr on October 19, 2012, 8:44 pm

    The fact was never discussed that Pakistan was concerned about Israeli aggression, which was being facilitated by India.

    I truly fail to see how Israel is important in Pakistan, with some narrow exceptions that are tangentially related to India.

    In Pakistani worldview, the chief problems are India denying the right to self-determination to the majority in Kashmir, and India plotting to split Pakistan into several pieces. (This is what they think.) Israel may be seen as cooperating with India, and in the case of alleged aid to Balochi separatists, that really touches a raw nerve.

    Very importantly, India made a nuclear explosion before Pakistan did, and Pakistan badly need a strategic parity with India. Given disparity in conventional forces, Pakistan has extremely clear motivation to have nuclear weapons. India make nukes official first, basically as a point of national pride and perhaps fear of China.

    Most importantly, the position of American government is quite a bit distorted here. Some elements of the establishment may rave in the style represented by Pamela Geller, but oil industry needs cooperation of Arab monarchies, armament industry needs their market, and these are the most important pressure groups in USA; no sitting president will talk about Islam as an opponent of civilization etc.

    However, Zionists do promote anti-Muslim intolerance and more reactionary among American Christian denomination have always an acute need to demonize various threats, be it mixed race marriages, evolution, abortion, gays, and more recently, Islam. They even advocated assassination of Hugo Chavez. It is like booze merchants at an Indian reservation.

  4. piotr on October 19, 2012, 8:56 pm

    “Syria doesn’t have oil, so it’s not being invaded in the same way as was Libya…”

    Syria also has a much more competent military, and much better supply routes and external support. “The West” cannot invade Syria cheaply. Libya was already close to the maximum that the West could afford without huge domestic backlash in the era of budget cuts. Then there is the spillover effect. After the “success” in Libya we have a FUBAR in Mali (al-Qaeda nominally controls a swath of Sahara that is larger than Texas or France, and the Western reaction is utterly flegmatic). But there is no innocent direction for the spillover from Syria.

  5. wes on October 20, 2012, 1:01 am

    Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, who is a very very well known Islamic jurist, highly regarded all over the Muslim world supported the suicide bombings in israel .his logic being that if you have no weapons like missiles etc to defend yourself then it is ok to use a human being as a bomb.

    here is part of his statement

    The martyrdom operations which I approve are the ones that target the occupiers. That is why I sanctioned martyrdom operations in Palestine. When I was asked, in London, how I could permit martyrdom operations in Palestine, I said that they are a necessity, because these people want to defend themselves, the things that are holy to them, and their land. I said to them: “You want them to stop the martyrdom operations? Then give them Apache helicopters, planes, tanks, and missiles, and then they will abandon martyrdom operations.” They do not have bombs, so they turn themselves into human bombs. This is a necessity.

    the question is this

    by encouraging suicide bombings and the murder of innocent bystanders and civilians i.e non jews using relegious rulings does this not invite attacks on those relegious followers and leaders -is it fair to say that if the priesthood condemn a innocent person to death they should be liable

  6. wes on October 20, 2012, 2:34 am

    in any event this is a subtle piece of propaganda aimed squarely at american jewish support for israel -one can easily equate arab nationalism with jewish nationalism(zionism) and his point is that the battle should not be on relegious grounds but nationalistic-in other words jews outside israel should not support israel on relegious grounds



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