Fanning the Flames

Asia | Europe and Russia | Middle East and Africa | The Americas

International Commentary Column Archive

The Middle East

The response of a country or a leader to the Israel-Palestine conflict is the barometer of justice used by many Mideast commentators. Adel Darwish, in the MIDEASTNEWS surveys the Arab coverage of the terrorist attacks, pronouncing that the current reporting echoes "its coverage of the Gulf War, but show[s] little more maturity or expertise than it did a decade ago." Darwish attributes the lack of maturity and expertise to the complicated relationships many governments have with their journalists -- sometimes directly compromising or prohibiting free press, and rarely giving the press free reign. Still, the papers Darwish reviews, as well as those reviewed here from Arab countries, Israel and elsewhere, all opine on the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in reference to local and regional Israel vs. Arab politics. Many of the editorials, even in the most respected and influential papers redraw and, thus, reinforce, clear lines of battle in the international fight against terrorism: Jews and their supporters on one side, Arabs and their supporters on the other.

It's Us vs. Them: Religious Hatred Undisguised

In the London-based Libyan daily paper Al Arab, for example, editor Ahmed El Houni warns the U.S.: "Israel is the main source for the creation of fanaticism. Therefore beware the Zionists attempts to exploit you. They are the source of terrorism."

Columnist Raid Qusti makes a similar argument in Saudi Arabia's English news daily, Arab News, explaining to Americans that they were targeted over other big Western powers such as the U.K. because the "bullets that kill and maim innocent Palestinian children are not made in the U.K. but in the U.S. and are freely supplied to the Israelis." Furthermore, he notes, "British foreign policy has not been criticized because the U.K. does not veto every single resolution in the UN Security Council that calls for an end to Israeli aggression and. . . Israel should be punished for its actions."

The Guardian prints an interview with managing-editor of Al-Ahram Weekly Hani Shukrallah by novelist Linda Grant that discusses why so many Arabs believe that Israelis were behind the September 11 attacks. The majority of Arab countries are ill-equipped to navigate the destabilizing effects of warring ethnic groups, minority resistance and both fundamentalist and progressive opposition uprisings that have increased in much of the Arab world since the attacks. Shunrallah says the attacks have particularly derailed the democracy building and self-determination work that has strived to move popular and political debates away from large West vs. Islam or Arab vs. Jews frameworks.

"Exposed for more than two decades," explains Shunrallah, "to the dual assault of Islamism from one side and neo-liberalism from the other, its part Stalinist, part Arab nationalist ideological heritage has proven wholly inadequate" to deal with battles of ideology. Despite these more broad and historical explanations, Linda Grant ends up coming back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reminding Shunrallah that, "according to Middle East experts, the ferocity of anti-American feeling in the Muslim world is largely fuelled by the injustices done on a daily basis to the Palestinian people by U.S.-supported Israel."

In The Jerusalem Post, perspectives about the attacks are also rooted and inseparable from the current Israeli-Palestinian paradigm. Daniel Doron argues that the U.S. should stop beating around the Bush (ahem) and call its response to terrorism what it really is -- the West vs. Islam. "Only containment by overwhelming force can enable the West to successfully resist its deadly challenges," writes Doron. But satisfying this week's Israel/Palestine theme, Doron finally inserts his indignation at recent U.S. demands that Israel show more restraint in the wake of top-level Israeli Cabinet member Rechavam Zeevi's assassination, arguing that the U.S. should stop placating the terrorists themselves, meaning Arafat, and cease "forcing Israel to make dangerous concessions to Arab terrorism."

Jerusalem Post guest columnist Kenneth J. Bialkin, chair of the America-Israel Friendship League, writes that "for more than 50 years corrupt and despotic Arab nations have utilized an illegitimate version of Islam to inflame Arabs and Muslims, and to blame Israel for their failure to achieve political freedom, economic opportunity, educational advancement, or social enlightenment."

The Jerusalem Post itself even editorializes, albeit extremely subtly, that the U.S. and Israel are in it together -- and the only way to avoid future terrorist attacks in both countries is to "take on Saddam."

The more moderate Ha'aretz daily in Israel editorializes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should show the kind of restraint requested of him by the U.S. in the wake of the assassination of Zeevi. Israel must halt its invasion of the territories not to pacify the U.S. but because of tactical reasons, actually in the best interests of an Israel hoping to protect and defend its citizens: "the Palestinians know that the longer Israel stays, the more pressure the United States will apply, making Israel appear to surrender."

But Israel Harel argues in the same Ha'aretz pages that the U.S. demand for Israel to withdraw troops is not only hypocritical ("The American president instructed Israel to halt its military operation, which is, in essence, a carbon copy of the operations against terrorism being carried out by George W. Bush's forces."), but also misguided. Harel's column continues to pave the road of no compromise, away from peace negotiations: "There is no, nor can there be any, American coalition in which Arab and Muslim states also participate. That is a fiction created by the Americans to gain legitimacy for crumbling a Muslim state and searching for a needle in a haystack there."

-- Alyssa Rayman-Read


The op-ed and editorial pages in Asian newspapers and media sites are raging with discussions of regional security and religious strife. Reports of heightened political and ethnic tension in almost every Asian country in the aftermath of September 11th has prompted intense scrutiny of national response capabilities, regional ties and alliances, and globalization. Many writers argue that violence, in the form of retaliation, self-defense, or prevention, does not address the more profound concerns emerging from severe and prolonged clashes between religious and ethnic groups. A few issue a call to arms, using the events of September 11 as a backdrop against which current battles must be fought. But the common tenor in Asian opinion writings this week conveys an ominous sense of worry, with predictions of future instability caused by short-sighted responses to, and superficial solutions for, terrorism and the underlying ideological tension that generates it.

Inside Out: The international terror crisis provokes internal stress

Researcher and lecturer Shaun Gregory contends that because of the September 11 attacks, the "central tension [in Pakistan] between those wishing to preserve the secular state and those wishing to more fully 'Islamise' it" is bound to escalate, jeopardizing Pakistan's fragile army (uneasily divided by such ideological and religious tensions), which currently controls access to the nuclear arsenal.

Is North Korea "turning to capitalism" in its efforts to "com[e] in from the cold?" asks opinion writer Bertil Lintner:

There is little doubt that the sale of ballistic-missile technology in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime and, more generally, the export of weapons to terrorist organizations and the states that harbour them, is far more lucrative than all of Pyongyang's legitimate commercial ventures put together. But it is equally true that the international war on terrorism will only make such sales more difficult with every passing day.

In Malaysia, the September 11 crisis has provoked internal debate. The protests of 3,000 Malay Muslims belonging mostly to the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia while ostensibly against the U.S. response in Afghanistan were really "about local politics taking another step in the lengthy battle for the hearts and minds of Malaysia's ethnic Malay voters -- and hoping to discredit the government's more moderate and measured stance on the Afghan crisis." The report quotes Malay cabinet minister Lim Keng Yaik worrying that "'Pas is trying to use an international matter to gain local political mileage.'"

The September 11 aftermath has caused concern in India of resurfacing tensions between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Control of such tensions by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is tenuous; critics fear the external September 11th-related conflict will be used to gain political advantage in India's rapidly approaching state elections.

With an Eye to the Future: Better ways to combat terrorism

The Times of India prints U.S. controversial conservative columnist Ann Coulter's piece condemning the U.S. "media as a partisan messenger," analyzing the ways the September 11 attack has paralyzed open debate and objective reporting.

Murray Hiebert argues that the new U.S. Asia policy is short-sighted, raising the likelihood of future instability and warfare. Pining for support from key players, the US is now willing to woo those it once considered foes, overlooking human rights abuses, corrupt regimes, and undemocratic practices that once invited criticism and sanctions. Hiebert analogizes the attitude reversals toward such "strategic competitors" Uzbekistan, Malaysia, China, Pakistan and Indonesia to "the foreign-policy shifts at the start of the Cold War, when America defined its friends as those willing to fight communism." Many experts, argues Hiebert, warn "putting human rights on the back burner could make it harder to defeat terrorism in the long term."

From the lively opinion pages of Pakistani newspaper The Nation, Ahmad Hasan Sheikh's "The Final Crusade" argues the extreme perspective that Muslims must now stand together to defend Islam in this inevitable clash of civilizations because "the 'free world' and the ex-Iron Curtain, sharing common heritage, have come together to oust this 'intruder' from their preserve called the earth."

--Alyssa Rayman-Read

Europe and Russia

Kristy Hughes, the Director of Hughes Estrin International Policy Associates and a Senior Fellow of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels writes of the challenges that now face the European Union. She writes:

The EU has the chance to give a positive response to its three big challenges -- of unity, influence and effectively combined security and civil liberties. But while there are some positive signs in these very early days, the prospects for success in all three areas looks weak, for both internal and external reasons.

Although the EU's political leaders made a strong statement of political support for the U.S. at the emergency summit on September 21, the individual nations' varying foreign policy stances, differing military capabilities, and diverse public opinion present significant obstacles to a united front. The challenge has been set: not only must the E.U. take into account its four neutral countries, it must balance the nascent peace movements in Germany, the lack of such movements in France, and the UK's whole-hearted support of the American military response.

The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau urged its national government to look outward, and to turn paramount attention to foreign affairs. "A new era is beginning in which Germans and their politicians will have no choice but to deal seriously with world affairs once and for all," it argues. If Germany is to have equal input in establishing a reasonable post-Taliban Afghanistan, then "it cannot make do with just sending in, organizing or funding humanitarian aid after the event." It must display greater self-confidence in "discussing with the U.S. and Britain the overall concept by which terror is to be combated worldwide."

Although France is one of the four countries to pledge unlimited support to the U.S. government in its war against terrorism, tensions between the Gaullist President Jacques Chirac, who determines France's foreign policy and exercises supreme command over the armed forces, and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the head of government, threaten to whittle away at France's pledge of "total solidarity" with the U.S. government. While Chirac has given his unflinching support to the fight against terrorism, Jospin, alongside the French Communist and Green Parties, has expressed reservations about such "blank cheque" aid. Editorialists in France and the rest of Europe have urged national solidarity at all costs, detailing the dangers of a splintered front. Even an editorial on The World Socialist Website, warns that "in the long run, the growth of differences between Europe and America can lead only to new and sharper international conflicts."

Eye on America

An editorial this week in the British newspaper The Guardian urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to press President Bush to "act loudly and decisively" in calling for Israeli withdrawal from Palestine. Afghanistan may not be resolved unless Palestine gets justice," read the title's subheading. The article elaborated, "Spell it out -- no more money, no more support, no sympathy for future attacks until Israel withdraws and talks start at once on building the promised independent Palestinian state."

America often falls under attack from Europe for its steadfast "PC" culture, but as another Guardian editorial points out, the most recent efforts by some news agencies in the U.S. are not only obtuse, but potentially damaging to their proclaimed "war against terror." With agencies such as Reuters refusing to refer to terrorists (unless it is a direct quote) as "part of a long-standing policy to avoid the use of emotive words," and the conservative magazine, The National Review accepting the word but denying that September 11 fit the definition, the British editorial asks how America will ever bring an end to terrorism if it cannot decide what it means by the word.

Europe Looks at Russia

The British newspaper The Times turned a critical eye on the United States this week, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin's public rejection of any "moderate" Taliban participation in a postwar Afghan coalition. In its leading editorial, The Times said Putin had done the White House a service:

By making the distinction [between tribespeople who have been coerced into service and the Taliban oppressors] that eluded General Powell, while insisting that Russia strongly supported the inclusion of all ethnic groups in a future government, Mr. Putin has made it easier for the U.S. to dig itself out of that hole. The suggestion of a deal was a poor way to persuade the Pashtuns to revolt; why turn on a feared regime that would continue to be a force to be reckoned with?

In the face of recent reports of Russia's corrupt and bureaucratic business practices, The Moscow Times delighted in Russia's newfound Western support for its business endeavors. Clearly surprised at the burgeoning foreign economic interest, the newspaper speculated that Russia might be "reaping the first rewards of the Kremlin's support for the U.S.-led fight against terrorism." It welcomed the influx of foreign capital, hoping that, if handled fairly and intelligently, the funds would grease "the already spinning wheels of the economy."

An independent defense analyst recounted the history of Russian development of biological weapons in another Moscow Times editorial this week. But in addition to pointing out the weapons' capacity for biological and psychological destruction, he turned his attention to the economic realm, highlighting the recent drastic increase in sales and profits for international pharmaceutical companies. "Market regulators should look into recent pharmacy stock transactions," he wrote. "Who was the guy that was placing huge [vaccine] buying orders from Kandahar, when the markets went into free fall last month?"

-- Cara Feinberg

The Americas

Following the Bank of Canada's unexpectedly large interest-rate cut this past week, which reduced the benchmark overnight rate by 0.75 percent to 2.75, the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran an editorial warning against further tax cuts. Canada, like the U.S., has already undertaken protective economic measures since September 11 -- including tax cuts -- but the editorial urges Canadian policy makers not to make further decisions in haste. "While tax cuts are a welcome long-term policy, they are not a quick economic fix and should not be adopted in haste."

Another editorial in The Globe and Mail voices Canada's wariness of its dependency on the U.S. As America looks to find new sources of oil and energy outside of the Middle East, it will inevitably tighten its energy links with Canada. "Canada will be squeezed as never before to adopt U.S. models, copy U.S. laws and regulations, or adapt Canadian ways to accommodate the U.S." Canada currently does 86 percent of its trade with the U.S., making its dependence on its southern neighbor almost complete. "This was the way of North America pre-Sept. 11. That day's tragedy will accentuate the pressures."

-- Cara Feinberg