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On the eve of president Hugo Chavez’s visit to Syria, as part of his tour of a number of countries, Matthew Clark wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor, which he titled “Hugo Chavez’s Evil Axis Tour tour: looking for love in all the wrong places?” Chavez’s tour includes Russia, Belorussia, Syria, Algeria, Libya and Iran. Although the author acknowledges that these countries could be the “wrong places” only from Washington’s perspective, he concludes his article by adopting the Western judgment of Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenka, whom he describes as Europe’s last dictator citing as evidence banning him from entering the European Union and the United States because of his crackdown on “western-friendly” opposition leaders a few years ago.
Such articles these days only put a frosty smile on the faces of readers in the “wrong” countries, because the peoples of these countries are no longer hostage to the evaluations made by representatives of Western governments, whether politicians or journalists, known for their double standards, double values and double positions. They are no longer convinced that these governments advocate, as they claim, “democracy and human rights”. It has become clear, after the performance of the former US administration in Iraq, Afghanistan and to a certain extent Pakistan, and after the whole world saw how the official West towed the line of that administration in all its decisions and actions in terms of war, torture and violation of the freedom of countries and the human rights of their populations. The world still sees how these governments still use their military, technological and economic power to plunder more of the resources of these peoples under different labels and pretexts, ranging from “fighting terrorism”, to preventing possession of nuclear weapons, to “spreading democracy and defending human rights”.
It has become clear to the peoples of the “wrong places” that everything has a price for Western governments, and that deals can be reached to settle any issue with complete disregard to Western moral values and even the laws in force in the West.
It has also become clear to the peoples of these “wrong” countries that Western governments, without exception, apply double standards to most issues, and do not bat an eyelid when calling for something while practicing the exact opposite.
I think that is exactly what the chairman of the US’ Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, meant when he wrote in the military publication Joint Force Quarterly that the United States cannot rely on rhetoric to build bridges with the Muslim world. He writes that persisting in the policy of talking will be in vain if the talking is not supported by actions on the ground. He adds, “To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.” He expressed concern about the tendency to create government bodies with the objective of improving America’s image in the world, saying that this means creating a bureaucracy and has nothing to do with the real actions and positions of the United States. He writes, “We still have a long way to go. The Muslim community is a subtle world we don’t fully – and don’t always attempt to understand. I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or donít follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”
Mullenís analysis echoes the sentiment felt by every Muslim and every citizen in the ëwrong placesí, because it is based on respecting the truth and respecting others and their intelligence and not wasting time on rhetorical expressions and devices which, everyone knows, have nothing to do with reality.
Despite the fact that Mullen’s statements are the most important thing I have recently read about the relationship between the East and the West, and constitute the best remedy to the accumulated and exasperating problems bedeviling this relationship, the Western press has not acclaimed them in the way it usually celebrates Elliot Abrams’s racist pronouncements which display disgraceful hatred towards the Arabs and complete disregard to their lives, their dignity and their capabilities. Take for instance his article in The Weekly Standard magazine of Sept. 1, 2009 in which he decides that president Obama’s approach to the Arab world and to dictatorships has failed. Naturally, Abrams and his ilk see nothing in the Arab world except dictatorship and terrorism as a result of their racist view of the Arabs and disregard for their rights and dignity. Regrettably, such a racist article is publicized by Western news outlets while Mullen’s article, which expresses a high sense of responsibility towards oneself and towards the other, is largely ignored.
Mullen, in his article about Afghanistan, writes that it is only through the common understanding of peoples’ culture, needs and aspirations for the future that we can hope to change the narrative of extremism. These are actually the things which people in the “wrong places” think about, in Gaza, Jerusalem, Palestine, Iraq, the Golan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Belorussia and Iran. Nobody in these countries is interested in reading about “the axis of evil” or about the West’s fight against terrorism. Masks have dropped, and it is of no use to print thousands of pages every day filled with the pronouncements of Elliot Abrams and his likes who have no respect for our peoples and for the credibility of the United States. Everybody can see that after over six years of occupation in Iraq, the net result is over a million orphans, over a million widows and over four million refugees and displaced people.
People the world over see today the genocide perpetrated by Israel in Gaza. Israeli occupation forces close water wells, destroy agricultural land, prevent medicine from entering the territory, chase and hunt down fishermen trying to get a living from the sea, destroy the beautiful Arab houses of West Jerusalem and expel their owners who lived there for hundreds of years. The whole world is meanwhile watching and talking about ëfreezingí or ësuspendingí settlement building for a few months.
If Israeli authorities accuse all those who try to uncover their crimes of anti-Semitism (see Jerusalem Post, Sept. 3, 2009 which again attacked this author accusing her of anti-Semitism, something of which they are guilty because they have done the greatest damage to Jews and their history by defending Israel and its crimes against humanity), what could they say about Oxfam reports which revealed the depth and extent of Palestinian suffering as a result of Israeli occupation and settlement activity? (The Guardian, August 28, 2009). Oxfamís CEO, Barbara Stocking considered the reports required read material for Western diplomats and politicians who, so far, have taken no serious action to stop settlement building.
The peoples of the world are no longer deceived by the trappings of labels and rhetorical devices; and the crack in the wall of arrogance is getting wider thanks to the outspokenness and courage of an increasing number of individuals. Today I add to my list of such individuals the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Michael Mullen. So, would those who have the illusion of being able to identify the right and wrong times and places, the needs and aspirations of people, have some modesty and start listening to the real voices of people instead of carrying on with their drab homilies which can no longer deceive anyone?
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org