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Sudan and Arab paranoia

Monday August 16th, 2004 08:29.
By LEON DE WINTER, The Wall Street Journal

August 16, 2004 -- Anyone who follows the developments in the Arab Islamic world will be struck by the complete absence of self-knowledge and introspection that characterizes these vexed cultures. Almost every problem is attributed to hostile external forces. The poverty and underdevelopment that plague most of the Arab world are the result of malicious machinations of Americans and Jews. This is no less true of the disaster in Darfur. Last week UPI reported that the Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail had told journalists in Cairo that his government possessed "information that confirms media reports of Israeli support (for the rebels in Darfur)." He added that he was "sure the next few days will reveal a lot of Israeli contacts with the rebels."

What Mr. Ismail said, and the eagerness with which the Arab Islamic press publicized it, highlights the hopeless position of the forces for modernization in North Africa and the Middle East. Within the existing cultural context it is practically impossible to subject the widespread abuses in Arab countries to reflection and objective analysis in order to obtain a clear picture of their causes and effects. Not only are "self-reflection" and "objective research" alien concepts, there is no need to analyze causes and effects since both are by definition already known. The causes are always the diabolical forces of Jews and Christian crusaders, a central dogma even among Arabs and Muslims who have not yet joined the queue to blow up some Iraqi police station for al Qaeda. The effects are always the sufferings of the Arab nation and the ummah, the global Islamic community. Infidels, in pact with the devil, have hoodwinked and deceived the ummah, depriving it of its God-given right to rule supreme over the world.

On July 29 Egypt's government newspaper Al-Ahram published an article entitled "The Key to the American Voting Booths is in Darfur: The Plot which is called Oil." An English translation of the article can be found on the Middle East Media Research Institute's Web site:

Al-Ahram is probably the most important newspaper in the most important and populous Arab country. The article is typical for the kind of hatred and paranoia that pervades much of the wider Arab Muslim world. Given the tight control the Egyptian state has over the media in general and Al-Ahram in particular, the paper's views must also be seen as reflecting the views of the country's ruling elite. "Bush is awaiting his fate in November and the U.S. is planning to make Darfur an easy path towards its major plan to transport the (Persian) Gulf Oil and the African oil to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, so that Washington can meet its needs in the next decade," the article said.

This is the oil card. A tried and tested recipe according to Michael Moore's model that reduces American government policy to the interests of the oil industry. It shatters any hope one might have had of a rational Arab approach to internal Arab problems. The entire Arab-Islamic world is convinced that Jews and crusaders are continually conspiring to steal Arab wealth -- forgetting that thousands of billions of dollars have been paid into the accounts of Arab and Islamic oils states over the past decades -- and this article accuses the West of misusing the crisis in Darfur to lay its hands on Sudanese oil.

The entire Arab-Islamic world has ignored the humanitarian disasters in Darfur, but they require an explanation for the curious attention the deaths of tens of thousands of black Muslims have received in the West -- which Arab opinion maintains despises Muslims and Africans. According to the Arab-Islamic view the West is not driven by a sincere concern for over a million innocent Muslims, but by oil. We Westerners are simply hypocritical when we shed crocodile tears for Darfur, the Arab-Islamic media claims.

Facts are not important here. What matters is how phenomena are "experienced" and how they fit into the underlying plot that explains the world to the average Arab and Muslim: the Muslim is the victim of conspiracies.

This is what, according to BBC World Service Monitoring, the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi had to say about the rather timid U.N. resolution demanding an end to the massacres: "For the U.N. Security Council decision to give the Sudanese government one month to disarm the jingaweit militias or face economic and diplomatic sanctions is yet another link in the chain of efforts to target Arab and Muslim countries by the U.S. and the Western world in general."

Based on this simple idea everything falls into place. It explains why power is in other people's hands, when it should be the ummah that holds sway, it explains the poverty, inferiority, the way the West supposedly tries to tempt pious Muslims with obscenities such as film, television, music, dance and drink, it explains the appalling conditions in the Palestinian territories and the unemployment in Morocco, the lack of modern research and development in the universities, it explains the internal Arab divisions, it explains why a third of all Arabs have less than two dollars a day to spend, it explains why the superior Islamic world is -- temporarily -- the victim of the inferior West.

Satan, devils and spirits are not just symbols. They are actual living phenomena in Islam. The notion of conspiracy is an essential aspect of modern Muslim religious philosophy and of Islamic world history.

This is what remains, in the perspective of many Arabs and Muslims, of European and American reports in the press and media, of the fundraising campaigns, of our disgust, anger and astonishment at the fate of hundreds of thousands of Islamic victims in Africa. It is unimaginable that we infidels might be inspired by compassion. Because an unbelieving crusader or Jew could never be inspired by compassion. After all, unbelieving crusaders and Jews are too busy ensuring the diabolical downfall of the ummah. While the crusader and Jew may seem compassionate, in fact they are cunning conspirators.

So last Sunday, foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League rejected "any threats of coercive military intervention in the region or imposing any sanctions on Sudan."

Darfur is not just a humanitarian disaster. Darfur shows once again, and more tragically than ever, that the Arab-Islamic world is a hostage of its own delusions and will not lift a finger to prevent the deaths of countless fellow Muslims.

Mr. de Winter, a Dutch novelist and adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, is currently finishing a new novel, "The Right of Return."