It can be discouraging to note a huge crowd in Tehran apparently calling for the destruction of the United States and/or Israel, or to observe Hamas men marching and shouting about the murdering they intend to commit. Or else to watch the Pakistani establishment rising up in apparently genuine rage and eagerness to have Salman Rushdie killed because the British have honoured him. And yet all is not always quite what it seems.
Here are possible clues to an alternative reading of reality in the Muslim world. As Hamas took over in Gaza, hundreds of local Palestinians sought refuge in Israel. Among them were Fatah members now being hunted down. A few who had been wounded were admitted to Israeli hospitals. In Gaza hospitals, they knew, they would be murdered, but in Israel they would be treated. Covering the civil war in Jordan in 1970, I had seen this phenomenon before, when the terrified residents of Baqaa refuge camp outside Amman had set off for Israel, many of them shouting that they were going to Musa (Arabic for Moshe) Dayan. Hundreds of Arafat’s gunmen had also fled to Israel from King Hussein’s army, as now they flee Hamas.
And here is a report from Khalid Abu Toameh, the admirable and courageous Palestinian journalist featured in the last issue of NR writing about Gaza. According to him, thousands of Arab Jerusalemites living outside the city have moved back for fear of being left on the wrong side of the Israeli security fence. So it is Arabs as much as Israelis whom the fence makes more secure. He quotes a businessman who doesn’t like the instability and anarchy: “Life inside Israel is much better than the West Bank.” Farid Ghadry writes in just the same spirit – he is the head of the Syrian Reform Party, a democratic movement operating out of Washington, and he has been visiting Israel where he addressed a Knesset committee. His enemy, he declares, is his own repressive government “and not the country you have been taught to hate.” adding, “I felt very safe in Israel.”
And finally thousands of refugees from genocide have been fleeing Sudan. Many went to Cairo, where the police have scandalously harassed, beaten and scattered them. A thousand have found safety in Israel. These people, it is clear, are well able to reject a lifetime of hate propaganda, and recognise the reality that Israel will be more humane than any Muslim country.
It isn’t that the man on the street has some character defect, then, which programs him to be a killer. In my view, the huge majority of Muslims know that the United States and Israel could offer them freedom, peace and prosperity, but for the sake of keeping power their own Muslim leaders stand in the way of it, and whip up a hate which the mob doesn’t really feel but to which in these police states it is obliged to pay lip service.