I Don’t Think We Westerners Care About Muslims
Ladies and gentlemen, when I first went to the Middle East — on holiday from Belfast, of all places — 1972, I went to Egypt, and anxious to try and pick up a few first words of Arabic, I had the misfortune of purchasing a very old book produced by the British army in Egypt in the 19th century. I still recall the three principal clauses which you were advised to learn if you were an Englishman: “We shall board the steamship, for there is talk of war,” “Help,” and “Where is the British embassy?” And I can tell you, I never believed I would actually watch people say these things, as I had to in Lebanon this last summer. There were all the refugees, all the foreigners, boarding the steamships because there was a real war, all wanting help and all demanding to know the way to their national embassies. “So it has come to this,” I thought to myself.
You know, in the last 30 years that I have been in the Middle East, there has been one — no, two major changes. The first is that Muslims are no longer afraid. When I first went to Lebanon, if the Israelis crossed the border, for example, many, many, many Palestinians who were in the south would be rushing to Beirut. People would flee the south, run away. Whether it was the siege of Beirut in 1982 or not, I don’t know. But now, they do not run away. Muslims do not run away when they’re attacked, when they’re under air attack.
Do we in fact really understand the extent of injustice in the Middle East? When I finished writing my new book, I realized how amazed I was that after the past 90 years of injustice, betrayal, slaughter, terror, torture, secret policemen and dictators, how restrained Muslims had been, I realized, towards the West, because I don’t think we Westerners care about Muslims. I don’t think we care about Muslim Arabs. You only have to look at the reporting of Iraq. Every time an American or British soldier is killed, we know his name, his age, whether he was married, the names of his children. But 500,000-600,000 Iraqis, how many of their names have found their way onto our television programs, our radio shows, our newspapers? They are just numbers, and we don’t even know the statistic.
Do you remember the time when George Bush was pushed and pushed: what were the figures of the Iraqi dead? At that stage, it was less, and he said, “Oh, 30,000. More or less.” Can you imagine if he had been asked how many Americans had died, and he said “3,000, more or less”? Those words, “more or less,” somehow said it all.
Now, take this one. This is the Associated Press doing its job. It uses the Freedom of Information Act to get official documents out of Guantanamo Bay and managed in a long story, but buried deep within it, not at the top, to uncover the following. It’s the official account of a court case inside Guantanamo of Feroz Ali Abbasi. He’s actually a British citizen. He has since been released and is now at home.
He’s on trial, and he pleads and pleads to the American colonel, Air Force colonel, in charge of the trial, “Give me the evidence against me.” He’s not allowed to have the evidence. And the AP has this official document — and this is the official American document I’m quoting, but I have to add it is paragraphs, paragraphs, into the story, not at the top. “An Air Force colonel would have none of it. ‘Mr. Abbasi, your conduct is unacceptable. And this is your absolute final warning’ the colonel said. ‘I do not care about international law. I do not want to hear the words “international law” again. We are not concerned about international law.’” Pretty much the George W. Bush policy, isn’t it, in the world?
Read all of it here.