Why dissenters in Arab and Muslim countries are hushed?
By Aladdin Elaasar*
From the death sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie to the ostracism of Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Irshad Manji, and many other Muslim writers; why is it hard for Arab and Muslim writers, professors, intellectuals and average persons to speak out against suicide bombers, Jihadists, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in their countries?
Ali Salem, a brilliant Egyptian playwright has been boycotted by his own fellow Egyptian and Arab writers, producers, and media! Why would such a well-known and talented writer have to pay the price after bringing laughs to millions of Arabs through his witty, whimsical and satirical plays? His sin was that he favored peace with Israel and wrote a book about it. That seems to be the plight of Arab peace activists.
What happened to the happy old days when Jews in Arab countries were the elite, le crème de la crème, movie stars, singers, writers, cabinet ministers, in what was dubbed as la belle epoch? Why it was replaced by so much hatred, intolerance, ugliness and bigotry against the Jews, the State of Israel, and anger directed towards America?
Since the partition of Palestine, many Arab regimes have taken a hard-line against the new born State of Israel. Arab state media and propaganda machines have found it convenient to recycle crude anti-Semitic images for their public. The Palestinian cause has proven to be a very useful and convenient tool for the post-colonial regimes that followed. Till today, after decades of brainwash for Arab and Muslim masses, the Palestinian cause is a hot button for many Arab leaders marshalling their masses to burn American and Israeli flags.
The Palestinian cause has been effectively used by failing, dictatorial and oppressive Arab regimes to point the finger at an outside enemy to deflect their public's attention from the nagging domestic issues such as: failing economies, grave human rights abuses, high levels of corruption, squandering half of national income on buying weapons (to crush their masses); that has taken its toll on education, health care, and a deteriorating infra-structure.
Conspiracy theories are rampant in the Middle East. Many people are made to believe that America and Israel are running the whole world and are behind every problem in their countries from defective chewing gum to Farouk Hosny's failure to enter the UNESCO.
The late President Nasser of Egypt imported former Nazi propaganda experts from the Third Reich and spread anti-Semitism through the whole region. Some Arab leaders were cheering for Hitler hoping that he was going to liberate them from the British. The former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini put himself at the service of Hitler and was sought as a war criminal after the end of WWII. Even Sadat, the peacemaker and winner of the Noble Peace Prize, was once arrested for being a member of a Nazi spy ring in Cairo.
Moreover, the Cold War brought Soviet propaganda experts to many Arab nations bashing the United States, and of course, the old favorite target since Tsarist Russia's infamous forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion- the Jews and the State of Israel.
Half of Arab countries are under brutal military dictatorships that came to power by military coups and have been ruling for decades, such as Colonel Gaddafi of Libya- since 1969. These regimes are secularist. The other half of Arab countries are under absolute monarchies that use religion to get legitimacy such as the Wahabi Saudi Arabia. Whether secularist or seemingly religious regimes, they both champion the Palestinian cause and exploit religion for political objectives. Amazingly, fundamentalist groups have been using religion and the Palestinian cause, as well. The so-called Arab opposition media uses a similar rhetoric to the state-owned media across the Arab countries.
The result has been the demonization and dehumanization of the Jewish people, and Israelis in particular, in the eyes of many people in that region. Hate speech has found its way through state-sponsored textbooks brainwashing generations since the early forties.
It makes it almost impossible for an independent thinker, intellectual, moderate, liberal, secularist, or writer, to sing outside of the choir. Those who dare to sing other than the official line would find themselves accused of apostasy, tarnishing the image of their country, arrested, tortured, fired from their jobs, end up in a concentration camp, or at least, in a lunatic asylum.
Saudi Wahabi petrodollars have found way through the media, academia, and political circles in that region, and even in the West. Wahabi petrodollars have influenced more than 60% of mosques, madrasas in America and the West; indoctrinating many in the intolerant puritanical, Salafist, literalist dogma made in Saudi Arabia. It is no wonder that impressionable young men from refugee camps take up arms; from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, to Iraq. To make things worse, Iran has been competing with Saudi Arabia for decades now. Iran has supported Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian Baath, and Shiite militias in Iraq.
But what has the hate brought to the region? It actually worked like magic and entrenched oppressive regimes for decades thus enriching the elite around these regimes beyond imagination. And it definitely did not help the Palestinian refugees, nor the impoverished millions of Arabs and Muslims- many have no jobs and are too young and restless.
*Aladdin Elaasar is a lecturer and author of The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age. The Egyptian government banned his books for allegedly State Security reasons; the first book banned by the nation in decades. The book exposes the deep corruption, grave human rights abuses, the authoritarianism of the Mubarak's regime and its use of anti- Semitism and anti-Americanism to gain popularity in the region. It also reveals one of Egypt's worst kept secrets: the story of the expulsion and mass exodus of more than 100,000 Egyptian Jews since the military coup of 1952, and the influence of Nazism on Egyptian and Arab politics.