Demonising the Enemy


Despite massive attempts to intimidate the organisers, the Sydney Peace Prize was presented recently to the Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi. Chandra Muzaffar of the International Movement for a Just World looks at what lies behind the demonisation of Arabs and Muslims, and how they should react to it.

The International Movement for a Just World (JUST) congratulates the Sydney Peace Foundation for refusing to succumb to arrogance, bigotry and hatred and sticking to its decision to confer the Sydney Peace Prize for 2003 upon the Palestinian activist and intellectual, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. Professor Stuart Rees, the Foundation's President, deserves special commendation for the resolute courage and uncompromising integrity he had displayed in the face of a concerted campaign by a section of the Australian Zionist community to vilify and demonise Ashrawi.

Ashrawi is not the only Palestinian name that is being subjected to scorn and derision at the moment, by elements in the Zionist and Western media. The late Edward Said -- one of the greatest public intellectuals of our time -- has become the victim of constant attacks by a small but vocal band of journalists and academics who are trying desperately to depict Said as the intellectual progenitor of rabid anti-Western sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world.

The truth is that Said was a committed bridge builder. He realised that the West and the Muslim world could only be brought together if the grave injustices and deeply entrenched prejudices that create a chasm between the two at this juncture are addressed with honesty and sincerity. In this regard, Said was passionately devoted to the idea of Arabs and Jews co-existing as two peoples in a single bi-national state. His fellow Christian compatriot, Ashrawi, is also an ardent advocate of the two communities living side by side in harmony but in two separate states --

Israel and Palestine. Both Said and Ashrawi had, on numerous occasions, condemned the killing of innocent Israeli civilians by Palestinians seeking to liberate their land from the Zionist grip.

In spite of their rational and balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Said and Ashrawi have not been spared the wrath of a section of the Zionist and Western media. Why are they being vilified and demonised in this manner? Is there a political agenda behind this vicious campaign against the two ?

By demonising even the sanest voices in the Palestinian struggle, the Zionists hope to strip the movement of any moral legitimacy. Conversely, Israeli atrocities are rationalised and even justified in the name of the nation's survival and security. The demonisation may have become more intense in the last two years because Tel Aviv knows that Palestinian resistance, expressed through the Intifada, cannot be broken easily.

At the same time, it is becoming more and more obvious that Israel is losing support rapidly even in those countries where sympathy for the Jews is pronounced because of the horrible tragedy of the holocaust. In fact, a European Union (EU) opinion poll held in October this year showed that 59 per cent of Europeans believe Israel poses the biggest threat to world peace. In a situation where sympathy is dissipating, Machiavellian politics demands that one smears and scandalises 'the enemy' in the vilest language.

The demonisation of the Palestinians is in fact part and parcel of a much bigger enterprise to tarnish Arabs and Muslims in general. It is not just a segment of the Zionist intelligentsia that is involved in this. Certain well-known Christian evangelists in the United States with huge followings are in the thick of this campaign. Franklin Graham, Jerry Vines, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, J. Don George and Paul Mills have all, in the course of the last two years, denigrated Arabs and Muslims and reviled the Islamic faith with such viciousness that one wonders whether it will ever be possible to restore Christian-Muslim dialogues in the States to previous levels.. To give just one example of their wicked utterances, Pat Robertson had in September 2002, described the Prophet Muhammad as "an absolute wild-eyed fanatic. He was a robber and a brigand."

One of the main reasons why Robertson and other Christian evangelists of the same ilk have embarked on this diabolical mission to smear Islam is because they have now joined hands with certain right-wing Zionist groups in the States to support Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and indeed, the future expansion of the state of Israel. These evangelists regard it as their Christian duty to ensure that Muslims and Islam are defeated so that the Biblical prophecy of a 'triumphant Israel' will herald the 'return of the Messiah'. Of course when that happens, according to the evangelists' erroneous reading of the Bible, the Jews will also be converted to Christianity. What this mean is that there is a messianic zeal that drives a section of Christian evangelism as it forges an opportunistic link with a segment of right-wing political Zionism.

Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have every reason to be concerned about this perfidious alliance -- especially since evangelists and Zionists exercise considerable influence upon political decision-makers in Washington today. But it is important that they do not react to their demonisation by launching diatribes against Christians and Jews. Reverse demonisation is not the answer. Intelligent rebuttals and reasoned responses which seek to expose the underlying motives of this perfidious alliance should be the order of the day. Equally important, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims should never fail to separate the evangelical and Zionist elements they are countering from the larger faith communities to which they belong. For in

the ultimate analysis this is a struggle against the injustice of occupation and oppression and the narrow dogmas that underpin it; it is not a battle against Jews and Christians.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the Internartional Movement for a Just World (