Bush Duplicity Hinders Battle Against Extremism

So, it is the terrorist Hamas that gets the kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston released. That's just one of many ironies of the American-Israeli - and Canadian - approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

George W. Bush "invested the heart of my presidency" to bring democracy to the Middle East. Yet he rejected the result of the Palestinian election won by Hamas, and browbeat the allies into starving the Palestinian people.

The West has swung its support for Mahmoud Abbas now that he has replaced the Hamas government with a handpicked prime minister. As Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, suggests, the West has helped impose one-party rule on the Palestinian body politic.

Hamas is a terrorist organization because it uses violence. Yet in the last 18 months, the U.S. and its allies have helped Abbas's security forces use violence and goon tactics to create anarchy and undermine Hamas.

Since taking over Gaza June 15, Hamas has restored order, banning even the firing of celebratory gunfire, that revolting Arab custom. And it has secured Johnston's release from a clan close to Abbas's security chief.

Similarly, America's other allies across the Middle East - in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. - continue their authoritarian rule. Yet Bush singles out Iran and Syria as oppressor states. He said last week that the Iranian and Syrian peoples "yearn for freedom and liberty" and wish to "say what they think (and) travel where they wish." So do the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and, of course, the Palestinians. But there's nary a mention of them.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez, recently won a presidential election in which he was the only candidate. In Egypt, too, the path is being paved for Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, to assume the presidency.

Ayman Nour, the most likely challenger to Gamal, rots in jail on trumped-up charges. When Bush recently issued the obligatory call for his release, Cairo mocked him by reminding him of Guantanamo Bay.

Assad cracks down on the Muslim Brotherhood. So does Mubarak. The long and short of it is that Mubarak, Abbas and others can terrorize their own people as much as they like, so long as they do their job of ensuring the Americans and Israelis are not. Washington's need for moderation is highly selective.

"The U.S. administration's double-speak is breathtakingly shameless," notes Irene Khan of Amnesty International.

The range of it was evident in a Bush speech last week at the Islamic Centre of Washington, where he named an American envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, the 57-nation group representing Muslims.

He claimed that Iraq and Afghanistan are central to the war on terrorism, even as those two failed ventures continue to spawn radicalism and terrorism, including in the West, such as the failed/foiled plots this week in Britain.

Bush also reduced terrorism to nothing more than a by-product of a battle between moderate and extremist Muslims. Events in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli occupied territories have nothing to do with it. He therefore lectured Muslims to condemn "radical extremists" and their "murderous movement."

Never mind that the U.S. and other members of NATO have been far more "murderous" since 9/11, Muslims have already repeatedly condemned the terrorists amidst them. That, however, hasn't and won't reduce terrorism. For that to happen, the world needs to address its causes.

Muslims also agree on the need, as Bush said, to help "the forces of moderation win the great struggle against extremism." What they object to is his methodology, his duplicity, double standards and hypocrisy. So do people everywhere, even if our governments don't.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in World and Sunday in the A-section.

(c) Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2007

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