TRAGEDY OF THE ARABS
By RALPH PETERS
March 30, 2003 -- TV networks in the Arab world gloat as they broadcast pictures of American prisoners executed by Saddam's thugs. They report every Iraqi lie as if it contains unassailable truth, while mocking each report of allied success. They promise their viewers Iraq is winning the war.
They betray their own people by doing so, setting up Arabs for yet another psychological catastrophe.
Our natural response to the Arab world's phenomenal lies is anger: We resent their indecency in glorifying murder and war crimes. We cannot understand how anyone can believe these gruesome fairy tales for adults.
My advice is to ignore the Arabs. Hand-wringing about Arab TV disinformation or about the rage of the Arab street is a waste of our time. We cannot convince them and we cannot force them to change.
The best we can do - even for the Arabs - is to get on with America's agenda of liberation.
The most important thing for Americans to grasp about the impotent fury of the Arab world is that it isn't really about us. It's about their own internal demons.
The absurdities broadcast and printed throughout the Arab world are symptoms of a once-great culture's moral desolation, of the comprehensiveness of Arab failure. The Arabian Nights have long since turned into the Arabian nightmare.
The inability of the Arab world to compete with the West in any field of endeavor (even their efforts at terrorism ultimately fail) has been so devastating to the Arab psychology that they are desperate for someone to blame for what they and their grotesque leaders have done to their own culture.
Without the United States - and, of course, Israel - as excuses for Arab political squalor, Arabs might have to engage in self-examination, to ask themselves, "How have we failed so badly?"
They prefer to blame others, to sleepwalk through history, and to cheer when tyrants and terrorists "avenge" them.
On one level, Arabs know that Saddam Hussein is a monster. They know he has killed more Arabs than Israel ever could do. Saddam has been the worst thing to happen to Mesopotamia since the Mongols razed Baghdad. But Arabs are so jealous and discouraged that they need to inflate even Saddam into a hero. They have no one else.
Try to understand how broken the Arab world must be, how pitiful, if the celebrated Arab "triumph" of this war is the execution of prisoners in cold blood and the display of a few POWs on TV.
We would be foolish to descend to their level and gloat. The world would be better off were Arab civilization a success. We all should pray that the Arab world might, one day, be better governed and more equitable, that Arab peoples might join us in the march of human progress, instead of fleeing into reveries of bygone glories.
But the obstacles Arabs have erected for themselves are enormous. For all of the oil revenue that has flowed into the wealthier Arab countries, consider the overall state of the Arab world:
* It does not produce a single manufactured product of sufficient quality to sell on world markets.
* Arab productivity is the lowest in the world.
* It contains not a single world-class university.
* The once-great tradition of Arab science has degenerated into a few research programs in the fields of chemical and biological warfare.
* No Arab state is a true democracy.
* No Arab state genuinely respects human rights.
* No Arab state hosts a responsible media.
* No Arab society fully respects the rights of women or minorities.
* No Arab government has ever accepted public responsibility for its own shortcomings.
This is a self-help world. We can't force Arab states to better themselves. If Arabs prefer to dream of imaginary triumphs while engaging in fits of very real savagery, they're their own ultimate victims.
Is there any hope? Yes: Iraq.
While building the Iraq of tomorrow must be done by the Iraqis themselves, we would be foolish not to give them every reasonable assistance.
With their oil reserves, a comparatively educated population and their traditionally sophisticated (compared to other Arabs) outlook, the Iraqis are the best hope the region has of building a healthy modern state.
It isn't going to be easy, and it is going to take years, not months. But the Iraqis have the chance to begin the long-overdue transformation of Arab civilization.
For all the shouting and hand-waving in the Arab world, the truth is that Arabs have a deep inferiority complex. They're afraid they really might not be able to build a successful modern state - to say nothing of a post-modern, information-based society.
If Iraq could do even a fair job of developing a prosperous Arab democracy that respected human rights, it could be an inspiration to the rest of the states in the region - and beyond.
The Arab world desperately needs a success story. Let us hope, for the sake of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings in the Middle East, that Iraq provides that example.
In the short term, though, the Arab world is in for a shock. By lying about Saddam's atrocities and promising an Arab victory, those Arab media outlets are doing all Arabs a cruel disservice.
Imagine the impact on the Arab world when Saddam lies dead and the oppression-stunned people of Iraq begin to tell their stories of suffering under his regime. What will Arabs do when their own fellow Arabs tell them Saddam's glory was all a big lie?
My prediction: They will turn on the Iraqis and accuse them of being tools of the United States.
But be patient. The clichÃ© is absolutely true: Nothing succeeds like success.
Baghdad was once the center of Arab culture, of science and the arts, and a beacon of human progress. It should be our sincere hope that Baghdad one day might play that role again.
Ralph Peters is a retired military officer and the author of "Fighting For The Future: Will America Triumph?"