Saddam Is Bad, But War May Be Worse
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Middle Eastern media in California -- the nation's first "majority minority" state -- bash Saddam Hussein, express fear about U.S. plans for Iraq, and show real if wary American patriotism.
"Saddam Hussein should not remain in power," says Wassim Bruno Kalifa, editor of the An-Nahar weekly, summing up the general tenor of the editorials in his paper. "But declaring war on a country because you don't like the leader is not the way to do it."
Even old enemies of Iraq are worried. "No Iranian has any reason to doubt Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness. We have eight years of war with him to prove that," says Jahanshah Javid, publisher of Iranian.com. But Javid has mixed feelings about the long-term effects of any war in the region. "The public in the Middle East will see it as an unnecessary use of force, not just one evil man being eliminated."
Shahbaz Taheri, chief editor of Pezhvak, another Iranian-American monthly, is not always averse to the use of force. "There are times when in order to have peace, one needs to take care of the troublemakers, like the time Iraq invaded Kuwait," he says. But Taheri is afraid that, this time around, the United States may be accused of having double standards. Citing Washington's past support, direct or indirect, for Hussein, Osama bin Laden and former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, Taheri says, "We cannot take leadership in fighting terrorism while allying with governments that are terrorizing their people or other countries."
Publications aimed at a Muslim audience do not share a single voice. Tashbih Sayyed, editor-in-chief of Pakistan Today, was criticized earlier this year when he said many Muslims had been slow to come out with unconditional expressions of sympathy for the victims of Sept. 11. He keeps a hard line today, saying he supports "each and every action America takes," and asks his readers to "show their support with spontaneity, for their silence will alienate mainstream America." At Pakistan Link, editor Akhtar Faruqui also says he would be mostly supportive of Washington's actions against Iraq, though Pakistani President Musharraf has come out against any attack. "I don't think we are part of this war," says Faruqui. "I think we have our own problems related to terrorism to deal with in our part of the world."
Michael Bou Absi, editor-in-chief of Beirut Times, cannot afford to distance himself like Faruqui. "Arabs don't need another war," he says bluntly. "We should solve the Palestinian problem first. And what about the unfinished war in Afghanistan?"
The situation in Afghanistan also worries Omar Khitab, host of the Afghan radio program "Payam-e-Afghan." Though he sided with the United States in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda because "we had no choice," he fears Washington has not learned the lessons of imposing "the government of one group on another."
Joseph Haiek, publisher of the Arab American magazine News Circle, agrees. "They want to cut Iraq into small pieces and pit groups against each other, just like the British did in colonial times in India."
While most Arab American newspapers have come out strongly against any war, on the radio, Hossein Hedjazi of Radio Iran, KIRN-670 AM, finds listeners much more divided. Some call the war a grab for Iraqi oil. Others, supporters of the former Iranian monarchy, hope that the next U.S. move after deposing Hussein would be to topple the Iranian government and reinstate the son of the late Shah of Iran. "But the mood in general is wait and see," says Hedjazi.
Some Arab American newspaper editorials accuse Washington of ignoring Israel's flouting of U.N. resolutions even as the United States tries to hold Iraq accountable. But these editors and publishers know that in a war, any criticism of American foreign policy could be dubbed unpatriotic. "Perhaps the fact that most of the editorials are coming in Arabic makes the writers think they will be less prone to criticism since fewer people can read them," says Kalifa. But Haiek of the News Circle has no such illusions. While praising the freedom of the press in America, he says, "Arab Americans are always in a tight spot. We are used to it. It didn't just start on Sept. 11."
Sandip Roy ( email@example.com) is host of "Upfront" -- the Pacific News Service
weekly radio program on KALW-FM, San Francisco.