Tuesday, March 01, 2005

What Ever Happened to "The Arab Street"?

Remember before the war all that yammering about how if we were to invade Iraq, "the Arab Street" would arise in mass jihad against us here in the Great Satan and blah-blah-woof-woof? When's the last time you've heard that term?

That's the thesis in The Arab Street - A vanquished clich by Christopher Hitchens at Slate today. Hitchens says....

In retrospect, it's difficult to decide precisely when this annoying expression began to expire, if only from diminishing returns. There was, first, the complete failure of the said "street" to detonate with rage when coalition forces first crossed the border of Iraq, as had been predicted (and one suspects privately hoped) by so many "experts." But one still continued to hear from commentators who conferred street-level potency on passing "insurgents." (I remember being aggressively assured by an interviewer on Al Franken's quasi-comedic Air America that Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army" in Najaf was just the beginning of a new "Tet Offensive.")

Of course, every now and then one still reads polls, conducted by who knows what measurement, that appear to state the contrary. For some reason, the Pew Center seems especially keen on publicizing these sorts of mass-opinion finding. You've seen them: Nine out of 10 Moroccan teenagers have a poster of Osama Bin Laden on their bedroom walls and so forth. Yet these findings don't seem to translate into anything much: The Muslim population with the closest experience of Bin Laden was the Afghan one, and the Afghan street, to judge by all available evidence, rejected him and ignored his threats in crushing and overwhelming numbers.

In Iraq, Muslim militants place bombs in the mosques of those Muslims they regard as heretics. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, too, the Salafi and Wahhabi extremists commit murder against Muslims they deem unclean or unorthodox. And in the West, there are non-Muslims who excuse such atrocities as "resistance." These are often the same as those who hailed what they thought of as the "street." I don't think they should be indicted for hate crimes, but they should be made to understand that what they say is hateful and criminal, as well as sectarian. The battle for clarity of language is a part of this larger contest, and it is time for the opponents of terror and bigotry to become very much less apologetic and defensive on this score.

Goes reads it alls.

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