Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Middle East Mired in a Culture of Hatred

A Palestinian presenter at Hamas Al-Aqsa Television asks a little girl on a program for kids, "What do you want to become when you grow up?" The girl replies, "I want to become a mujahida [fighter]. I want to liberate Palestine. I want to throw all the Jews out of beloved Palestine. But before I die and join the Palestinian martyrs in paradise, I want to kill as many Israelis as possible like Reem Riyashi."
This is the kind of culture Hamas TV is spreading around among young Palestinians and other Arabs in the region. Hamas has its own satellite TV channel, radio station and newspapers and has used them to garner political support during its power struggle with Fatah.

Back in 2007, Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV aired a weekly show featuring a Mickey Mouse look-alike who urged children to support armed resistance against Israel. The character was beaten to death in the show's final episode by a character portraying an Israeli. The Hamas media effort is bankrolled by its leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, who sends suitcases of cash, filled with money from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria, which are smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt.

Secular and moderate Palestinians are appalled by the extremist propaganda of Hamas TV. Iyad Barghouthi, the director of the Ramallah Human Rights Center, says Al-Aqsa TV is a disturbing milestone in the rise of Islamist forces. Hamas's practices are reminiscent of those of the Taliban, he said. Barghouthi told Der Spiegel on-line, "Al-Aqsa TV is not only encouraging violence, it is also spreading fanatic Islamism and racism."

Hamas defied widespread criticism among Palestinians for using a young mother as a suicide bomber and even published photographs of her and her two small children, posing with weapons. Reem Riyashi, 22, blew herself up in 2004 and killed four Israelis at a Gaza border crossing after faking a disability to bypass a security check.

The anti-Israel media landscape throughout the Arab world is no better. In particular, the Syrian, the Saudi, and the Egyptian media are hawkish and propagandistic. Fair and objective analysis and information are non-existent.

The Syrian Minister of Tourism, Saadalla Agha al-Qalaa, told the newspaper Tishreen: "The Zionists are spreading bad propaganda about Syria to prevent tourists from visiting our country." That is apparently the main reason why few tourists, especially Westerners, come to Syria to spend their holidays, rather than the bad services which the country offers tourists. When I was in Damascus in 2006, I watched how tourists had to wait at least an hour before their passports were processed at the airport police control. There are only two categories of hotels: either first class or no class at all.

The Ba'ath regime is not interested in tourism. Tourists could infect the local population with ideas about democracy and human rights. Tourists would also tell the Syrians another story about the "decadent" and "unfair" West.

When I visited the southwestern border of Syria with Israel several years ago, I told my companion, a member of the Ba'ath party, "Look how green the Israeli side of the Golan Heights is." He interrupted, "It is all propaganda. With the help of the Americans, the Israelis have made it green, just to show off." I countered, "Why don't you allow the locals who were displaced during the 1973 war to return to their homes and make this part of Syria also green?" He responded, "It's dangerous. The Israelis could attack us any time."

Not just the media blame Israel for all the problems the Arab world has. School text books in all Arab countries depict an aggressive image of Israel. The gist of this image goes like this: Israel is an alien limb in the heart of the Arab nation. Palestine must be liberated from the Zionists as Saladin liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

The culture of hatred must stop. Western governments must pressure Arab countries to introduce genuine freedom of speech, i.e., free media. Arab journalists and writers who deliver balanced articles on the Arab-Israeli conflict are banned from publishing. Arab regimes are suspicious of these people and, more often than not, they are arbitrarily put behind bars and accused of spying for the arch enemy, Israel.

I am one of those who have tried to publish articles in the Arab press about the Arab-Israeli conflict telling readers that the image of Israel as presented in the belligerent Arab discourse is distorted and fabricated. I have also stressed that if the Arab countries were as democratic as Israel, the conflict would disappear, and Israelis and Arabs would live in peace, side by side. If Arabs were objectively informed, they would choose to coexist with their Israeli neighbors. Ethnic and religious minorities are integrated in Israeli society and enjoy the same political rights as Jews. Muslim and Christian Arabs, for example, sit in the Knesset and say whatever they want and a Muslim Arab is a cabinet minister.

My articles have never been published. Arabs are not allowed to know the truth. Western governments have to re-educate, at least, their Arab allies, as the Allies did with the Germans after World War II. The war on terror does not make any sense unless the root causes of extremism are uprooted in the media and in the schools.

Dr. Sami Alrabaa, an ex-Muslim, is a sociology professor and an Arab/Muslim culture specialist. Before moving to Germany he taught at Kuwait University, King Saud University, and Michigan State University.