Sunday, December 16, 2001

Glenn Reynolds points out this Newsweek article by Fareed Zakaria arguing that we should be pressuring our Arab client governments to get the anti-Americanism out of their media, and trying to local businesses going, as a way of draining support for networks like al-Qaeda.

The article is on-target as far as it goes, but given the history of fundamentalist movements generally, and in Egypt in particular, there's an odd omission. As I've mentioned before, Islamic fundamentalist movements have a history of gaining adherents by providing social services which aren't available from the Arab governments. Hamas scores huge propaganda points with the Palestinians by providing free medical care. And there are many reasons that kids in Pakistan wind up in those miserable Madrassahs, but one of the big ones is surely that it's the only schooling they can get.

The governments all have their propaganda, and the fundamentalists have their own. But when all sides are spewing propaganda, actions speak louder than words --- and so long as the fundamentalists are running clinics and schools in places where the government doesn't, the message that comes across will inevitably be that the fundamentalists give a damn about the people and the governments don't. Hence, as I mentioned, Israel's demand that Arafat shut down the network of Hamas medical clinics. Yet, Zakaria's advice doesn't mention them at all.

This probably has something to do with politics within the United States. It seems cruel, and it is cruel, for the United States to advocate shutting down the clinics which are providing care to people who otherwise wouldn't have any. But it wouldn't sit well in Congress if the United States were advising other governments to provide services (like free clinics) to their citizens which the United States is loath to provide to its own. So, we ignore the issue and hope it goes away.

But it won't go away soon, and we may well have another one of these situations before it does. And aspirin is cheaper than bullets.


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