A Prejudice as American as Apple Pie

By Glass, Charles | New Statesman (1996), November 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

A Prejudice as American as Apple Pie


Glass, Charles, New Statesman (1996)


A new film that depicts Arabs as blood-thirsty terrorists is creating a storm in the States. Charles Glass, in New York, sees a sinister reason for its success

America's politicians and pundits sound as disgruntled as the Duke of York's 10,000 men marching down that hill again. President Bill Clinton took them to the Baghdad brink yet again, then disappointed them by calling off the missiles and bombers only 18 minutes before they were due to kill a whole slew of Arabs - live on CNN. The American political class, already deprived by the electorate of a gladiatorial impeachment spectacle, is in a frustrated state of coitus interruptus. My old friend and ABC News colleague Sam Donaldson suggested on air that Washington should have bombed Iraq and pretended not to have received the letter in which Saddam Hussein acceded to all of America's demands. Lost in the post.

America still has capital punishment, of the judicial variety for convicted criminals at home, and of the extra-legal gunboat type for those, usually Arabs, who are foolhardy enough to threaten American leaders, who from the time of the Reagan administration adopted the Israeli mode of massive retaliation for minor affronts. Among the targets since then have been Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. In all of them except Sudan, civilians died and leaders thrived. (In Sudan, some may be dying now for lack of the medicines that are no longer produced in the plant that Clinton destroyed.)

When Clinton threatened Iraq this time, he did not make the mistake of convening a public meeting to explain what he was doing. He learnt from the last such CNN extravaganza in Columbus, Ohio, which starred Madeleine Albright and other top brass: the people said they did not want to zap Iraqis with cruise missiles. The unwashed of Ohio went so far as to harangue assembled cabinet members, who were unaccustomed to anything less reverent than the supine questions of the Washington press corps. This time it was not the public who robbed the defence department of the chance to show off all that weaponry their tax dollars have paid for. It was the Thief of Baghdad himself, Saddam Hussein. The son of a bitch could not wait that extra 18 minutes for the US to give him a good pasting before he caved in.

The secretaries of defence and state wanted to bomb Iraq even though the mere threat of force had achieved its stated objective. As if to prove Nelson's point, Sam Nunn, the former Georgia senator who once headed the Senate Armed Services Committee, lamented: "It would have been better if we could have gone ahead with the attacks." For the political hacks, compliance was not the objective: bombing itself was. Administration officials told the Wall Street Journal that."the best hope for Mr Clinton may be that Saddam Hussein somehow miscalculates and quickly tries to obstruct inspections, allowing the U S to again move towards air strikes".

In what kind of world is it better to bomb a country and kill, by Pentagon estimates, ten thousand of its already oppressed civilians, rather than compel its government to adhere to UN resolutions? How did the means, bombing, replace the end, Iraqi compliance? The US government is seeking non-compliance so that it can launch an attack that it knows will not destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, will not weaken the Iraqi armed forces for long and will not depose Saddam Hussein. President Clinton "blinked", as Washington punditry calls it, because 10,000 Iraqi deaths, in the words of the pro-bombing military analyst Ralph Peters, "would turn world opinion against the US". Not that it would be wrong, mind you, just that much of the world, Britain undoubtedly excepted, would not support it.

What kind of world is this? Welcome to Hollywood, where Arabs long ago replaced perfidious redskins and inscrutable Japanese as villains of choice. Jack Shaheen, a Lebanese-American scholar who wrote The TV Arab, says the television and film portrayal of Arabs is invariably negative. …

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