The outsourcing of stupidity in the English-language Arab press

One of the more disconcerting features of the English-language Arab press, which now contains a fairly wide variety of daily offerings (none of them particularly impressive yet), is the persistence on the part of several of these newspapers in printing the most ridiculous nonsense, as long as it is written by a Westerner. The most obvious instance of this, which I have complained about before, and in writing, is the positive addiction by whoever runs the Khaleej Times to the extremely idiotic, and often shamelessly anti-Semitic, nonsense spouted by somebody called Karin Friedemann.

On August 30, this newspaper published perhaps her most cancerous pile of garbage yet, in which she exonerates Al Qaeda for the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa and, somewhat more subtly but unmistakably, for the September 11 terrorist attacks as well, and argues that all accusations against it are simply an evil Jewish plot against the Muslims. Her article can only be described as a love letter to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, praising them in every way, comparing Muslims trained by Al Qaeda to Jews trained by the Israeli military, and describing its dead cadres as "martyred saints" with "miraculous healing powers."

Suffice it to say that this article, if you can call it that, is one of the most corrosive, stupid and malicious I have read anywhere in the Arab media, in English, French or Arabic, in many years, if not ever. I very much doubt that, had it been written in Arabic by someone with an overtly Muslim name (this character claims to be some sort of "convert" to Islam, but with friends like that…), that a newspaper such as the Khaleej Times (not to give it too much credit) or similar Arabic language newspapers would have published it. Perhaps a number of years ago, but not today.

As the Arab media has moved away from overt conspiracy theories and, in most cases, the most blatant forms of anti-Semitism, a couple of those that publish in English have found a way to continue to include these malignant ideas with a form of plausible deniability: simply attribute them to someone with a Western name. I’m not suggesting that anyone in these newspapers proactively asks these authors to write such drivel, or that they specifically go looking for this kind of material. I think that rather, they are susceptible to giving credence to what would otherwise be readily identified as the most arrant nonsense if it were submitted by an Arab or a Muslim, as long as it is e-mailed from the United States by someone with a Western background. It’s an extraordinary combination of internalized and externalized racism combining to perpetuate the lowest possible common denominator in contemporary Arab political discourse.

Obviously, this kind of thing and worse, is to be found in the Arabic language media as well. But rarely in this manner or at this level. It takes a character like Friedemann these days in the Gulf to openly, shamelessly and maliciously heap praise and exoneration on bin Laden and Al Qaeda and get published in a well-read newspaper. And, anti-Semitism always goes down better when coming from someone who purports to be from a Jewish background and who is an American. It would be no exaggeration to say that most of what she writes is nothing more than anti-Semitic ranting of the most crude and despicable variety.

No newspaper in the United States or Europe would print this kind of hateful rubbish, not because it is challenging, controversial or edgy, but because it is paranoid, idiotic and an amateurish rehash of classical Western anti-Semitism that is well understood as a caustic form of hate speech (sadly, the same understandings about comparable Islamophobia are not yet as widespread). Yet somehow, and to our shame, she has actually found a regular gig with a known (albeit not major) English-language Arab newspaper. That I’m the only person who appears to be bothered by this, at least enough to say something publically, though I cannot be the only person who noticed it, is extremely troubling.

Another example of precisely the same phenomenon can be found in the current issue of Al-Ahram Weekly (English edition). In it, someone called Jeff Gates offers a substantially more convoluted but no less insidious version of the same ideas. Gates suggests, in an almost amusingly implausible fashion (i.e. it would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic), that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and indeed for a series of "provocations," arguing that the war in Iraq and the entire American military posture in the Middle East is simply and solely a consequence of evil, deceptive Zionist manipulation by a gang of wicked Jews and their fellow travelers. Again, the anti-Semitism bubbles up to the surface as he concludes his piece by describing Jewish, or at least Zionist, Americans as "this enemy within" (how many times have Muslim Americans in subject to the same calumny?).

Again, I do think that the editors of Al-Ahram at the very least would have thought twice about publishing this article had it been written by an Egyptian, an Arab or an Arab or Muslim American (there is a whole other subject to pursue about this and many other government-funded Arab newspapers aggressively promoting attitudes entirely at odds with the foreign policies of their funders, but this is another subject for another time — and that’s a promise). The fact that it is signed by one "Jeff Gates" is probably a major feature of its attractiveness, and a salient point in explaining how such ridiculous, pathetic and malicious propaganda could make it into a newspaper that generally speaking avoids this level overt hate speech.

When dealing with the Arabic-language media, the situation is more complex, as one is surveying a field that is infinitely broader. However, this kind of nonsense is increasingly unusual, if not virtually eliminated, from the major pan Arab newspapers and is, in spite of what is implied by organizations like MEMRI, hardly the usual fare in all but the most extreme and fringe publications. On the other hand, it does tend to pop up from time to time in one form or another in many publications. The English-language press in the Arab world, in some cases, seems to have found the outsourcing of stupidity to be a solution for keeping these ideas in circulation while imagining that they are employing some form of plausible deniability or, worse still, invoking the supposed inherent authority of Western identity (either way, this is a manifestation of the rampant internalized racism in the Arab world).

The Khaleej Times has actually offered regular platform to a shameless anti-Semite, supporter of Al Qaeda, and certified nitwit. The widely read and Egyptian government-funded Al-Ahram Weekly has seen fit to publish an article that even children would both laugh at and understand is dangerous. I am pretty sure that they would not have published such utter crap, at least at this point in time, if these ghastly articles had been written by someone with an Arab or Muslim name instead of Karin and Jeff. It has all the charm and integrity of desperate resin-scraping, stems and seeds.