Bush losing relations war to emergency-ward bombers

On Feb. 20, The Associated Pressreported from Afghanistan that a suicideattacker disguised as a healthworker blew himself up near “acrowd of about 150 people who hadgathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremonyto open an emergency ward atthe main government hospital in thecity of Khost.” A few days later, at aBaghdad college, a female Sunni suicidebomber blew herself up amidstudents who were ready to sit forexams, killing 40 people.

Stop and think for a moment howsick this is. Then stop for anothermoment and listen to the silence.

The Bush team is mute. It says nothing,because it has no moral authority.No one would listen. President Bushis losing a PR war to people whoblow up emergency wards. Europeansare mute, lost in their delusionthat this is all George Bush’s andTony Blair’s fault.

But worst of all, Muslims, the verypeople whose future is being killed,are also mute. No surge can work inIraq unless we have a “moral surge,”a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizessuicide bombers. The mostimportant restraints are cultural, societaland religious. It takes a village— but the Arab-Muslim village todayis largely silent. The best are indifferentor intimidated; the worst quietlyapplaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.

Nobody in the Arab world “has theguts to say that what is happening inIraq is wrong — that killingschoolkids is wrong,” said MamounFandy, director of the Middle Eastprogram at the International Institutefor Strategic Studies. “People somehowthink that killing Iraqis is goodbecause it will stick it to the Americans,so Arabs are undermining theAmerican project in Iraq by killingthemselves.”

The world worries about highlyenriched uranium, but “the real dangeris highly enriched Islam,” Fandyadded. That is, “highly enrichedSunnism” and “highly enriched Shiism”that eats away at the Muslimstate, the way Hezbollah is trying todo in Lebanon or the Muslim Brotherhoodin Egypt or al-Qaida everywhere.

One result: There’s no legitimate,decent, accepted source of Arab-Muslim authority today, no center ofgravity “for people to anchor theirsouls in,” Fandy said. In this welter ofconfusion, the suicide bombers gouncondemned or subtly extolled.

Occasionally an honest voice rises,giving you a glimmer of hope thatothers will stand up. The MEMRItranslation Web site (memri.org) justposted a poem called “When,” from aSaudi author, Wajeha al-Huwaider,that was posted on Arab reform siteslike www.aafaq.org.

“When you cannot find a singlegarden in your city, but there is amosque on every corner — youknow that you are in an Arab country.“When you see people living inthe past with all the trappings of modernity— do not be surprised, youare in an Arab country.

“When religion has control overscience — you can be sure that youare in an Arab country.“When clerics are referred to as‘scholars’ — don’t be astonished, youare in an Arab country.

“When you see the ruler transformedinto a demigod who neverdies or relinquishes his power, andnobody is permitted to criticize — donot be too upset, you are in an Arabcountry.

“When you find that the large majorityof people oppose freedom andfind joy in slavery — do not be toodistressed, you are in an Arab country.

“When you hear the clerics sayingthat democracy is heresy, but seizingevery opportunity provided by democracyto grab high positions — donot be surprised, you are in an Arabcountry.

“When you discover that a womanis worth half of what a man is worth,or less — do not be surprised, youare in an Arab country.

“When land is more importantthan human beings — you are in anArab country.

“When fear constantly lives in theeyes of the people — you can be certainyou are in an Arab country.”

Thomas L. Friedman, a columnistfor the New York Times, can bereached at: New York Times, editorialdepartment, 229 W. 43rd St., NewYork, NY 10036.