Following the beheading of American captive Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia, Aljazeera.net published several instant reactions. Sanna Qandil, a Palestinian-Jordanian secretary working in Amman, said the incident was just more of the same, given the level of violence across the Arab world. “Let Americans know what it feels like to be a Palestinian, to lose a mother, child or father,” she said.
Although acknowledging that Johnson’s killing was “horrible,” Dr. Bahaa Ghalayani, an obstetrician at Aawda Hospital in the Gaza Strip, is quoted as saying these types of attacks “are only to be expected” in the face of what he said was increasing Western interference in the internal political affairs of the Middle East. “We have foreign troops everywhere,” he said. “What are they doing in Iraq? Why are they depriving locals of their most basic rights? Please ask the Europeans and Americans what they expected the reaction to be.”
And the specific “reaction” in this case, the cutting off of Paul Johnson’s head, wasn’t all that bad, or mad, said Dr. Ghalayani. “I wouldn’t say those who killed Johnson are mad,” he explained. “The ones who are mad are the Americans and Europeans who’ve come to this region and are interfering in everything. We can rule our own countries.”
There’s a sick anger underlying those comments, a lack of sympathy about the grotesque murder of Paul Johnson and, before that, the slaughter of Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl, both beheaded in front of video cameras.
Following quickly after Johnson’s killing, the decapitated body of Kim Sun-il, a South Korean, was found between Fallujah and Baghdad, two days after he appeared blindfolded and kneeling in a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, pleading for his life. The day after Kim’s body was found, a recording supposedly made by the mastermind of the beheadings in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zargawi, promised more of the same. “We will carry on our jihad against the Western infidel and the Arab apostate,” said the voice on the tape, “until Islamic rule is back on Earth.”
The goal is to reverse history. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran with “Death to America” as his battle cry. Twenty-two years later, in his videotape of October 7, 2001, Osama bin Laden pointed to 80 years of “humiliation and disgrace” that Islam has suffered following the Anglo-French defeat of the Ottoman Empire.
In fact, the “humiliation and disgrace” has much longer roots. A thousand years ago, Muslims boasted some of the highest standards of living in the world, the most powerful armies, the greatest advances in science, health, literacy and culture. Today, by nearly every measure — whether in terms of economics, culture, human rights, military clout, literacy, health, personal freedom or political stability — the Muslim world is found at the bottom of the pile.
The average annual income in the Muslim countries, according to the World Bank, is less than half the world average. Combined, the GDP of all Arab countries is less than that of Spain. Average per capita income in Israel is more than 10 times higher than in Jordan or Egypt. Overall, with a fifth of the world’s total population, Muslims constitute more than half of the people in the world living in abject poverty.
The “Arab Human Development Report 2002,” compiled by Arab scholars and published by the United Nations, reports that one in five Arabs still lives on less than $2 per day, and one in every two Arab women still can’t read or write. Only sub-Saharan Africa ranks worse in terms of gender equity. Infant mortality in the Arab regions is twice as high as in Latin America, and income growth is lower than anywhere in the world except sub-Saharan Africa. Freedom of expression is sharply limited, independent thought is discouraged, the media aren’t genuinely free, elections are primarily bogus, and education is in steep decline. In Saudi Arabia, universities churn out more “religious scholars” than engineers and physicians, and Spain translates as many books in a year than the Arabs have translated in the past 1,000 years.
For the militant Islamists, this societal failure across the Muslim world is all the fault of the West, especially America. Instead of looking inward, their solution to “humiliation and despair” is that we should die. That’s the message of September 11, the message in Paul Johnson’s murder.
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