Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Believing Everything They Read

(This is a post from Joshua Muravchik, originally on the Commentary Blog)

One of the discouraging things about the Arab world is the epistemological deficit.

I am visiting Saudi Arabia now, on a State Department speaker’s program, giving talks and interviews trying to explain neoconservatism and to demystify U.S. policy toward the Middle East, as well as interviewing Saudis and learning about their country.

Many of the Saudis whom I am meeting are sophisticated and friendly to America, albeit critical of current policies. But here, as elsewhere in the region, even smart people are capable of believing far-fetched things and often seem deficient in the skills of reality-testing.

On my first day, an accomplished editor, publisher, and newspaper columnist complained to me that the United States had just doubled aid to Israel. I had been without news sources for a couple of days in travel, but this seemed unlikely to me, as I tried to explain. My interlocutor insisted: he had followed the reports carefully. When I got access to the Internet, I found the story. The State Department had begun formal conversations with Israel about Israel’s request for an increase in military aid of 2 to 2.5 percent.

Next, I lunched with a warm, gracious graduate of UCLA, a highly successful businessman. When the subject of terrorism came up, he asked me about the Mossad plot to blow up the Mexican congress. I asked where he had heard of such a thing. He replied that it was all over the world press. Not the American press, I retorted. Exactly, he explained, the U.S. had suppressed the story, but everyone else in the world knew about it.

Once again I scurried to the Internet. And I found it. According to a story that ran in October 2001 in something called La Voz de Aztlan, two Israelis, presumed to be agents, snuck into the Mexican congress carrying “nine hand grenades, sticks of dynamite, detonators, wiring, and two 9mm ‘Glock’ automatics.” Although security was tight, the two managed to insinuate themselves into a delegation of sugar workers who had come to lobby. But the alert workers noticed something suspicious about the duo, namely “that they were carrying guns and what looked to them to be explosives.” So they grabbed them and turned them over to the police. To no avail: “the Israeli Embassy used heavy-handed measures to have the two Israelis released.”

And what was the purpose of the escapade? La Voz de Aztlan explained: “President Bush and the U.S. Zionists want Mexico fully involved in the [Afghan] war principally because if things get tough in the Middle East and the oil rich Arabs leave the coalition, the U.S. military machine is going to need alternative sources of oil, and PEMEX is just across the border. We believe that the two Zionists terrorist were going to blow up the Mexican congress. The second phase was to mobilize both the Mexican and U.S. press to blame Osama bin Laden. Most likely then Mexico would declare war on Afghanistan as well, commit troops and all the oil it could spare to combat Islamic terrorism.”

Why do so many people in the Arab world swallow such stuff?

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