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Iraq: Magic And Myths Fascinate Arabs

In the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, a rumor continues to circulate in the Arab and Muslim world that the events were masterminded by Israeli intelligence agents trying to provoke a confrontation between West and East. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq Service Deputy Director Kamran Al-Karadaghi recently interviewed a leading Arab intellectual regarding how such rumors get started and why they take on a life of their own -- even when there is no supporting evidence.

Prague, 25 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hazem Saghie is the chief columnist of the London-based, Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat." He is the author of many books about politics and intellectual life in the Middle East.

He recently spoke with Kamran Al-Karadaghi, the deputy director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq Service. Al-Karadaghi asked Saghie why many people in the Arab world are vulnerable to believing the kinds of rumors blaming Israel for the 11 September attacks on America.

Saghie had this to say: "Even in normal times, Arabs have a great weakness for conspiratorial theories. The reason, regrettably, is that they don't understand the world they live in. Because of this, they don't behave in apolitical terms. They don't have any idea what is real politics, and they don't contribute to the real issues in our world. All this gives them a tendency to believe in myths and the abnormal."

Saghie continued: "If that is the case in normal times, you can imagine how it is when something as bizarre and unexpected as the attacks in New York and Washington happened. An event like this can shock even sound-minded people. But for Arabs, whose minds are fascinated by magic and myths, the solution was in blaming the Jews, a typical expression of the usual racist approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Our correspondent asked if Saghie did not feel his argument risks making too many generalizations: "No, I am not saying all Arabs think in this way. But I have observed that there those who think in this way, and say so, and those who reject the idea of conspiracy theories but keep silent."

Saghie has written on this topic widely and has said he intends to continue doing so: "It is time that we face our responsibilities instead of trying to find simplistic and mythical solutions by going on blaming an imaginary and mysterious enemy. And believe me, to do this is more important than being involved in politics. Because if you win politically but lose your intellect, the loss is huge. So imagine what happens if you lose both with one blow."

Our correspondent concluded the interview by asking Saghie what he personally sees as the remedy: "First of all, Arab intellectuals who reject this kind of thinking must do more to confront it. But that is the easiest thing to say. Because there will be no solution to this problem without people learning democracy as a means of practicing politics. This process needs rational consciousness, enabling people to think, debate, recognize the truth, and not accept things as matters of fact. They need to doubt, challenge and go to the ballot box to vote on them. I believe this is the only way to achieve a different mind set," said Hazem Saghie.