BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. When suicide bombers unknown blew up the United Nations Headquarters in Iraq, the event offered cruel echoes of other fights against occupation in the Arab world. But it also revealed that not all terrorist bombings are treated alike in the Arab press. Peter Valenti, who teaches Near Eastern Civilization at New York University, says that Arab writers immediately and unanimously deplored the innocent loss of life.
PETER VALENTI: The headline that we find in the United Arab Emirate's Al Bayan newspaper on August 21st summed it up. It was a crime. And all the other Arabic newspapers across the board basically describe it in the same kind of terms. This was a crime against humanity. Innocents were killed. A waste of life.
BOB GARFIELD:Peter is it fair to say that the reaction in the Arab press to this bombing is strikingly different from the reaction, for example, to the recent suicide bombing in a bus in Jerusalem that killed many Israeli civilians?
PETER VALENTI: In general, I would say that's not true, though we don't see a lot of language deploring the bloodshed in the Jerusalem bombing. Strong language which came out in Al-Quds' main editorial on August 21st, and that's a Palestinian paper, said that "No one here thinks that the killing of children, mothers or the elderly as happened in the latest Jerusalem bombing helps the cause of Palestinians for liberation." So what you see is deploring the death of innocents such as children. However most Arab writers do not spend a lot of time talking about the human dimension. They talk about the tactical dimension. The lead editorial in Jordan's Al Ra'i which very often represents Palestinian opinion said "In conclusion, the bombing in Jerusalem brings no benefit."
BOB GARFIELD: One paper actually referred to the bombing in Jerusalem as, as a normal response to what it characterized as Israeli aggression.
PETER VALENTI:Absolutely. This is once again in a lead editorial in Jordan's Al Ra'i on August 21st. It says "Despite the awful nature of the Jerusalem bombing, it unfortunately doesn't represent anything other than another (quote) 'normal attack in the series of many attacks that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'" Arab writers see it as just another step in a continuing downward spiral of tit for tat violence.
BOB GARFIELD:What happens when the Arab press, which the Arab world depends on not only for news and information but for the molding of public opinion, parses these events mainly in terms of their tactical and political effectiveness?
PETER VALENTI: I think that's a good question. I think this is a result, actually, of a deep-rooted cynicism in the Arab world. For many, many months Arab writers have felt that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel can't be trusted -- that he will try to break the truce; he will try to derail the Road Map. So, focusing on the humanity of the bombing is actually a red herring. It doesn't get to the heart or the crux of the matter which is the continued occupation, and the nature of occupation causes violence. I think the Arab press probably very well represents the Arab street.
BOB GARFIELD:After 9/11 there was a lot of hand-wringing in the West about the so-called "root causes" of Al Qaeda's violence and anger on the Arab street towards the West, and one of the conclusions was that the Western world was simply tone deaf to the plight of the Arab and Muslim peoples around the world. If the Arab press does truly represent the Arab street and its way of thinking, and if the murder of innocents can be so bloodlessly analyzed as the latest event in the continuum of violence, will the Western mind ever really be sympathetic and understanding of the Arab mind or are, are we doomed to play this to a long and violent draw?
PETER VALENTI: The bottom line in the Arab world is that they feel that the United States government and the media are outright sympathetic to the Israeli side. They do not give a proper depiction to the dimension of the human tragedy that we see in Palestinian territories on a daily basis in all of the Arabic press. The Arabic press I think sees itself as a counterbalance to the overwhelmingly pro-Israeli American media.
BOB GARFIELD:Does the Arab press as a whole understand that supporters of Israel in the United States view the situation as precisely the opposite? That the Western media are sympathetic to the Palestinian plight to the detriment of Israel and its position. Do they know that?
PETER VALENTI: What many Arab writers point out -- if there was a semblance of balance or fairness between the two sides -- meaning supporters of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian cause if you will, or if there was fairness in the American media or the United States government, why is it that you very rarely see coverage of politicians in the United States making statements in support of the Palestinian cause? They feel it is unfair and biased and actually based on incomplete information on the historical nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Peter. Well, as always - thank you very much.
PETER VALENTI: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Peter Valenti teaches Near Eastern Studies at New York University and is a contributing editor to World Press Review.