You may get your news and perspective from the morning television, radio, paper, or internet while sipping your morning coffee with a muffin. Or, you may get it from a group of Bedouin men while reclining against a pillow on a carpet spread on the sand, eating dates and sipping a bitter green Arab coffee called gauwa. Either way, it is always good to start the day coming to terms with the realities and context of the news.
A February 11, 2011 email from the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) takes the form of a Certificate of Graduation and congratulates the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt for their recent overthrows of their governments. The "diploma" states "You’ve made history. You proved your humanity, and deserved to regain your dignity."
Most Americans take such statements at face value as they are completely innocuous in the politically correct culture of our American-English lexicon. But in the Arab-Islamic cultures of the Middle East, there are always hidden, understood, and unstated meanings. By all appearances, CSID is an Islamist propaganda front group that uses much of its web space promoting an innocuous image of Islamic populist movements and attributing every crime committed in America to "Christian Extremism" to make it look like Islamic extremism is not so bad. Their words of congratulation to Egypt and Tunisia were well chosen and hide many meanings.
The "regaining of dignity" in the Arab world rarely takes the connotation of simply standing proudly to rise above opposition by speaking well-worded truths, while ignoring insults and hardships. Regaining dignity after being oppressed often requires Jihad and often means taking revenge. The two concepts are often intertwined, and never truly separated. The assaults on western (mostly American and British) news crews in Cairo were a manifestation of the revenge aspect of Arab Culture. The presence of the news crews presented the opportunity for the crowds (whichever side of the Mubarak struggle they were on) to strike at the decadent public faces of America and Europe. Even the most illiterate of the protesters, whose only schooling comes from the fiery sermons heard in their local Mosques on Fridays, knew they were striking the public face of America and Britain for their slights and insults to Egyptian & Arab dignity (their support to Mubarak, or to Israel, or for the war in Iraq, etc.).
In many ways, the attack on the CBS news crew and the sexual assault on their chief foreign correspondent on the night Mubarak resigned was a natural extension of this logic. There are those who will argue that the attack was just mob violence perpetrated by criminals and was no different from the public attacks on random women that took place at a festival in New York City in June of 2000. But there are key differences. The "Spanic" festival attacks were perpetrated by groups of drunken males against multiple victims (any woman they could grab) without distinction removing their clothes and groping them. The perpetrators were stopped by the police and a number were charged and served prison time. The Cairo attack was far different. There were plenty of women in the crowd (and a group of them were reported to have helped end the assault). But unlike the other women, the CBS reporter was not Muslim, she had her hair uncovered, was clearly western with blonde hair, and she worked for a well-known American news agency.
The public sexual assault of this American reporter in Tahrir Square was a "regaining of dignity." It was a specific attack on a non-Muslim American woman. She was "taken" from the caravan of the American men in her team. She was treated as a prize to be squandered. The men who assaulted her were regaining their dignity through revenge by taking the woman of vanquished foe. It was also an assault on everything American because they knew the attack would be seen by the accompanying cameras beaming the images to television sets all over America. The insults and degradations they were imparting were not only intended for an unfortunate woman caught in terrible circumstances. The insults and degradations were intended for all of America and the American people as whole.
Welcome to the new reality of relations with every Middle Eastern nation in which a populist Islamic movement takes over and governs under the label of "democracy." With regard to Egypt, we had better pray the Egyptian Army remains in control of the government, the people, and the strategic Suez Canal. Otherwise, it will be mob rule with all the moral restraint of the French Revolution in its actions against anyone who is remotely perceived as a "non-believer." (Not to mention the strategic imperative to keep the Suez Canal open.) Americans must understand the complexities of Sharia governed nations and societies. Their standards permit the treatment non-believers we witnessed in Tahrir Square. (Even if this were a simple random attack on an individual woman, under Sharia law, all fault would rest with the victim in this case.) The crowds were proving their contempt and hatred for us in their actions before the cameras and the world stage.
It is time to wake up America, and smell the gauwa.
William T Russell is a former Republican Congressional Candidate in the 12th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. He is an internationally published columnist and has been a featured guest on a number of national television and radio news shows. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army and has spent three years in the Middle East including service in Desert Storm and the Iraq War. He and his wife, Kasia, were both in the Pentagon on 9/11. He is currently serving as Chairman of the Veterans Victory Fund.