Even to seasoned observers of the Middle East the attack was “barbaric,” “horrific,” and evidence of “savage behavior” and “satanic wrath.” Was the discussion about Israel’s assassination of the wheelchairbound Sheik Ahmad Yassin, dismembered by missiles as he exited a mosque? No. The vitriol was directed at Iraqi civilians who mutilated the bodies of four American mercenaries killed by insurgents in the town of Falluja.
The contrasting reactions in the Western media, generally approving of one illegal occupier killing a religious figure versus unleashing an extreme verbal barrage to decry four dead soldiers of fortune protecting another illegal occupation, highlights the growing clash of civilizations. After September 11 commentators rushed to deny that the attacks signified a war between cultures and religions. And they were right, at least then. Grand historical conflicts don’t start overnight; they are a step-by-step descent into the abyss that one is only aware of when the last light of reason is extinguished.
With diverging worldviews one side’s atrocity becomes the other’s justice, fueling the cycle of conflict. The killing of Yassin was endorsed initially by the Bush administration. Many Western diplomats, while decrying the assassination, strained for balance, taking pains to condemn Hamas as a “terrorist organization,” citing “Israel’s paramount needs to defend itself” and calling on “all sides”
to prevent further escalation.
The corporate media were not so equivocal, with many using the euphemism “targeted killing,” glossing over the seven bodyguards and civilians killed and 17 others injured, all worshipers, in the strike. So much for targeted. Throughout the Muslim and Arab world there was genuine anguish and days of protest over what was seen as the murder of a venerated spiritual leader. Arab satellite networks carried the funeral live from start to finish. Commentators noted that the murder of Yassin would convince millions of Muslims for a generation that there can be no peace with Israel. Many saw a U.S. hand behind the assassination, confirming to them that the “war on terror” is really a war on Islam.
The aftershocks were strongest in Iraq as protesters linked Yassin’s killing to their own occupation. In Najaf protesters chanted, “Death to Israel, death to America!” In Mosul Iraqis pledged, “Do not worry, Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheikh Yassin.” At the Umm al-Tubul mosque in Baghdad a Sunni Sheikh said, “The Jews who killed Sheikh Yassin in Palestine are the same group who are killing Iraqis.”
If this isn’t disturbing enough to the U.S. occupiers, the debacle in Falluja began with a general strike in the town on March 23 in response to Yassin’s death a day earlier. Middle East analyst Juan Cole argues that, “The fighting in Falluja that took so many lives Friday [March 26] appears to have begun with Sunni insurgents doing operations in memory of Yassin.”
Cole is referring to repeated incursions by U.S. Marines