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Guest Commentary

Middle East 101

11/25/2015

Thoughts from Fabrice Moussus, an international journalist living in Paris

With what happened in Paris on Nov. 13, there is a feeling of deja vu from conflicts I have been in. It is very hard to stop people from committing an attack if they are willing to die for it.moussus

The irony is that now is the safest time in Paris. The would-be terrorists are all hunkered down in their basements, and overzealous police and politicians will try to make up for what they didn’t do before.

Over the years, I have had many discussions where I had to explain Middle East 101. It’s repetitive, and sometimes I prefer to remain quiet because it’s exhausting and many are so prejudiced that I don’t have the pretention to open their closed minds.

People in the Middle East know more about our culture than we know about theirs.

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Many Muslims go to school in Catholic schools in the Middle East because they know it’s a better education. Religious teaching is done at home and at the mosque, the madrasah, the religious school. Many Muslims know about our history, speak English and understand how we function. The Muslim world is very complicated, and the learning curve is high. After 35 years covering wars and events in the Middle East in and out, I know what I don’t know.

What lacks in the Muslim world is a central authority. In the Catholic religion, the pope, whether people agree or not, sets the tone and says what flies or doesn’t. So, in the Muslim world, the interpretation of the Koran is left up to everyone, and everybody sees something different — hence the controversy on the veil, for example. I constantly hear Muslims say Islam is a religion of peace. “Well, Khaled, that’s your interpretation, but Mahmoud over there thinks it’s a license to kill all infidels.”

The Middle East is a world of grey nuances, and we like to simplify things, seeing short term where they think long term. The statements made by politicians say more about their ignorance than a valid analysis. Ignorance is the worst, and it works like a cassette on a loop connected to a loudspeaker or TV. It’s not going to stop soon.

I can presume that there will be tension on the streets with people dressed in full Islamic garb.

When the Islamists came to power in Egypt, they said they wanted to bring democracy to Egypt. Fine. Except that their idea of democracy is winner takes all rather than sharing power with the opposition.

We didn’t achieve democracy overnight either. That takes education and generations of time. The terrorists have rock-bottom education outside the Koran… One of the plagues in the Arab world is that Church and State are one. Mind you, that only stopped in France in 1904.

It’s an endless debate. CV

Fabrice Moussus has worked as a journalist in the Middle East for more than 30 years and filmed much of the gulf war for ABC, also working with Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel over decades. He was the only cameraman to cover the Anwar Sadat assassination in Egypt in 1981.

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