In the pariah's corner

From the point of view of an average American there is only one country which is threatening the independence and security of others. That one country, of course, is the Soviet Union which is still engaged in a substantial military operation aimed at subduing to its will the independently inclined people of Afghanistan.

But points of view change from one place in the world to another. It is different in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, where delegations from the countries of Islam have been meeting about matters of common concern. One headline over a report from that meeting read "US and Soviets are Denounced at Islamic Meeting."

The headline was not complete. To be totally accurate it should have read "US, Soviets, and Israel are Denounced at Islamic Meeting."

Not one but three countries are put into the pariah's corner by the assembled peoples of Islam. Feelings there differ in degree. The Saudis, for example, think the Soviets are very much worse than the Americans. But the Iranians, who have just been nipped, slightly (and unsuccessfully), by US military power, are still acting as though they were more threatened from Washington than from Moscow.

Not all of the Islamic countries think of the United States as being an actual danger to their independence. Most of them know in their hearts that it is not, in spite of a lot of loose talk in Washington in recent years about the possibility of seizing the oil fields of the Gulf. But the United States suffers indirectly in Islamic eyes in two respects.

First, the United States, as an ally and an economic associate of the countries of West Europe, is sometimes regarded as a shadow successor to Western imperialism. Not so very long ago there were British, French, and Italian colonies in the Middle East weighing down upon the peoples of the region. The Germans had colonies in Africa. The Portuguese were everywhere.Those empires are long since gone. But the US presence seems to linger in many of the former colonial areas. The peoples are not quite sure that Americans are entirely clean of imperial inclinations.

Second, the United States is the main and indeed only close friend and supporter of Israel, which in Islamic eyes is just as bad, if not worse, than the Soviet Union. The Soviets have seized and are attempting to hold Kabul, an ancient center of the Islamic faith. But Israel has not only seized and claimed as its own the ancient inner walled city of Jerusalem, it is also building settlements in the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem which (except for the new settlements) are entirely Muslim.

To any Muslim, Jerusalem is a sacred city, second in importance only to Mecca. The Knesset in Israel is again talking about permanent annexation of the whole of modern Jerusalem, including the overwhelmingly Muslim eastern suburbs. The mere reintroduction of a bill to that effect in the Knesset was enough to cause Egyptian President Sadat to reverse himself again on negotiations with Israel for the West Bank. He had told President Carter only the day before that he would resume the talks. But no self-respecting Muslim could do so when the Israelis were again raising the idea of annexation of all of Jerusalem.

Western Jerusalem is of course a totally integrated part of Israel. No one seriously questions that or seriously proposes to try to separate it from Israel. But the inner walled city is still regarded officially by most governments as being international. The United States, Britain, France, and most of the others refuse to this day to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the inner city. That ancient inner city is sacred to three religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Most countries want it to be international, with a corridor of access to it for Muslims through East Jerusalem.

So, the United States was put in the pariah's corner at Islamabad partly because it has used its weapons against Iran (even though unsuccessfully), partly because it has tried to organize an international trade boycott of Iran, (also unsuccessfully), partly because it seems to many Muslims to be a successor to old imperialism, and partly because it supports Israel.

All of which means that while Moscow is the only real predator in the Middle East and the only real danger to the independence and sovereignty of the Islamic countries, the peoples of Islam do not all see it quite that way. Which is why it is likely to take a long time before relations between Washington and Tehran can be normal to the point where the hostages can be brought home. But the effort to repair the damage has been resumed. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim has sent one of his people to Tehran to try to pick up the pieces and get a dialogue going again.

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