AMERICAN REACTIONS to the recent bombing of a foreign workers' compound in Riyadh reveal multiple misreadings of the Arab world and--more dangerously--of both al Qaeda and the Saudis.
The media seem to equate Arab with Muslim and, along with some in the administration, think that al Qaeda's war is against Americans and Westerners per se, rather than against all "infidels," a group al Qaeda defines idiosyncratically and expansively as anyone who is not a strictly observant Muslim. Both mistakes are compounded by reliance on the Saudis' distorted account of the attack.
The November 8 bombing took place in a Lebanese Christian neighborhood of Riyadh, and of the seven publicly identified Lebanese victims, six were Christian. Lebanon's newspapers are replete with photographs of Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox victims. Daleel al Mojahid, an al Qaeda-linked webpage, praised the killing of "non-Muslims." The Middle East Media Research Institute quotes Abu Salma al Hijazi, reputed to be an al Qaeda commander, as saying that Saudi characterizations of the victims as Muslims were "merely media deceit."
If so, the media fell for it. Reuters described the bombing as against "fellow Muslims," the Los Angeles Times as "against Muslims," the Washington Times called the victims "innocent Muslims," the San Francisco Chronicle "Muslim civilians who happened to be in the wrong place," and the New York Times "expatriates from other Muslim countries."
Others used vaguer terms. The BBC said the "bombing killed Arabs and Muslims," as did the Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In the Wall Street Journal, David Pryce-Jones pronounced the dead "exclusively Arabs and Muslims." While perhaps strictly correct, this circumlocution hides the fact that the victims included Arab non-Muslims and Muslim non-Arabs.
The effect of this mischaracterization is to link Arab to Muslim, ignoring the large numbers of Christian Arabs from Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere who work in Saudi Arabia (and Israel) and have long been targeted by Islamic extremists, including by the Saudi government. (At the time of the bombing, two Egyptian Christians, Sabry Gayed and Guirguis Eskander, were in a Riyadh prison for holding a worship service, even though Prince Sultan had ordered them released.)
Read the entire article on the Center for Religious Freedom website.