In a world where victims and perpetrators are painted with the same brush, where the events of 9/11 are justified in the name of God, and where the words â€œterroristâ€ and â€œfreedom fighterâ€ are used synonymously, it is no surprise that thousands will march in the streets of Europe and Ramallah to mourn the death of an unrepentant terrorist. In the â€œAlice in Wonderlandâ€ world of international politics, it is better to create a radical Islamic Palestine at any cost, than to support a democratic Israel struggling to survive.
The 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot once wrote that there is only one small step from fanaticism to barbarism. When Yasser Arafat turned the promise of a Palestinian future into a cesspool of poverty, violence and hatred and converted children into human bombs by convincing them that the promise of paradise held greater hope than any possible rewards they could expect from their earthly existence, he took his people from barbarism to decadence without ever having led them through civilization.
Yasser Arafat never saw himself as a founder of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, he saw himself as a revolutionary and a strong Islamist who held a mystical view that anything short of vanquishing Israel was treason. As a consequence, he had no concept of the economic or social issues required to administer a Palestinian State – and he could not have cared less. He preferred anarchy to disciple seeing the former as the only way to retain power. Failing to learn the lessons of his past, he left his people to languish in squalid refugee camps, and allowed unemployment to soar, sickness to flourish, educational institutions to be converted into madrasses, and Palestinian children to become instruments of death. In the end, his lasting and most pernicious legacy is that he contributed to the metamorphosis of the Palestinian psyche. The Palestinians were once the most secular, tolerant, and educated people in the Arab world. Today, Palestinian classrooms have become the recruitment centers for jihad and an entire younger generation has grown up on a diet of hate and fanaticism.
He might have been the president of a great nation. In the euphoria that followed the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority even printed up postage stamps with his picture on them, to be used in the state that was only a breath away. Arafat rejected it. As the father of modern terrorism, he could not break from his past long enough to build a better future for his people. Instead, billions of dollars in international relief funds that should have been earmarked for schools, for health services, to fund college scholarships for needy Palestinians, and to unleash the dormant Palestinian genius in the service of mankind, were siphoned away through his corrupt Palestinian Authority as his people languished in grinding poverty.
Yet, in their grief, they clung to him as the symbol of their futile cause. It is difficult to imagine that those who tolerated Arafat as their leader for so long now have the capacity to seize the day after his death. No doubt chaos will ensue. It is the natural byproduct of a failed state and a futile dream. The damage that he has caused to his people will last a generation.
In the end, his life (as Shakespeare wrote in MacBeth) was â€œbut a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no moreâ€¦â€¦ full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.â€