12 JANUARY 2002, Page 29

Unfair to Islam

From Mr James McDougall Sir: There is nothing unfamiliar in Mark Steyn's article (`The war between America and Europe', 29 December), but a great deal that is unfortunate. The easy `neoliberal' (in nothing either new or liberal, in fact) self-assurance of the abusive and cliche'd jibes at an 'Arab culture' of which the writer demonstrably understands nothing, and the reflexive resort to blanket accusations of anti-Semitism are stock themes of which we are all tired. The writer's contention that, because Israel has a functioning electoral system and a successful hi-tech economy, it is a champion of freedom and the values of all good people faced with the barbaric threat of irremediably backward neighbours, is an absurdity typical of a familiar line of argument which identifies unremitting murder and repressive occupation carried out by established states as 'defence of security'. Such writers suppose that 'terror', something faced daily by Palestinians under occupation, is something feared and experienced only by the dominant, and inflicted only by backward peoples in need of bombing into quiescence. The argument is neither new nor surpris ing, but it has lost none of its easy exercise of power, its dangerous, inherent violence.

James McDougall

St Antony's College. Oxford