For many Americans -- as well as in the preponderance of media -- the Persian Gulf war is understood in stark terms: Bad guy Saddam Hussein invaded the little country of Kuwait, the United Nations coalition drew a line in the sand, gave the new Hitler an ultimatum and finally went in and forced him out.
OK, so why is there still savage fighting in Iraq? We hear about at least four factions -- Kurds, Shiites, Palestinians and Saddam's Revolutionary Guard. What's the difference between them?
Few of us really have a clue, and too often dismiss such turmoil in the Middle East by accepting generalizations about Arabs, as expressed in light-hearted banter about "those wacky Iraqis" or in deadly serious concerns about "Muslim fundamentalists" and terrorism.
In a five-part series beginning on Maryland Public Television tonight, the thoughtful Bill Moyers attempts to offer some deeper understandings. And while the series is on the dry side, comprising studio conversations with experts, thoughtful viewers of "The Arab World" (at 11 o'clock nightly this week, channels 22 and 67) may find their Western ignorance unsettling.
Among other things, we learn that roughly 185 million Arabs live in two dozen nations encompassing an area 1 1/2 times that of the United States. Some are Muslims (of as many factions, Moyers notes, as are found in Christianity), some are Christians and some are Jews. About one-third live in countries where they are a minority.
And from the Crusades onward, it is said, their varied culture has been impacted by the West, often in assaultive or exploitative ways. Indeed, notes Yvonne Y. Haddad, a University of Massachusetts professor in one episode of the series, some Arabs refer to President George Bush as "St. George" and view the Persian Gulf war as nothing less than "the 11th crusade."
Such enmity, she notes, stems from her view that in the West, "we have decided to demonize Islam."
There is plenty of room in "The Arab World" for disagreement, as Moyers tries to mirror Western confusion about another culture. But the show is worth a look.
THE NCAA DEFENSE -- College basketball fans will be tuning tonight to the championship game (with a preview at 8:30 p.m. and the tip-off around 9, on CBS/Channel 11). Glitz, laughs and movies are the counter-defenses. ABC (Channel 13) has stacked its favorite comedies, beginning at 8: "Full House," "Who's the Boss," "Family Matters," "Baby Talk," "Coach" and "Anything But Love." NBC (Channel 2) has an hour-long special, "Saturday Night Live Goes Commercial" at 8 (with "SNL" ad spoofs), and at 9 offers Cheryl Ladd in "Danielle Steel's 'Changes'." And both WBFF-Channel 45 and WNUV-Channel 54 have decent movies at 8: "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" and "Into the Night," respectively.