Commentary Magazine


And the Band Plays On…

A committee of Arab doctors has been established to “investigate” what caused the death of Yasser Arafat. The passing of the Palestinian terrorist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been shrouded in mystery ever since he died in 2004, as his widow forbade an autopsy and the French doctors who treated him at his deathbed in Paris could not officially determine a reason for his sudden, “massive brain hemorrhage.” Other symptoms that Arafat faced in the later stages of his life were an immune system–suppressing blood disease, the loss of 1/3 of his weight, and mental dysfunction.

These conditions, of course, are all associated with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which may very well have killed Arafat. His alleged homosexuality was something of an open secret among intimates, if rarely ever reported on by a fawning media that didn’t want to complicate the macho image of the courageous resistance fighter (although Arafat’s homosexuality was probably not something that would bother most of the left-wing reporters who cover the Middle East, the same cannot be said for his Palestinian followers and sympathizers in the Arab world). Ignoring the probable cause of Arafat’s death has served the Palestinian political narrative, as it it allows them to place his death on the ledger of grievances against Israel: it was Israeli poison, not AIDS, that killed him. That the French medical officials who cared for Arafat could find no trace of lethal toxins in his system has done nothing to disabuse Palestinians of this meme.

So much of the discourse in the Arab and Muslim world thrives on deceit, the way in which homosexuality is discussed being one of the most egregious examples (for instance, see Saudi Arabia, where sex between men — including members of the Royal Family — is prevalent to a comical extent, yet for which the penalty is death by decapitation). Impaneling a group of venal doctors to issue a politically useful diagnosis on the long-deceased leader of the Palestinian national liberation movement may provide a gloss of legitimization for yet another Arab conspiracy theory. Its more corrosive effect will be the exacerbation of a destructive cultural artifice.