In a single, awful day in the Middle East yesterday, Israeli forces killed unarmed Palestinian protesters and Arab news reports said that a U.S. Army helicopter killed more than 40 people at a wedding party in Iraq.

Other than the calendar, there was no connection between the two events, and the facts of the second one are very much in dispute. U.S. officials acknowledge that about 40 people died near Iraq’s border with Syria but said American forces had attacked suspected foreign fighters, not a wedding party.

In much of the Islamic world, however, three facts may help transform two incidents into the “clash of civilizations” so desired by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists: Christian or Jewish troops killed Arabs, they used American-made weapons, and the attacks were reported on television.

As a result, many ordinary Arabs are likely to see the events in Gaza and Iraq as one, helping fuel perceptions that Islam is under attack from the West, Middle East experts said.

The United States took the rare step yesterday of not vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s tactics in Gaza, and President Bush has said repeatedly that the “global war on terrorism” is not a war against Muslims.

Nevertheless, the failure of the U.S. occupation to bring stability to Iraq, the Iraq prison-abuse scandal, and Bush’s past support for Israel’s tactics against Palestinians have led many Arabs to question that…


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