Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy


Weekly Features
The X Files
Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

The death and chaotic burial of Yasser Arafat provides a better glimpse and understanding of the cultural void between Arabs, Muslims, and the Western world.

I begin this column with the risk that there are many people who will, in knee-jerk reaction, either accuse me of some sort of racism, or, accuse me of not having a clue about the Middle East and its problems. Others won’t care either way. So be it.

Like many of my fellow media comrades who have never had to directly cover the strife between Israel and the Palestinians, I have kept abreast of all the peace talks, all the proposed accords, all the changing critical players, etc. You always have to stay close to some stories in this business because you never know if and when the call may come to cover or comment on world events.

Clearly, one of the most intriguing and long-time players was Yasser Arafat, the multiple-personality leader that some have called a demon, who was laid to rest in the same Ramallah compound where he’s been a virtual prisoner in his own home for the last few years, courtesy of the Israeli government.

This column is NOT going to get into the intricate nuances of what’s not working in the Middle East or if there will ever be a resolution. But the passion that exists on both sides, and we certainly saw the vehement Palestinian passion at Arafat’s funeral, should give Americans a very good idea of why we face a very uncertain and perhaps perilous future in trying to bring Democracy to the Muslim-controlled world.

The term “cultural gap” doesn’t adequately describe the feelings that swirled through me as I watched the perverse drama of Arafat’s funeral unfold in the middle of the night on the West Coast, and early afternoon in the Middle East. It was chilling.

There is a fine line between unbridled passion and lack of civility, but regardless of what you want to call it, the actions of Palestinians wanting to see the burial of their leader was a scary spectacle at best. This NOT a criticism, as much as it is an observation, of how different Americans react and respond to a funeral for our leaders.

As much as we loved and admired John F. Kennedy and were angry about his assassination, we didn’t rip his coffin from the clutches of the soldiers carrying it. We didn’t pounce on the cortege and rip the flag from the coffin. We didn’t fire automatic weapons into the air and put everyone else at risk of death. Yes, I know, there are differences in the persona of JFK and Yasser, but they were both well-known, admired, and popular national leaders whose death caused major national angst. It’s true that JFK only served there years as resident and Arafat was the hope of Palestine for more than 40 years, but his is the closest analogy I can find to make the point.

Perhaps we are too formal as Americans. Maybe we were raised incorrectly and wrongly taught to diffuse our emotions in public, taught that a public display of respect is more important and acceptable than the sheer pandemonium that erupted on my television screen at four o’clock in the morning.

The tens of thousands of Arafat mourners who breached the security and the walls at the Ramallah compound, carrying sticks, automatic weapons, and swords, created an atmosphere of chaos, pure and simple. We only see this type of conduct from drunken hooligans after sports championships, not national funerals.

When the two helicopters arriving from Egypt with Arafat’s casket and a delegation of foreign leaders eye-balled the marked landing circles in the midst of the compound, they suddenly saw their landing zone swallowed up the chaotic crowd moving in to envelop the choppers BEFORE they landed. There was a real risk of a catastrophic crash because the helicopters were low on fuel and loaded with “official” mourners from Middle East countries.

Palestinian security forces had to fire weapons above the crowd to get them to comply and retreat so the helicopters could land. Once the birds were on the ground, the crowds surged forward and the foreign dignitaries onboard were trapped by the sea of mourners who made it almost impossible to unload the casket and exit the helicopters to pay their final tribute to Arafat.

The black Jeep that would eventually serve as the cortege was erratically driven into the crowd, darting in and out, as if to dare the mourners to hold their ground and get run over. Finally, we saw the flag-draped coffin carried off the plane, and in an amazing display of raw emotion and chaos, the casket was both carried and pounced-upon, as it wound its way to the final resting place.

Perhaps the most astonishing sight, in a series of unbelievable maneuvers, was watching gun-toting members of HAMAS and the Alaxa Martyrs Brigade, the most militant and violent elements in the Middle East, sit and/or stand ON the coffin as it was carried towards the burial site. Some fired their weapons into the air from atop the coffin. One commentator called it a “tradition”.

When the militant wings of ANY political faction, with a reputation of using their own people as suicide bombers, are seen riding a dead leader’s coffin and firing AK-47s into the air and that is considered the norm, we are very FAR apart in cultural understanding.

And worse, we are VERY far apart in cultural acceptance of these kinds of actions and displays of passion. Is it any wonder we are still puzzled about what could possibly drive someone to fly an airplane into the Twin Towers or behead innocent hostages in Iraq?

I do not want to be accused of racial or religious insensitivity or ignorance by laying out the observations of the chaotic and sometimes bizarre Arafat funeral. It is important to remember that the Arab and Muslim communities are actually a complex of communities. Internally, they are differentiated along four major fault lines. One of these is religion. Not only are there Christians and Muslims, but subgroups of each of those: Maronites, Copts, Orthodox, Sunni, Shia, and Druze, to name a few.

Second, people come from different countries and different hometowns. Here in the U.S., for example, we find large numbers of Arabs and Muslims in the Detroit area. There we have Lebanese, Iraqis, Yemenis, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, and others. Some people have homelands in conflict with those of others.

A third cleavage exists between recent immigrants and those born in the U.S. Some families have been here for a century. They are very different from each other and they largely don't interact.

Finally, there are class differences. The subgroups are very different from each other, live in different places, move in different circles, marry along different lines, and vote differently.

But it is their organizations that mobilize voters, raise money, and influence policy. In politics, if you're not organized, you do not count. And that is what Yasser Arafat did best. He organized the Palestinians and gave them regular doses of fiery rhetoric, fanaticism, and his core belief that there should be a state of Palestine and that Israel should cooperate and in some cases, just give in to the process.

We know the result of those difficult differences between neighbors to date and don’t really know if they’ll ever be resolved. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair think they have a new way to successfully revive the Middle East peace talks.

However, after what we just witnessed at Yasser Arafat’s funeral, we need a true miracle to bridge the cultural, religious, political, societal, educational, and emotional gaps between the American way of life we love and protect, and the way of life that exists in parts of the world we are trying to influence and change.