January 14, 2002 -- You may think you know what happened on Jan. 3, when Israeli Navy Seals seized the Karine A, a cargo ship carrying 50 tons of contraband Katyusha rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, mines, explosives, and sniper rifles.

You may think the ship's captain acknowledged on TV that he is a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee acting under military orders, that he was dispatched to the Iranian shoreline to load the arms onto his ship. You may think he was heading to the waters off Gaza to release the arms in watertight cases for a pick-up by small Palestinian boats.

If you thought this, you would be in good company. "Unequivocal" was how Israel's chief of staff called the evidence of this being a PA smuggling operation. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. national security advisor, said her government "seriously suspects" PA Chairman Yasser Arafat himself knew about the shipment. And Arafat, while denying personal culpability, acknowledged that his officers were implicated in the scheme.

"The story of the arms ship is but a licensed fabrication by Israel." -- Editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

But the Middle East media knows better. "The story of the arms ship is but a licensed fabrication by Israel," announces the editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government's daily, Al-Akhbar.

Saudi media agree that the episode was a hoax, with Arab News calling it "an elaborate trap" and Ar-Riyadh alleging that it "was necessary to fabricate the ship story" to implicate other Arab and Muslim countries as sponsors of terrorism. Qatar's Ash-Sharq interpreted it as an Israeli "pretext for more oppression and terrorism against the Palestinians" and a story that "no sane person can believe."

In other words, Middle Eastern media engaged in a bald, flat-out, and blatant denial of reality.

This fits into a well-established and important pattern. The home-video showing Osama bin Laden smirking as he described the devastation at the World Trade Center struck many Muslims as a fake. "I think this recording is forged . . . I don't believe this tape is authentic," announced Muhammad Salih, a Saudi religious figure.

The head of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, 'Abd al-Latif 'Arabiyat agreed: "Do the Americans really thing the world is that stupid to think that it would believe that this tape is evidence?"

Hani Siba'i of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad accused the Pentagon of using technology to simulate bin Laden's laugh. "It's a fake," he told Al-Jazeera. "The Americans fabricated it."

Muhammad Rizieq of the radical Indonesian Defenders Front called the tape "U.S. propaganda to cover up their war crimes in Afghanistan."

The former head of Pakistani intelligence deemed Israeli and U.S. agents "the obvious culprits" for the attacks on Sept. 11.

Of course, the Muslim world also refused responsibility for the attacks on Sept. 11: Gen. Hameed Gul, former head of Pakistani intelligence, deemed Israeli and U.S. agents "the obvious culprits. . . . This was clearly an inside job."

The father of Mohamed Atta, the alleged ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, completely refused to acknowledge his son's complicity, calling the evidence "a farce . . . a forgery, a fabrication."

Such willful denial is not new. Just last year, Iraqi Defense Minister Lt.-Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed declared that because the U.S. government did not accomplish its goals in the 1991 Kuwait war, it had "lost the war," a sentiment shared by many in the region.

Likewise, the Egyptian government claimed victory over Israel in the October War of 1973 -- and even built a museum dedicated to this fantasy. One Egyptian diplomat acknowledges, "I never knew we lost the war until I was 26." As his experience suggests, these lies are so often repeated that they become widely believed.

This pattern of avoiding unpleasant facts offers an insight into the problems of Muslim society. Turning defeat into victory, evidence into forgery, and terrorism into an "inside job" creates an alternate and more hospitable world.

But this denial avoids problems rather than dealing with them. Not acknowledging who carried out the 9/11 atrocities, for example, means ignoring its many causes, from a radicalized school curriculum to the use of Islamic "charities" for money-laundering.

Part of the U.S. war on terrorism, therefore, has to be working with Muslim governments and pressing them to face reality. This will not be easy, but so long as they remain in denial, the stage is set for fresh disasters.

This article originally appeared in the New York Post.