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Some unoriginal observations


I wouldn't be the first to tell you about the messianic pretensions of George W. Bush, a man who spoke in the heady days after 9/11 as if his personal mission were to wipe evil from the face of the earth. Indeed, if we can believe what's been written in the papers, Bush later told Abu Mazen that Almighty God Himself had instructed him first to invade Iraq and then to make peace in the Holy Land.

Nor would I be the first to tell you that Presidents, like any other people, tend not to like tradeoffs, and prefer to think of their choices as panaceas, decisions without downsides.

And you've heard this before, but change comes slowly to the Middle East. Its problems are not eternal, but they certainly are intractable. No exercise of will and no purity of heart will transform the region overnight. Despite what the Right tells us, the problem was not -- is not -- Saddam. And despite what the Left tells us, the problem is not the Jews.

All of this is a way of saying that the United States and the world might have been better served by a little more patience, a little more wisdom, and a little more humility.

So why is all this stuff so hard? Here is a slightly more original thought. The extraordinary difficulty of building democracy in Iraq and making peace between Arabs and Jews may be related to one another and to the American role as a regional stabilizer. All of these phenomena draw upon the lack of a culture of compromise in the Middle East.

Whether we recognize it or not, Western politics involve an extraordinary amount of flexibility, of give-and-take. Consider the peaceful transfer of power, which involves compromises on both sides: when the other party comes to power, most people on the losing side tend to accept the outcome with some semblance of good grace, so long as the winners are prepared to accept certain limits on their power.

If in the Middle East, there is scarcely such a thing (outside of Israeli domestic politics), it is because no one trusts the other side. Either the Sunnis will be on top, or the Shi'ites will be on top. The two groups have little or no sense of common interest. Similarly, what looked like difficult and protracted peace negotiations during the 1990s now seem like the proverbial dialogue of the deaf, in which each side sought to entice the other into accepting, at long last, its own enduring supremacy over the Land, including ultimate possession of its history and its symbols.

The same problem plays out in relations between neighboring states. There is no love and no trust between one ruler and the next. The region's terrain offers few strong natural defensive barriers, so the strength and security of each side is a menace to all the others. The resulting instability, combined with the importance of the region to the outside world, calls for a strong external policeman to watch over its borders and waterways, to resolve disputes, and to punish too gross offenders of the peace. Once this was Turkey; later it was Britain; now it is the United States.

And let there be no doubt about it; the peoples of the region to a greater or lesser degree resent the role of the United States, which comes bearing a foreign way of life, and represents its own national interests. It usually pursues those interests in a reasonably enlightened fashion, mindful of the needs of others, but tensions are inevitable in such a place, and foreign dominance always grates. It does not help that, to Muslims, America (in this respect just like Israel) is an infidel power, by its very strength and assertiveness subverting the proper, divinely ordained order of human affairs.

There it is again, that question: why do they hate us? The answer: because we are powerful, and because they need us. And this will not change anytime soon. Certainly, the vigorous exercise of American power, military or diplomatic, does little to change that equation.


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000092.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 01:24 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 2 comments

Dear Analyiste
"There it is again, that question: why do they hate us? The answer: because we are powerful, and because they need us..."

That is part of the reason.
In Iraq, USA is certainly getting the bad end of the stick right now from people who mean no good in Iraq. But it might've helped if US oil companies had not bilked the
people of Iraq and a few other countries out of petroleum royalties for around 40 years. It might've helped if USA hadn't done things like dropping cluster bombs in crowded places where Saddam wasn't, in order to kill everyone in Iraq who was not Saddam. Of course that is not the only reason. But USA created Saddam and brought him to power in 1968. They also helped to create UBL.

You cannot blame the Iranians for not liking the USA so much, since USA first overthrew Mossadegh
in order to protect US and British oil interests, and then supported the Shah & his police state
apparatus, and then supported Saddam against Iran, even though they knew Saddam was
using poison gas and CW and everyone knew that in fact Iran was right and Iraq was wrong
Saddam started the war. Don't forget that Muslims read what Franklyn Graham says about Islam,
and to them it sounds the same as the Friday sermons sound to us. And they hear what
Gen. Boykin says too.

So there are some real reasons for hating USA.


Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 10/28/2003 02:07 AM CST

Q: Which areas have, apart from sub-Saharan Africa, the biggest problems modernizing?
A: Muslim areas, and especially arab areas!
Muslim countries like Turkey, Iran and Indonesia do have some sort of working democracy, altough it only works to a certain degree. Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, etc. are completely destitute of democracy (if they have elections at all, these are faked). And on top of this Saudi Arabia is least democratic of all, it doesn't even pretend to be democratic!

Why is this so? Does lack of a culture of compromise and lack of trust in one another prevent the Arabs from modernizing? Does it prevent the Palestinians from reaching peace with Israel? When Arabs don't trust each other (and since they are not stupid they probably have good reasons for this) how should Israel trust the Palestinians in a peace agreement?

There are, I think, various reasons why Muslims/Arabs accept that other Arabs lie to them, why they are not expected to think and reason, not expected to be responsible citizens, why they accept dictators as their leaders.

For over a thousand years the Arabs are used to being ruled by dictators. Islamic thinkers taught that the people should accept even a bad dictator because ejecting him could bring more misery and the next dictator might be as bad. So they also had to accept his lies. They did not have to respect him or tell him the truth. If they could outsmart him, it was okay.
In the West the rulers always had to find a modus vivendi with the church, but in Islam the rulers were the also the leaders of the muslims.
As the most important source of knowledge, truth and law, orthodox sunni Islam favours revelation over reason.

The Prophet Mohammed tried to establish a just, compassionate society. For a long time this has been a relative succes. But a democracy can bring around a more just and compassionate society than a dictatorship. And to reach democracy Muslims and Arabs have to start trusting each other.

Posted by Jaap B @ 10/30/2003 12:55 PM CST

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