Regarding the Middle East, one might borrow the title of Allan Bloom’s fabled book. What I wonder is, was the western mind ever open?
In 1798 an attempt was made to shock and awe the freshly conquered Egyptians with superior Western technology. The French under command of Napoleon Bonaparte sent aloft a hot air balloon.
Intended to cow the Muslim population of Egypt, the French balloon had the opposite effect.
“It was expressed by an Arab chronicler in these terms,” writes Raphael Patai: “ ‘The French fabricated a monster which rose up into the sky with the intention of reaching and insulting God. But it rose only to a feeble height, then fell back, ridiculously impotent.’ ”
History doesn’t repeat itself: but you can always count on human folly to create the illusion that it does.
Viewing the Middle Eastern Islamic world with the arrogance of an idiot savant, Americans continue their futile quest to mold the Mid-East into a western model.
We know the results. And we don’t have to wait much longer before General Petraeus will confirm them.
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What of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq? Was not the Arab Revolt of 1916 a movement to expel the ruling Turkish Ottomans from Arabia and result in Arab self-rule? Well… that was the idea held by the Hashemite King Hussein, his sons Abdullah and Faisal. That was the goal of the Arabs who fought in the campaign.
But it was not the goal of the British Empire, France or Russia. Thanks to the conniving of Francoise Georges-Picot and Mark Sykes, the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed in secrecy without Arab consultation. As spoils of war, Arabia was to be carved up into mandates and protectorates controlled by the British and French. Arabs were duped and used as tools to remove Turkey, a German ally, and thus secure Britain and France’s imperialistic designs.
The results of the Sykes-Picot Agreement reverberate today in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.
As for Palestine, Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, had a great but unrealistic dream. In 1896, with the founding of the World Zionist Organization, the pursuit of a safe Jewish homeland in Palestine was born.
In 1917, a famous letter was written. The letter read:
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:
“His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Despite the balanced tone of the famous letter, Balfour had no intention of consulting the Palestinian Arabs. In 1919 Balfour wrote: “For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the forms of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder importance than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion, that is right.”
Did the early Zionists consider the reaction of the current residents of the region? Did they seriously believe European intrusion in Arab lands would be welcomed?
The western idea of “progress” was part of the luggage brought by immigrant Jews to their “homeland.” However, the Jewish establishment of settlements and farms in Palestine was seen by to the Arabs as theft. Perhaps the Arab residents of Palestine would have accepted a small number of Jewish immigrants had the new arrivals respected the local population.
With the borders to North America and Latin America closed to them, a flood of Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler and Stalin had little choice but to slip illegally into the British Mandate Palestine. The resulting numbers of Jewish refugees overwhelmed the ruling British and indigenous Arab population.
Sir Martin Gilbert writes that:
"On October 21 (1948) the Government of Israel took a decision that was to have a lasting and divisive effect on the rights and status of those Arabs who lived within its borders: the official establishment of military government in the areas where most of the inhabitants were Arabs.”
These areas were termed ‘security zones.’ Permanent residents could not leave without a permit. Non-residents could not enter without one. The military was given the power to permanently remove permanent residents to other locations.
Today, who in their right mind actually wants to live in Israel or Palestine? Israel is not secure. The Palestinians are not secure. Paranoia and hatred runs rampant in this Kafkaesque nightmare. In a speech given last March in Tokyo, Ilian Pappe recounted that “a very well-known Israeli politician of the left,” is reported to have said: “ ‘My dream is to wake up one morning and to see that there are no Arabs in Israel.’ ”
Today, Western powers insist on forcing the Arab world into an impossible mold.
According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the Iraqi government has failed to meet 11 of 18 benchmarks. And this is a surprise? By whose standards were these benchmarks set? The Iraqis? Of course not. We all know the policymakers of United States have imposed these benchmarks upon the Iraqi government, which in turn has imposed them upon the citizens of Iraq. So far it seems most Iraqis are unenthusiastic.
One recent report to Congress recommends disbanding the Iraqi Police Force because of corruption. Could it be that the Iraqi Police Force refuses to respect their Western masters? If corruption is the reason to disband a government entity, can you name one government entity that ought not to be disbanded?
Regarding the Iraqi Police Force, what about the millions of dollars spent training them, housing them? Now, Washington wants to disband them.
Remember what happened when Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army? That was, according to Retired Marine General Anthony C. Zinni: “the Bush administration’s ‘worst mistake’ in postwar Iraq.” It’s just what Iraq needs, more unemployed, angry, armed young men.
Likewise, the Iraqi Interior Ministry is reported to be rife with corruption. If corruption is an issue, why the hell has the U.S. Congress financed in Iraq a 200,000 strong shadow army of “reconstruction” contractors and “private military contractors?” It would seem corruption is fine and dandy as long as it and its kickbacks are confined to US war profiteers.
Do the powers that be in Washington seriously believe the Iraqis don’t notice this?
The only benchmark the people of Iraq might agree on would be an end to the U.S. occupation and a right to self-determination.
More reports on Iraqi “progress” are due this week from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker who will report on the Surge. Is it working? Is it a failure? Should we stay or should we go?
What difference does it make? No one in Washington will listen to what they don’t want to hear. Even if all reports on Iraq scream that everyone in the world wants the U.S. to withdraw, those reports will fail to address one basic fact. Western powers have no business meddling in the affairs of the Middle East.
Democratic efforts in Congress have imploded. Senate Democrats cannot muster 60 votes to override a Bush veto. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just announced he is willing to negotiate with Republican Senators on plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. And not only has Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, refused to consider impeachment as an option, but also she no longer requires congressional approval for Bush’s future acts of aggression. Bush and Cheney can do as they please.
Let us not forget decades of US covert manipulation of Iranian politics, dirty back door deals and blatant threats. Perhaps this is why some Muslims ignore the wise counsel of Fformer Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and have resorted to anti-western rhetoric.
As Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs said: “Iran certainly needs to respect American power in the Middle East.” It seems that unless the people of Iran will learn this lesson, there may be no Iranians left to tell the tale.
It may be that all that stands between us and another illegal war is American military leadership. Last February, the London Times reported: “Some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defense and intelligence sources.”
Knowledge of Middle Eastern languages, culture, history and religion appears to be thin on the ground in America. Arabs are confused with Persians and both are viewed as savage inferiors to be controlled… and all for what? A passage to India for the British Empire? The Promised Land for the Lost Tribe of Israel? Oil for a gluttonous United States?
Westerners cannot conceive that the Arab inhabitants of four thousand years might take exception to intrusion by these relative upstarts of European descent?
But let’s not be pessimistic. We will all vanish from the pages of time.
Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.
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