The Region: What Middle East pundits get wrong

A British writer named David Hearst has suggested in the 'Guardian' that Israel will disappear because Arabs and Muslims continue to “resist” its existence.

August 28, 2011 22:21
4 minute read.
Egyptians hit Israeli flag in protest

Egyptians hit Israeli flag 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A British writer named David Hearst has suggested in the Guardian that Israel will disappear because Arabs and Muslims continue to “resist” its existence. This is a fascinating example of the many things wrong with political analysis, media, intellectual debate, and the understanding of the Middle East today. Here’s a list:

1.The confusion between wishful thinking and analysis. Every day I am forced by reality to say things I don’t want to say. But people who no longer understand scholarly, scientific and intellectual values assume I only say it because of some political agenda. And that belief derives from the cynical, neo-Marxist, post-modernist concept that everyone merely represents a specific political interest. That concept kills democratic discussion.

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An example: I would love Egypt to be a stable democratic state. That isn’t, however, what I see based on evidence. Yet if I say so, the response is likely to be insults or name calling. For instance, I only say it because Israel or America wants to discredit the Egyptian revolution. Yet understanding and policy can only be made on the basis of honest assessment. Otherwise, they will fail or make things worse.

Of course, the British writer is echoing what he hears in Arab discussions. They want Israel to collapse, hence they predict it. But basing their lives and policy, spending their blood and money, on this effort will lead Arabs to disaster – as it has already done for 60 years – and postpone progress for themselves.

2. The lack of real historical perspective. This article in question could have been written in 1948 or in any year since. If people continually predict something and it doesn’t happen, might that not indicate a need to change their view? Indeed, evidence shows that Israel has become more successful while Arab states – as recent months unfortunately prove – have become mired in internal conflict and retrograde Islamism.

3.One of many ironies about “multiculturalism” is its egocentrism. “Other” peoples are reduced to political symbols, something like an old Communist poster of heroic workers and equally heroic peasants.

Their views are only taken into account if they are led by the “proper” leaders. A Muslim leader who denounces the West and makes demands on it for accommodation is “legitimate,” but an immigrant who wants to integrate fully into Western civilization, or a leader who wishes to be an ally of the United States – they are sell-outs not worthy of respect. Moderate Muslims or democratic oppositions in Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey are put into that category. That’s why there are no campus or other demonstrations on their behalf.

In addition, true inquiry into other countries and groups is discouraged because it might lead to “unacceptable” conclusions. It’s amazing how little we know – especially from academic research or journalistic investigation –about Muslim communities in the West. There is hardly any real work on, say, Palestinian politics, political groups in Egypt, the Syrian opposition or the nature of Turkey’s ruling party.

4. Policies and behavior so intent on injuring one’s enemy that they end up injuring yourself.

Since ideology and “political correctness” trump factual correctness and enemies are demonized, the goal is to hurt opponents even if that means doing disastrous things. There is no better example than the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which an attempt to destroy Israel has come close to destroying the Arabic-speaking world. And just when we thought that it might pull itself out of the swamp in the 1990s they jumped back in.

One of the reasons that Israel is so criticized, attacked and misunderstand is that Westerners who dwell in the lands of pragmatism simply cannot believe that anyone else would act so differently. Consider the gap between a yuppie and a suicide bomber.

5. There is an ideology collapsing today in the Middle East, but it isn’t Zionism. It’s pan-Arab nationalism, which will be replaced either by Islamism, nation-state nationalism (the “normal” kind), or a moderate and pro-democratic philosophy. If someone doesn’t realize that this is the great battle going on now, they can probably understand nothing about the world.

What the kind of article I’m discussing in the Guardian does is to incite decades more of wasteful, deadly and useless struggle. What, resistance will destroy Israel? Then why should Palestinians negotiate a compromise deal for a state or Arabs make peace? Just hold out, fight on, and they’ll win! And that indeed is the philosophy of a long list of people, groups and governments.

The outcome is the mass production of socially approved Middle Eastern equivalents of Anders Breiviks who, once dead or imprisoned, become heroes whose faces look down from posters; are taught as role models in schools; and have youth camps, sporting events and public squares named after them. US taxpayer funds sent to the Palestinian Authority are then used to pay them salaries and to support their families.

That’s a good way to understand the contemporary Arabic-speaking world: a place where the Breviks are the heroes and the moderates are the villains.

Professor Rubin is Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center He is a featured columnist at PJM, and editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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