Another Tack: Bread vs circuses

Arab societies aren't radical because they're poor. They're poor because they're radical.

By
June 22, 2006 12:31
4 minute read.

 
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Among the unfortunately and woefully under-resonated news stories of recent days was the report that on the eve of soccer's macho World Cup mania hundreds of trucks entered Gaza laden with… TV sets! Ostensibly these betokened blissful commercial cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Arab merchants purchased the boob-tubes from Jewish importers and transported the huge consignments into Gaza via the Karni Crossing. This puts a whole new wrinkle on the ancient Roman prescription for "bread and circuses" to numb the masses. Ordinarily one would suppose that the bread component be primary. Yet entertainment is being bountifully bought at a time when the world is brainwashed to believe that starving Gazans piteously beg for morsels. Indeed representatives of compassionate bon ton seek to outdo each other with ever more dramatic depictions of disaster. It's a contest between likening Gaza's misery to apartheid oppression, the Warsaw Ghetto or even Auschwitz. TVs and football fever somehow defy all cataclysmic characterizations, which may explain why Gaza's scale of urgent priorities is absent from chic public discourse. The same goes for Gazans' refusal to accept NIS 50 million worth of meds from Israel, at the very time Palestinian propagandists lead TV crews from every major international channel on conducted tours of hospital wards to film dying patients, whose condition is always blamed on one pathogen - Israel. Great ratings boosters, especially after viewers are warned to anticipate "highly disturbing footage." So why not alleviate the plight? Do proud Gazans shudder to receive life-saving supplies from the heartless enemy? No. They just don't want commodities. They demand cash. Money is fungible. You can get it for medications but splurge on TVs or bombs, rockets, ammo and other such essentials for the plebeians' welfare. ANOTHER ITEM that remarkably failed to attract minimal attention in either the local or global media is the fact that in the months since so-called disengagement, more arms entered Gaza than in all the years between 1967's Six Day War and Israel's 2005 retreat. Nobody - from "New Middle East" prophet Shimon Peres to the European glitterati who wine, dine and underwrite his delusions - sees fit to question Palestinian spendthrift outlays for implements of mass murder despite simultaneous whines about catastrophic deprivation. Indeed Hamas's "useful fools" regard the "humanitarian debacle" as justifying the rush to stock up on military hardware. According to fashionable theory, poverty breeds malaise, which then breeds violence, hate and similar understandable and forgivable offshoot plagues. Bottom line: pour money in and peace will bust out all over. Cute, but untrue anywhere in Arab latifundia. The Palestinian Authority, for instance, is the beneficiary of arguably incomparable overseas beneficence. In the recent past it received 4.5 times more money per capita than postwar Europe did under the Marshall Plan. All those funds down the PA drain improved nothing. All donors have to show for their misguided largesse is even greater Gazan indigence, which in turn generates more entreaties for yet more contributions to the wretched victims of villainous Jewish empire-building. THE TRAGEDY is that philanthropy will inevitably only make matters worse. Arab societies aren't radical because they're poor. They're poor because they're radical. Syria, once quite prosperous by Arab criteria, regressed because of a radical regime that depleted its resources and potential. Where, one may ask, is Arab industry or hi-tech creativity? Can anyone point to one major scientific innovation to emerge from the Arab world in the last three centuries? The fundamental factor is the yawning gap between the world as the Arabs think it ought to be and what it is. In a just world, the Arabs believe, they must predominate and control. The disparity between reality and presumptions of supremacy produces frustration, ferment and conspiracy theories. What can't be achieved gradually is attempted by force. Embittered Arabs remain underdeveloped and stuck in the sand despite unfathomable oil wealth. Their affluence is squandered on weaponry and luxuries. It's spent on keeping the powers-that-be in power. There's no independent middle class, no pluralistic tolerant opinion, no free press, no autonomous judiciary - no infrastructure for democracy in oil-rich Arab states or in those who aren't. In both, educated elites end up as state employees. No true revolution can materialize from the ranks of the bloated civil service. To date, Arab military coups created only more dependent bureaucrats instead of a bourgeoisie. In traditional Saudi Arabia 95% of local males are public-sector employees. In Egypt 5.5 million are, and the government needs to generate 500,000 sinecures annually to maintain stability. Cash coming in, whether from oil revenue or foreign aid, helps merely preserve the squalid status quo. Footing the bill for PA employees will - besides financing indiscriminate attacks on Jews - prop up the very militia bosses who resist social change, their revolutionary rhetoric notwithstanding. Under one guise or another they're the same militia who terrorized and indoctrinated their underlings in this country for the past century. Whatever passed or passes for a Palestinian middle class always astutely assessed which boundaries not to cross. Therefore self-proclaimed moderate Mahmoud Abbas attests to being "more insistent on the Right of Return than even Arafat." At most he talks about suspending terror not uprooting it - something his counterparts failed to do from the 1920s on. Generation after generation, ostensibly enlightened Palestinians surrender to the most extremist elements instead of shattering the lies with which they collude to expediently and cynically bind their own people. Concurrently, lies live on in decent democracies too. Here and abroad assorted Jew-haters, anti- and post-Zionists and/or blinkered do-gooders refuse to shatter the lie that charity will buy medicines and bread, rather than circuses and guns.

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