Sunday 13 April 2014

What’s wrong with the Middle East?

Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil, […] the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring may live.
Deuteronomy 30:15-19
Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have failed again.  There are many things that can be said about it – and much has been said already.  But one thing that this shows – more than anything else, perhaps – is how little Western politicians (and media, and public) know and understand the Middle East.  Worst of all, the lack of understanding is only matched by an unwillingness to learn.

Once again, a US administration has placed Palestinian-Israeli negotiations at the top of its foreign policy agenda; a high-and-mighty political personage has personally led the charge.  But within just a few months, the tone changed from buoyant optimism to damage control; from ‘a peace agreement within nine months’ to ‘a framework for peace’ and now to ‘seeking an agreement to continue’ seeking an agreement…

That this reflects ignorance and lack of preparedness should be obvious; and neither should come as a surprise.  After all, Western ‘experts’ failed en-masse to predict the current bout of riots, civil war and instability which is still shaking the Middle East; Western 'leaders' failed to come up with any articulate strategy of coping with it; while Western 'journalists' fancifully called ‘Spring’ a socio-political earthquake that started in winter and God only knows where it'll end.

Of course, when it comes to Israel – it’s different.  For some people, the Arab-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with the Arab world; or with the problems of the Middle East in general; it’s all about finding fault with the Jewish State.

Driven by their subliminal anti-Jewish prejudice, Israel-haters will continue to focus obsessively on the Arab-Israeli conflict (which they dishonestly re-branded ‘Palestinian-Israeli’), to the exclusion of everything else.  After all, ‘everything else’ is not related to the Jews – and therefore not interesting to the anti-Israel lynch mob.

But to those of us driven by facts, not prejudice, the reality is indisputable – and there for all to see: Israel is the one stable spot in the entire region – an oasis of sane normalcy in an area plagued by ruthless oppression, berserk violence and crazed fanaticism.

Travel to Israel these days and you’ll see crowded beaches, populated by Jewish and Arab sun-bathers.  But cast your eyes just a hundred miles away to Syria and see scenes of incomprehensible, inhuman cruelty: Sunnis, Shias and Alawis murder each other by the thousand; months-old babies tortured to death; and even scenes of cannibalism.  That conflict is in the process of spilling over to Lebanon – where the previous inter-sectarian war cost 150,000 lives.  Not far from there lies Iraq, where terrorist attacks by Sunni and Shia fanatics murdered 8,000 people in 2013 alone.  In Egypt, a ‘court of law’ sentenced 528 people to death after a ‘due process’ that lasted a few hours.  Violence is endemic also in Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen…  Oppression by absolute ‘kings’, ‘sheikhs’ and ‘emirs’, ‘presidents’ for life and Islamist regimes is rife throughout the Middle East and North Africa – from Iran to Oman, from Jordan to Morocco, from West Bank to Gaza.  Even in previously semi-democratic Turkey a strongman has now taken to deciding what people can or cannot say.  Abject poverty is widespread even in countries blessed with tremendous natural resources; poor education, substandard healthcare, unemployment and hopelessness are prevalent.  And, while everybody is oppressed, women are doubly so – what they’re experiencing ranges from the clear-cut gender apartheid regimes of Saudi Arabia and Iran to severe ‘legal’ and societal discrimination elsewhere.

So what’s wrong with the Middle East??  Why is it the world’s most unstable and human-rights averse region?  Taking responsibility for one’s own problems is not a sport Middle-Easterners excel at: it is much easier to blame others – especially the West.  But that is – excuse my French – bullshit.  Sure, Western colonialism and imperialism have caused a lot of harm everywhere; but Middle Eastern countries have been under Western colonial regimes for mere decades – much less than India, for instance.  Yet India is a stable democracy – not that everything is perfect in that country – while the Middle East is unstable and totalitarian.  Some Western self-described ‘progressives’ have joined the Middle Eastern ‘it’s-not-us-it’s-them’ game – they blame ‘Western interference’ for the region’s humongous problems.  Really??  Was it ‘Western support’ that brought to power Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad or Khomeini?  Was it ‘the West’ that forced the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to vote for Hamas?  Did ‘the West’ make Saudi women legally incompetent, subject to the whims of ‘male guardians’??

What is wrong with the Middle East is, simply put, that it’s affected simultaneously by two plagues: the first – common enough – being power-hungry dictators; the second – somewhat less common –religious fanaticism.  The two pathogens work in symbiosis: ‘secular’ bullies use the spectre of Islamism to justify their abhorrent human rights violations; while Islamists portray themselves as the ‘alternative’ to corrupt and incompetent strongmen.  Yes, people: it’s as simple as that!

Needless to say, neither ‘secular’ totalitarianism nor theocratic regimes are solutions; they are the problem.  As countries have learned through centuries of trial-and-error, the solution is liberal democracy.  Which, to quote Churchill
“is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Bring liberal democracy to the Middle East and everything will change for the better; even the Arab-Israeli conflict will be solved: there is no example in history of two democracies fighting a war; when politicians are accountable to their people, they find ways of solving the problems peacefully.

But how does one bring about such a change?  How does one replace oppression with freedom?  Well, we do not need to re-invent the wheel: the world’s recent history has seen the collapse of ‘Communist’ dictatorships and their transition to liberal democracy.  How did that happen?  And why does it not happen in the Middle East?  Well, to start with, Eastern European nations were at a different stage of socio-economic and cultural development, compared to the Middle Eastern ones.  But that does not mean that the same solution should not apply – it just means that it will take time.  It took a long time for Eastern Europe; but that’s mostly because of a great power – the Soviet Union – which forcefully policed away dissent; there is nothing similar in the Middle East.  Still, it may take time; but the Middle East will only cease being a ‘problem region’ when it will begin to experience liberal democracy.  And it will happen sooner if we – the ones fortunate enough to live in the free world – lend a helping hand.

Some self-described ‘progressives’ will disagree of course – they’ll argue that this also constitutes ‘interference’; that ‘Western’ liberal democracy may not be what ‘these people’ want; that we should be ‘respectful of their ways’ and tiptoe around ‘their culture’.  Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just more bullshit and I have neither respect nor time for ‘progressives’ that defend backwardness.  Forms of government are not ‘culture’; there's no such thing as ‘Western’ democracy.  True, it may have originated in the West – everything has to originate somewhere.  But liberal democracy is essentially the same in ‘European’ France and in ‘Asian’ Japan, in 'Western' Australia and in 'Far-Eastern' South Korea, in ‘Christian’ USA and ‘Jewish’ Israel.  There’s nothing ‘progressive’ in claiming that what’s good for Europeans and Americans is not ‘suitable’ for Arabs or Persians; it’s simply subliminal racism dressed-up as ‘cultural sensitivity’.

Of course, one cannot impose transition to democracy – if you think otherwise see Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the free world can encourage and stimulate the process through education (call it ‘propaganda’ if you’re so inclined) and through political and economic pressure – just like we did in Eastern Europe.

It all starts with enunciating the truth, loud and unequivocally clear: that what’s good for the Swiss is also good for the Arabs; what’s suitable for Christians and Jews is also suitable for Muslims; that the solution is liberal democracy, liberal democracy and only liberal democracy.  Not ‘benevolent dictatorships’; not ‘stable regimes’; not ‘moderate Islamists’ and not ‘a form of government that complies with the values of Islam’.  Unfortunately, our 'leaders' shy away from stating this simple truth.  Consequently, what the free world has been doing so far is worse than beating about the bush; it foolishly oscillated between supporting ‘friendly’ bullies and appeasing ‘moderate’ Islamists.  Both are oxymorons; both positions are equally shameful and equally counter-productive; no reasonable person can argue that either is good – they're only promoted as ‘the lesser evil’.  But, to quote Jerry Garcia,
“Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.”
Let’s choose ‘good’.

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