Why Israel’s existence prevents Arab Democracy

In a fascinating interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheikh (hat tip John Rosenthal, who translated the interview initially published in German), we find the following exchange which says a great deal not only about the Arab dilemma, but the immense difficulty they have thinking about this dilemma. At the end of the interviewer, Pierre Heumann (Die Weltwoche on Nov. 23, issue 47/06), asks who is responsible for the dismal condition of the Middle East with its wars, poverty, and dictatorships. His response:

AS: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

PH: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

AS: I think so.

PH: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

AS: The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

PH: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

AS: Exactly. It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.

Precisely. The West doesn’t understand this particular Arab problem on the one hand, and the Arabs don’t understand how to get out of it on the other. Destroying Israel will only reaffirm the very mentality that makes the Middle East a dictatorship-ridden, war-plagued, poverty zone. It’s in overcoming this regressive, zero-sum honor-shame mentality that the Arab world has any hope in participating in the world of democracy and abundance. Indeed, the only way the Arab world will ever achieve some semblance of democracy is in learning from the Israelis. But that would mean, of course, swallowing pride and learning some modesty.

For so highly educated man with pretenses to modern standards of journalism to think this way highlights the astounding lack of real, analytic, self-critical thought in the Middle East. “If only we could destroy the people who make us feel bad, then we could join the modern world.” That’s even more pathetic than the teenager or mid-life crisis adult who says to himself, “If only I had that motorcycle, I’d be happy.”

Update: An article by Daoud, Israel is a Liability for US, reflects a winning combination of this Arab mindset with the pro-Arab foreign policy of the Carter-Baker-Walt-Mearsheimer school. A nice articulation of the demopaths discourse — all about moderation, what the rest of the world thinks, justice… and, of course, forcing Israel to stop being mean to the Arabs. Not a hint of self-criticism.

Ramallah, Palestine/Amman, Jordan – The departure of Rumsfield and Bolton from the political scene, the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report, and the frank talk of Jimmy Carter are all signs that Americans are finally beginning to realize that Israel is a liability and not an asset to their global interests. However, there is still a long way to go before the end of U.S. hegemony in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel, unfortunately, is still a domestic issue for the United States and the strength of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee hasn’t weakened despite attempts by U.S. academics to expose them.

Hopefully, as the roots of America’s blind support for Israel are exposed, a more sane U.S. foreign policy in the region might emerge — a policy that takes into account what the rest of the world thinks. So far, a great deal is needed to end the misery caused by the unjust, nearly 40-year-old occupation of Palestine. The U.S. must act proactively, doing what Bush senior and James Baker III tried to do with the Shamir government on the eve of the 10 billion loan guarantees and the Madrid Peace process.

The next year or so might provide a small window of opportunity if a Palestinian national unity government is formed, the moderate Arab countries get serious, and Britain along with its European partners makes a real push for Olmert to answer for his country’s illegal occupation and for the obstruction of genuine negotiations.

The irony here is that the only hope for peace in the Middle East (within as well as between Arab states) is their learning to live with Israel, rather than their learning to manipulate the West into abandoning Israel. That a reporter with a reputation for moderation and an ability to “see the other side” should mouth such demopathic pieties, is a very bad sign.

20 Responses to Why Israel’s existence prevents Arab Democracy

  1. Michael Nagle says:

    This says it all. It’s all there. Western sympathisers with the Palestinian or Arab cause need, as a first step, to finally acknowledge the fact that what the Arabs hostile to Israel seek is not ‘justice’ or ‘fairness’ or ‘human rights’ – or any other fine-sounding liberal ideal – but rather vengance, retribution, the satisfaction of a tribal and religious honour, and above all the crushing of a Jewish political entity in the heart of the islamic world. I believe in fairness, justice, and human rights too – and they are precisely the reason why I hope that Israel prospers in safety, and its enemies are defeated as many times as it takes, no matter how bitter and demented they thereby become.

    nicely put. this struggle has very little to do with human rights where the palestinian and other arab spokesmen are concerned. stating it in those terms has immense advantages when, as a demopath, you have so many eager dupes ready to fight for Palestinian “rights” even as they labor in the vineyards of Jihad. it seems to me that anyone who is concerned with fairness, and has a rudimentary notion of how difficult that is to achieve, would at once marvel at the Israeli commitment to it, and show equal astonishment at the utter lack of any commitment to that not only in the Arab attitude towards Israel, but in the attitude of Arab elites to their own commoners. this strikes me as a no brainer. how is it possible for whole continents of well intentioned people to be so blind? how can people committed to solidarity with the Palestinians show up at events for Darfur and not get kicked out by people who understand that Hamas and the Janjaweed are both Jihadi forces for whom human rights is a joke? how can there be a “Gays for Palestine”?

    And okay there are always crazy people at all times… but why do academics and major policy-makers say things that show not the slightest understanding of what we’re up against?

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Ahmed Sheikh played right into your hands, RL. He explicitly confirmed, as it were, your concept of the honor-shame culture preventing peace. Incredible, that is, it’s amazing when a public statement fits right into your theoretical construct.

    I think that the Arabs are not the only problem, not Israel’s only problem. Of course, real peace can only come in my view if and when the Arabs undergo a thoroughgoing cultural transformation [I hate to use the word "revolution," but one might use it here]. You’re saying that too. However, the Arabs are not the only problem, since they are encouraged by the West and the remnants of Communism [China, Russia, N Korea, Cuba]. The BBC for instance helps to incite Arabs just as much as France2, with the al-Durah blood libel. I think that the British are the world’s champions of psy war: http://ziontruth.blogspot.com/2006/12/how-do-british-do-it-how-do-masters.html

    BBC and Sky, to a lesser extent, smear Israel night and day. Then, for gross examples of how Western powers work against peace, think of the latest Baker & Carter performances. Carter mendaciously calls Israel an “apartheid” state [this from a scion of a KuKluxKlan family], whereas Baker is eager to sell out Israel [and Lebanon too by the way] on the ostensible & ridiculous grounds that that will bring Syria to help the Americans get out of Iraq safely. The mindlessness of that kind of thinking is also illustrated by Ahmed Sheikh above. If only Israel were not there to humiliate the 350 million strong Arab nation by winning all the time –whereas according to Arab-Muslim tradition the Jews [and other dhimmis] must be kept in a state of subjugation, oppression, exploitation, and humiliation [Qur'an 9:29]– then the Arabs would stop killing Assyrian priests in Bagdad, Kurds in Syria, each other in Algeria, and their own disobedient daughters just about everywhere from the Atlantic to the Shatt al-`Arab. Such a claim by the boss of Al-Jazeera is almost comical, except that he seems to really believe it.

  3. Rob says:

    Another great post, RL.

    Bottom line: the Jewish state succeeded; the Arab states failed.

    Tony Blair is on a mission to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue. But how is he going to solve the the problem above?

  4. Lynne T says:

    Certainly honour/shame is part of the mix, but I’d offer that the fact that generations of Arabs have been told by their religious and political leaders that the status quo (i.e.: theocratic police state) is in and of itself necessitated by Israel’s very existence — dictatorships, oppression, corruption etc. are the only means of ejecting Israel from their midst and restoring the Palestinians to their rightful place.

    Sounds a lot like Goebbels’ big lie theory in action to me.

    Yes, and like Goebbel’s big lies, they are working because they appeal to a population riddled with shame and seeking any way to save face, even if that means backing totalitarian genocide. And what the relationship between this kind of politics, so evident in the PA, and the collective psychology of shame suggest is that the support these folk get from supposedly enlightened, progressive groups, may also be related to subtler forms of shame that they seek to obliterate by supporting the forces that promise the genocide.

  5. Does Sheikh think that it is up to the West to reestablish Arab self esteem by taking Israel down? Jesus Christ almighty, are the Arabs really that contemptable? Sheikh views Arabs as petulant children who are upset because they can’t bully ther Jews anymore. Sheikh thinks that all of the problems of the Arab world are the fault of Israel. Isn’t it time the Arabs grew up?

    you have said considerably more bluntly what i was trying to suggest in my post. but i’d put somewhat less blame on the arabs and a great deal on the west which, in 60 years, has not yet told the arabs to grow up. if you’re immature and angry, what’s your motivation to overcome your immaturity if no one makes the demand? now Baker wants to exclude Israel for regional discussions. more of the same.

  6. Eliyahu says:

    Charles, yes, that’s what Sheikh is saying. It is incredible, isn’t it? We want YOU, the West, to get rid of Israel so that WE can get our pride back. In other words, even if you do it instead of us doing it, we would still get our pride back. A peculiar notion of pride too.

    it’s actually even more problematic. in order to enlist the (christian) west in their service, the arabs/palestinians have had to play the victim. “look at how powerful they are; look at how weak we are; look at how they hurt defenseless us.” in an honor-shame warrior culture, the last thing a warrior does is show pain, and the last thing a man of honor does, is beg for pity. so this particular strategy of the arabs to regain their honor by getting the west to abandon israel, is about as debasing as imaginable. the only real consolation (aside from the anticipated wiping out of israel) is the sense of sheer contempt they have for how stupid we are. and stupid we (the westerners suckered by this demopathic appeal) are indeed.

    RL, of course you’re right about Western policy over the past 60 years. You know, once I entertained hopes that the EU [then EEC or Common Market] would speak honestly and frankly to the Arabs in the vein that you suggest. Boy, was I naive way back when! Baker’s policy reminds me of British policy back in 1939 when they were preparing the White Paper. They made sure to speak to Arabs and Jews separately, encouraging the less moderate, more intransigent Arabs.

    this is the core of our dilemma. the policies we pursue to “fix up” the problems with our misplaced/mishandled aggressions, actually makes their aggression all the more likely. we systematically strengthen the worst elements of arab culture with our placation. and, in my mind, the most egregious case of this counterproductive “good intentioned” approach, is our MSM, who not only don’t know about this honor-shame dimension, but would largely consider it an act of good faith and human rights not to discuss it, lest it seem racist.

  7. Joanne says:

    What scares me is that Al Jazeera now has an English-language worldwide service, so it can spread its bias to a far larger audience. I didn’t know that the head of Al Jazeera really felt that way, to that extreme. I read more of his interview, in which he says that his hatred of Israelis and Israel doesn’t prevent him from being objective!

    please see the remarks of the fellow at PATV who inserted a shot of an Israeli soldier firing taken on another day into the footage of al Durah to attribute intention to the Israelis, explain that this is just a reflection of his journalistic commitment of telling the truth and nothing but the truth. these are two radically different media cultures, and our MSM’s inability to tell them apart is part of their corruption.

    I was recently in Morocco, where I saw a report on Al Jazeera about the human-shield women sheltering Palestinian fighters exiting a mosque in Gaza. These women were recruited for the operation, and one was wounded and one was killed. Their job was to shield Arab fighters who were using a mosque(!) as a base from which to attack Israel. They were under fire from the Israelis across the border, so the women acted as human shields and enabled these active fighters to escape unharmed.

    I can’t understand Arabic, but I did note that Al Jazeera showed the same visual over and over again: scenes of the women (almost all identically dressed) screaming and running in the same direction, with the sound of gunfire in the background. This same scene, about 10 seconds or so, was shown continuously. The only other scenes, shown occasionally, were brief shots of a helicopter and of a tank, both presumably Israeli. One can only guess at the commentary, but it seemed to me that they were only referring to the suffering of the women who were shot at by the Israelis.

    this is one of the key issues. whereas Israeli TV avoids gory scenes at almost all costs, PATV is one long, (mal)ingering look at injury and death after another, gory details replayed constantly, all designed to churn people’s innards. this is part of what the MSM don’t realize when they give credence to Pallywood. that stuff plays for minutes on our TV; it is a day-long ordeal of gruesome and hate-inducing sights on Arab TV.

    What was really unnerving was how polished and professional Al Jazeera looked: its graphics, sets, production values, presenters and reporters appeared to be up to Western network standards. Yet this is not news, it’s propaganda staged to look like news. And many viewers probably take it to be well-reported, balanced, professional news. That worries me.

    and so it should. we mistake “professional production values” for journalist professional integrity, as if, if they can do a nice piece of technical work, they must be like us, with our committments. our inability to detect this appalling gap between Arab and Western (including Israeli) media is one of the most troubling expressions of our confusion.

  8. Eliyahu says:

    On second thought, maybe I was being naive to think that Ahmed Sheikh was being sincere. Of course, no one has yet invented a sincerometer. So maybe Sheikh was sincere. On the other hand, maybe he was being typically manipulative, perhaps to fit in with the latest carter & baker utterances. Yet, it is startling that he says things that implicitly incriminate the Arabs themselves. I stand by everything else that I said above, except my opinion that Sheikh was being sincere.

    If anyone heard baker testifying [or speaking at a press conference], he too was amazing. He claimed that he had picked up his understanding of Syria’s present willingness to moderate from discussions with the Syrian foreign minister. Baker said: “I don’t think I’m naive.” Well, maybe not. But then again, baker doesn’t have a sincerometer either. He simply looks like a fool when he admits that his understanding of a Syrian aspiration to moderate derives from a chat with the foreign minister.

    Daoud Kuttab is a very slick psy war crook. If you have read him over the years [as I have], then I don’t think you need a sincerometer. You know that he’s lying. He belongs to the same stable as Hanan Ashrawi, Sa’eb Erikat, Leila Shahid, Michael Tarazi, Marwan Bishara and others. Any truth in any of their utterances is strictly coincidental or expedient for the sake of a specific situation.

  9. Cynic says:

    He belongs to the same stable as Hanan Ashrawi, Sa’eb Erikat, Leila Shahid, Michael Tarazi, Marwan Bishara and others. Any truth in any of their utterances is strictly coincidental or expedient for the sake of a specific situation.

    Taquiya, Eliyahu, plain old taquiya.
    Permitted to lie in the interests of Islam has turned them in their dealings with Infidels into perpetual liars. Actually, even amongst themselves there are more lies told than the truth because their honour is at stake.

  10. igout says:

    In today’s Telegraph that Brit historian Niall Ferguson says that there’s more to the Baker report than meets the MSM’s eyes. Perhaps I am grasping at straws here, but I think he was suggesting the real reason for sitting down at the regional table with Syria and Iran would be to find occasion to stir up trouble between them. If so then the word “realist” is rescued from joke status.

    I can’t add anything to the contempt expressed here for the Arab mind, and I hope that well-meaning people in the West divest themselves of illusion and hesitation.

  11. igout says:

    dammit! forgot the after Telegraph. Sorry

  12. Abu Nudnik says:

    but i’d put somewhat less blame on the arabs and a great deal on the west which, in 60 years, has not yet told the arabs to grow up.

    Actually, one Western leader said just that: When Yasser Arafat whined (after a suicide bomber killed a bunch of people in Israel) that now “the frustration has even come to our children!” (as if the bomber was not the perpetrator but victim) George Bush responded directly to the Palestinians by telling them: “Control your passions.” Unfortunately, because he was accused of arrogance, cultural insensitivity and the like, he retreated from that kind of straight language that needed desperately to be used by someone in precisely his position. Too bad. The Arab world, more than anyone, needs to hear the truth. Friends don’t let friends kill themselves and other friends along with them.

    You can’t humiliate a humble man and people who constantly claim they are humiliated are filled with a shame they feel is being seen by one and all. The support proferred for suicide bombers in the Arab world suggests that the reason they support the murderers even though they give the lie to Islam’s being compassionate and peaceful and thereeby shame the religion and its adherents seems to exist simply because there is simply no fallback position. To admit that the bombers are decadent and immoral is to simply add to the shame and humiliation: it is like the monkey trapped with a fistful of rice who tries to pull his own arm off as the villagers descend to crack his head open.

    On Jimmy Carter: I think he would only be happy if the Jews of Israel chose “love even unto death,” a kind of auto-crucifixion that would expiate their collective guilt over their lack of support for JC (you decide which JC).

  13. [...] cably vast Israeli military superiority drives the entire Arab world mad with a shame that only worsens as the decades of failure accumulate. A [...]

  14. [...] solution to their problems. In honor-shame cultures, guilt is consistently projected, and Israel is the scapegoat for Arab feeling of inferiority [...]

  15. [...] the “Arab Street.” Israel, with its modern, technological prowess, represents everything that makes Muslims ashamed by their performa [...]

  16. [...] is at once pathetic, and highly indicative of the profound mental and cultural resistance that permeates the Arab world to normalizing relations and getting on with the business of [...]

  17. Hugh Willemse says:

    Dear Mr Belman,

    I always read your columns with great interest, although I do not always agree.
    Your remarks about Arab ‘honour’ however strike me as being very true.
    As a matter of fact I experienced the results of this feeling of ‘honour’ (which I would personally rather define as a feeling of ‘being a true male’, as otherwise we end up with a Western and an Arab definiton of honour) myself, personally, on various occasions.
    This abomanible feeling of ‘loosing ones manliness’ when ‘giving in’ causes Arabs to have:
    1. A lack of flexibility and sense of relativity
    2. So: lack of humour
    3. A lack of gratitude (everything one obtains should be ‘earned’ or it will be refused)
    The above not only applies to Arabs though, but is so overwhelming that it is apparent throughout the non-Israeli Middle-East. I personally experienced it in great depth with a Roman Catholic from Lebanon who grew up in an important military family.

  18. […] does the instinct to accuse Israel for Arab failures. Ahmed Sheikh, editor in chief of Al Jazeera, blames Israel for the lack of democracy in the Arab […]

  19. […] für alle arabischen Fehler verantwortlich zu machen. Ahmed Shaikh, der Herausgeber von Al Jazeera, gibt Israel sogar die Schuld am Mangel an Demokratie in der arabischen […]

  20. […] the middle east because of the paralyzing damage that it does to the Arab ego (take a look at the interview here if you don’t believe it…). Quite aptly, Ghandi also […]

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