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.