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February 22, 2016 7:09 am

The Modern Middle East: Founding Mistakes and Ways Forward

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

Email a copy of "The Modern Middle East: Founding Mistakes and Ways Forward" to a friend
Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal. Photo: wiki commons.

Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal. Photo: wiki commons.

Nowadays, reasoned and calm political debate is as lost as Atlantis. In most societies, positions are polarized, and as a result, the views and opinions that circulate the most tend to be those of the extremes.

This was brought home to me recently after reading Efraim Karsh’s latest book, The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, in which he charts the course of the European powers’ involvement in the Middle East from the 19th century until the present. Karsh is a well-known Israeli-British academic who has written several books on the history of the Middle East. He seeks to counter the one-sided anti-Israel narrative that puts all the blame for the disastrous history of Arab nationalism and the Palestinians on Israel itself. As such, of course, he is reviled by the Left, but also disliked by the Right, because he sees the other narrative and has no problem enumerating Israel’s mistakes, too.

His core thesis is that external powers cannot solve the problems of the Middle East. However much they may have meddled and intervened, the backwardness, internecine killings and rivalries that are keeping the region in the Middle Ages are due overwhelmingly to internal rivalries and feuding.

“Middle easterners have always found it easier to blame others for their misfortunes,” he writes. “But the main culpability for the region’s endemic malaise lies with local players… There was no Arab nation at the outset of the First World War. Only an intricate web of local loyalties to one’s clan, tribe, village, town, religious sect or localized ethnic minority.”

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Of course, one could have said much the same of Europe before the middle of the 19th century. Not all civilizations march in lockstep. But the extreme nationalism on display in Israel simply mirrors the extreme Arab nationalism. Both sides fight the zero-blame game.

The record of conflict and dysfunction goes back a long way. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, the victorious European powers looked around to find a structure that would replace the Turks. They made two fundamental mistakes. The first was to quite arbitrarily carve up the area into completely new and illogical states in order to accommodate the power grab of Sharif Hussein of Mecca (the Hashemite dynasties) and his sons.

Hussein claimed to be leading an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks, when in fact he represented no one but himself and his family. Britain, largely besotted with the British agent T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), was gulled, together with France, into going along with his misrepresentations. Very similar to the way the United States was totally fooled into believing that Iraq would coalesce into modern democracy the moment Saddam Hussein was deposed.

The Husseinis were driven out of Mecca by internal rivalries, not external ones, and it was handed over to the rival tribe of Saud. Lawrence tried to get one son, Faisal, appointed as ruler of Lebanon and Syria. Both, as we see today, are artificial and arbitrary concoctions of rival sects and religions. He was soon kicked out, and so they concocted another impossible country for him to rule — Iraq, where he ignored the conflicting demands of Kurds, Shia and Sunni. The older son, Abdullah, was given Transjordan.

To complete the criminal idiocy, the British Mandate appointed another Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. He had fomented anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in which hundreds of Jews were killed and many more wounded during the 1920s, long before the state of Israel was founded or indeed the Holocaust (for those who fancy that these were the original sins). The Mufti in Jerusalem and Faisal’s son in Iraq agitated for Arab nationalism and wooed the Nazis in the hopes of driving the Jews out of the Middle East.

For a period after WWII, secular Pan-Arabism looked to be taking over from backward religious fanaticism. However, the movement’s dictatorships and its failure to govern in an enlightened democratic manner, has led directly to the return of religious extremism. When nothing else works, look for a Messiah! This in turn has led to the current mad dreams of the Arab world resurrecting the Caliphate and returning to the borders it occupied more than a thousand years ago, which included much of Europe.

Karsh is often portrayed as an extremist. But he is far more nuanced and moderate than most Arab spokesmen. Voices like al-Qaradawi (beloved of British left-wing politicians) proclaim, “Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor after being expelled from it twice.” Even the late Zaki Badawi, a man I knew and got on well with, said that one day the whole world will be one Muslim community. If one really wants find Jewish extremists, there are plenty to choose from; but Karsh is hardly one of them.

Fortunately, there are Muslim moderate voices, too, like Hamza Yusuf, who are being supported and their views disseminated. A recent conference hosted by the King of Morocco issued important declarations that propagate tolerance, coexistence and moderation. Even the Saudis have begun to take steps in this direction. It is important to hear these voices every time some new barbarian calls for the destruction of Jews and of the West.

The evils of the Middle East are on the move. But, ironically, I am optimistic. Israel is well placed to take care of itself. The US has its own social, immigration and political issues to deal with. Europe is now grappling with a massive cultural upheaval that will keep it busy for generations, and the Arab world has its own political and religious fissures to sort out. The UN, the Left and opponents of Israel can huff and puff, but can achieve nothing more than tokenism.

We live in a world where twisting the facts and lying are simply tools of warfare. Even bishops and academics throw around terms of abuse like apartheid, Nazi, racist and imperialist without a pause to examine the accuracy or historical meanings, which would prove how ignorant and malicious such epithets are when applied to Israel.

I only wish more people would read books like Karsh’s, to realize that solving a problem requires honesty, which demands objectivity. And a condition of objectivity is balance.

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  • Mr/s Len. Thank you! I’m not dramatizing the case! We live in a dramatic time which we need to find out the cause of dramatic sudden events. There is no Black Swans! I write what I write for also learning to write English language which I couldn’t not long time ego, I was mind attacked as the Hebrew boy was, but as a teacher, the Hebrew boy is safe, he does study in USA, and the boy did say that he couldn’t concentrate in his studies in Norway. The case of the Hebrew boy is evidence and the reason of what is happening now a day! We no forget that Norway is involved in NATO which we all know that killing Mr. Gaddafi of Libya was a terrifying mistake! Len? Make it as 20h grade English literature news.

    • len

      Emil-Good luck with your English lessons maybe one day you will no longer sound like the Game Of Thrones character with the Masks and I can have a serious conversation with you, however I stand by what I wrote in regards to what I think you wrote. I am by no means putting you down, wish I understood Norwegian, beautiful country needs some more foreign exchange Israeli students to get them over the hump of their “Hate Israel” hang ups!

  • This case has nothing to do about cultural superiority! Sven! I know great men in Norway! There is a problem about Norwegians young men attacking each other minds where young men are pushed mentally into commit suicide! It is known Scandinavia suicides are a problem. The terrifying matter in this case is all about the teacher who is not aware of the meaning of the word she did say! The teacher is not a person who works in an insurance company. To make a young boy no matter Christian or Hebrew boy to swallow been a living dead soul by a teacher is a crime against nature. It is known that men do swallow everything including his own words as the teacher did. The teacher of this case can not teacher! Because by teaching the teacher does attacks his/her own mind ending in the social system and into boredom. Edvard Munch did write down and said “ I walked life on my own grave in Christiania ” E. Munch “ The scream” which derives from the Norwegian culture which has nothing to do with the Hebrew men and just as the Hebrew boy was mind attacked pushed to swallow the thought of walking life on his own grave. Edvard Munch was supported by the Hebrew men financially to stand out of his own grave! Sven? This is reality! The Hebrew men is not different then others! In fact great Norwegian thinkers left Norway through all times! The Hebrew men are mind attacked into looking as something men is NOT! If fact to day in Norway some people are working hard to make the media information better then it was. The cause of this article coming up!

  • Sven

    The real problem, one that cannot be discussed without leading to calls for blood, is that the Israeli successes, militarily, economically, and socially, have demonstrated that some cultures are superior to others. This result is devastating to the “multiculturalists” and atavistic Marxists on the Left, Islamists, and even Protestant do-gooders who cannot comprehend how Jews can be doing so much better than they are.

    Without the psychological change and cultural adjustment required to admit this reality, the forces that deserve to disappear will continue to flail at anything that demonstrates their failure. Like the chicken that has had its head cut off, these forces continue to run around, spewing blood, not even aware they are already dead.

  • Improve!
    Our glob magnets forces and air pressures on men’s brains are not equal on the surface of our planet, so is the men. Not equal in reflection. The cause of the Torah taking shape in time space outside of Israel and the cause of Christianity and Islam birth, the quick human moves on our planet do have en effect on men’s behavior. Samuel Beckett – “Waiting for god” didn’t help. Objectivity of balance is seen and understood differently by human different everyday life changing habits. The cause for the easy creation of chaos, young men recruited to ISIL, the refugees on move and a USA man in political campaign says “P***y” out of boredom. And life goes on. Should we human create a common language for objective balance? It is impossible? Language is limited by man. The only way of life is respect among men. A Hebrew boy at school was mentally attacked by a Norwegian Christian boy who said “You Hebrew boy your people are as a smoked cigarette”, the Hebrew boy did complain, the teacher says “You must withstand it” is this a objective balance in mind of a teacher in a country who has the Nobel Peace Prize? It is easy to give away an award to man, but not easy to fix a boy destroyed mind.
    http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/Eleven-holdt-et-askebeger-foran-den-jodiske-gutten-og-sa-Det-er-sann-ditt-folk-ser-ut-8332729.html

  • Our glob magnets and the air pressure on men’s brains are not equal on the surface of our planet, so is the men. Not equal in reflection. The cause of the Torah taking shape in time space outside of Israel and the cause of Christianity and Islam birth, the quick human moves on our planet do have en effect on men’s behavior. Samuel Beckett – “Waiting for god” didn’t help. Objectivity of balance is seen and understood differently by human different everyday life changing habits. The cause for the easy creation of chaos, young men recruited to ISIL, the refugees on move and a USA man in political campaign says “P***y” out of boredom. And life goes on. Should we human create a common language for objective balance? It is impossible? Language is limited by man. The only way of life is respect among men. A Hebrew boy at school was mentally attacked by a Norwegian Christian boy who said “You Hebrew boy are as a smoked cigarette”, the Hebrew boy did complain, the teacher says “You just get use to it” is this a objective balance in mind of a teacher in a country who has the Nobel Peace Prize? It is easy to give away an award to man, but not easy to fix a boy destroyed mind.

    • len

      whew that reminds me of a 10th grade English literature class project. A lot of useless words that don’t add up to a hill of beans so to speak. Here we go again with victimization meets philosophical poetry. Mr. Fedida if you know this Hebrew boy do me a favor ,tell him to sign up to a reputable martial arts combative class and let’s not get too dramatic about this to freak him out or try to feel his pain and encourage this damn victimization mentality, when he learns his skills and he proceeds to punch the shit out of the Norwegian Christian Boy it will be the Christian Boy’s turn to hear the teacher’s sermon. Either the Christian boy will learn his lesson and will live and let live or he will bring his brothers, friends, cousins etc. to up the ante. Either way, either the Christian Boy will learn to respect the people he doesn’t necessarily like or the Hebrew boy will have to ask himself why he is in this country when there is no guarantee of living a free and safe life. May God bless the Jewish State of Israel.

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