by Barry Rubin
It’s fascinating to see not only the Middle East going backward but Western analysts and officials cheering on a return to even more war and terrorism. A good example is “In Tumult, New Hope for Palestinian Cause” by Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times.
Let’s take one paragraph and see what it tells us:
In all the tumult of the Arab revolts, one of the most striking manifestations of change is a rejuvenated embrace of the Palestinian cause. The burst in activism in Egypt, Lebanon and even Tunisia has offered a rebuttal to an old bromide of Arab politics, that authoritarian leaders cynically inflamed sentiments over Israel and Palestine to divert attention from their own shortcomings. But the embrace of the issue also helped confirm its status as a barometer of justice and freedom for many Arabs and Muslims. And now, the demands of an empowered public raise the possibility of a significant change in the region’s foreign policies which, at least tacitly, capitulated to the dictates of the United States and Israel.
By the way, all of this also applies to anti-Americanism. Now let’s take it one piece at a time:
In all the tumult of the Arab revolts, one of the most striking manifestations of change is a rejuvenated embrace of the Palestinian cause.
Wasn’t it a few weeks ago that the alleged lack of obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict was a sign of progress toward moderation and democracy? Now we are told the exact opposite! And nobody in the mass media even notes that this is a contradiction!
The burst in activism in Egypt, Lebanon and even Tunisia has offered a rebuttal to an old bromide of Arab politics, that authoritarian leaders cynically inflamed sentiments over Israel and Palestine to divert attention from their own shortcomings.
I love this one! First, it isn’t “an old bromide” at all since, while people like me have written about this, it has not penetrated the mainstream, which has continually insisted that the inflaming was a reflection of real public sentiments. Of course, we know these are real hatreds or they wouldn’t be so easily inflamed.
What’s happening now, of course, is that the oppositions — including and even mainly so Islamists — are cynically inflaming sentiments in order to discredit the old regimes and mobilize support for themselves.
But the embrace of the issue also helped confirm its status as a barometer of justice and freedom for many Arabs and Muslims.
In fact, the embrace of this issue shows that people can still be bought off by inflaming nationalist and religious sentiments rather than providing more freedom or better living standards. It’s the road to dictatorship, violence, and demagoguery. Who says only the old “authoritarian leaders” could play this game? The new authoritarian leaders will also do so.
When presidential frontrunner Amr Moussa visited a village, Reuters reported one villager saying:
“We don’t even have proper drinking water. Over there they are drinking mineral water from bottles because we don’t have sweet water….” Villagers pointed to the broken roads and the lack of sewerage. They described the local school where there are 65 children to a class.”
Providing teachers, schoolrooms, roads, and water pipes is expensive; providing xenophobic demagoguery is cheap. There’s no money but there is a lot of guns and hatred. So channeling it against Israel and America is a good thing? Is that going to help the people?
And now, the demands of an empowered public raise the possibility of a significant change in the region’s foreign policies which, at least tacitly, capitulated to the dictates of the United States and Israel.
It is amazing how Western reporters accept radical Arab nationalism and Islamism as the proper behavior. Did, for example, President Hosni Mubarak “capitulate” to “dictates”? Note that these reporters aren’t saying this is the claim of others. Rather they are agreeing to this claim. Mubarak, then, according to the New York Times correspondents, was indeed a running dog lackey of Western imperialism and Zionism.
Did Sadat make peace because he was capitulating to pressure or because it was in Egypt’s interest to do so? And suppose — it is not going to happen but I’m trying to make a point here — the Palestinian Authority made peace with Israel. Wouldn’t that mean they were capitulating “to the dictates of the United States and Israel” and thus should be overthrown or killed?
This is, of course, the line of Hamas which is now echoed by the New York Times. And, of course, the Palestinian Authority leaders are aware of this popular view which is one of many reasons why they won’t make peace with Israel.
So did Mubarak (actually his predecessor, Anwar al-Sadat) just “sell out” or did he: get back the Sinai, bring a much-needed peace that benefited Egypt, get back the oilfields, get the Suez Canal open, and obtain about $60 billion of U.S. aid including military equipment?
Yet this is the radical cry: We gave in and got nothing! So what’s the next step? Courageous resistance! More war, more terrorism, more intransigence, more decades of conflict, more wasted lives and resources! This is something to celebrate as some proof of thirst for democracy and justice?
And what is their goal? A just and lasting two-state solution based on compromise, or wiping Israel off the map?
In other words, once again, the march toward suicidal policies is being applauded in the West while the pragmatists who sought to follow another road –not democratic but at least more practical and development-oriented — are called traitors.
The problem with these particular journalists and many others is that while once the reporting was slanted, it is increasingly on the other side, the side of the new totalitarians, the terrorists (and I don’t mean al-Qaeda), and the anti-Americans. Radicals and anti-Americans — especially the Muslim Brotherhood — are portrayed as good; real moderates or allies of the United States — the regime in Egypt, the oppositions in Turkey and Lebanon as well as Iran — are portrayed as bad, betrayed, or ignored.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com