Redefining the Middle East

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Middle East Views: 2217

It may be convenient to perceive the Middle East as a politically charged, fractious region, rife with conflicts and disputes, void of many prospects, save those leading to even further uncertainty and turmoil.

While history is indeed rich with instances that would effortlessly validate such a notion, only disinterested minds would fail to appreciate the immense role played by great European and now American powers in painting such a grim portrait of a region that once served as the cradle of great civilizations.

The seemingly innocent classification of the Middle East as this cohesive, yet inherently violent entity is consistent with utterly militaristic and chauvinistic views constructed by numerous Western scholars, diplomats and military men, whose attempt to reduce a vast, diverse and intricate region has been compelled primarily by their countries' imperialist drive and hunger for territorial and political control.

This imperialist view of the world is understandably simplistic. Appreciating the depth and beauty of a potentially exploitable region can lead to costly hesitation, a loss that empires by definition in need of growth and expansion cannot afford. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the historic Israeli view of Palestinians either the total denial of their existence altogether, or at best the recognition of a far more inferior breed of human was more or less shaped around the same theme applied in a variety of global historic contexts: Native Americans as 'uncivilized', Central American natives as 'heathens', Australian Aboriginals as 'wild dogs', and so forth. Perhaps Palestinians, Native Americans, Mayans and Aboriginals did not have a great deal in common, but their conquerors certainly did: infinite interest in the land and utter disinterest in its indigenous inhabitants.

But why is this notion more relevant today in the Middle East than ever before? Perhaps because some Western powers, led by the United States and Britain insist on ignoring valuable lessons provided by history, and refuse to accept that the world around them is changing, that classic imperialism has already demonstrated its remarkable failure and ineffectuality.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, they still speak of a looming victory in Iraq; they still hope for a submissive Palestinian populace who would be forced to surrender to Israel's dictates; of a sheepish Iran who would beg for mercy at the first threat of being 'referred to the Security Council'; of a gullible Arab populace eager to throw flowers at the feet of the conquerors, and so forth. Not only are such fantasies unlikely to actualise, but they are also utterly condescending and reek with racism.

In the American case, the over-simplification, thus the undermining of the complexities of the Iraqis, the Iranians, etc, exhibits an appalling level of foolishness that continues to expose itself in the perpetual Iraq war and the subsequent conflict with Iran. The American public was simply fed the original lie that created false links between the terrorist attacks of September 11 with various countries across the Middle East; the Pentagon was entrusted in a perpetual military drive, as self-serving, detached and inexperienced neoconservative clusters were told to lead a mindless campaign that has already proven to be an unmatched historic liability.

As some neocons are now distancing themselves from the Iraq disaster and are lining up for teaching jobs at prestigious American universities - the latest being Douglas Feith - others are pushing unreservedly for yet another crusade in Iran, accusing the military of mishandling the Iraq venture and ignoring the real menace to the east. 'Iran, not Iraq is the real danger', tirelessly parrot pro-war pundits.

If it's too much to expect American experts to appreciate the disastrous British experience in Iraq a century ago, is it too much to expect the US to draw its lessons from Iraq before igniting another costly conflict in Iran? Seemingly it is. In fact, according to some 'leading experts' in the very influential American Enterprise Institute - a neocon hub, rife with obsessed intellectuals and heaps of crazy ideas, the Iraq war has already been won. One of their leading figures, Danielle Pletka told me in an interview that many Iranians keep complaining to her, "it's not fair that you liberated the Iraqis and not us." 

Pletka is credited by some for bringing dissident Iraqi figure Ahmad Chalabi into the spotlight after exaggerating his political clout. Chalabi fed the neocons with the lies they needed to make their drive for war possible. Yet when the war proved disastrous, all fingers pointed to Chalabi for 'misleading' the US government.

The US government may wish to carry on with its fantasies, and Blair's new government may trod along as well. The fact of the matter is that the Middle East is eager to define itself according to its own terms and aspirations. It's neither middle, nor an east, and is not destined to eternal violence and chaos. The imperialist West needs to appreciate the complexities of this region, its richness and its growing potential. It needs to abandon the old Israeli view that "Arabs only understand the language of violence."

If the US government wishes to escape its miserable fate in that region, it must redefine its relationship with the Middle East: replacing militancy with diplomacy, coercion with dialogue, and racism with partnership. Either that or uncertainty and chaos will continue to define the region, and define those foolish enough to perceive the Middle East through trite clichs and meaningless slogans.

Veteran Arab American journalist Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. His most recent book is entitled, Writings on the Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London.) He is also the editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle online newspaper.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Middle East
Views: 2217
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Older Comments:
That the west is currently ascendant only means its our turn to be evil rotten ... We're in decline now.

In decline now??? I don't understand this? How could this be so true??? or so...

It may be your turn again soon. It seems you've built up enough self-righteous anger and sense of your own cultural superiority (aka "cliches and meaningles slogans") to fuel a real nice, nasty empi

Hey...look at what the World tells you, LISTEN. The majority of the 'nastiness' (=propaganda, scams, war, whatever!) in this planet do not come from Muslims and not everybody may seem to know that as there has been too much sensationalization by "highly skilled professionals in the West," unfortunately negatively affecting the Muslims!


It would take short of a miracle or a catastrophe for USA to change her politics. As long as USA has dispensable citizens, Blacks and Latinos to accept dying for a miserable price, there will be wars. It goes like this. Black and Latino neibourhoods are flooded with well enginered grief and pestilences. The government through its ,not so ethical institutions, introduces and facilitates drug trafficking in these hoods. The Blacks and the Latinos are kept back and disadvantaged, filling the ranks of the 'forgotten American'. Now, listen to this, when a war starts, all at a sudden the 'forgotten American' is remembered! Nay, declared a hero, especially if he returned to USA dressed in a wooden suit! Whose senator son or daughter is there serving either in Afghanistan or Iraq? So go cattle go! Who cares if you die or live? You are just Americas human trash that we found a way to dispose of by ingergent incineration! I have to say this to anybody that would listen:"Lesser America wake up! You are in majority and you could rule! Pull your heafds out of the corporate America's yoke and kick some butt starting in your hood and bring it up to the steps of the White House! Don't make me think that Malcom X and MLK died for nothing."
Peace out!

The author makes some very good points about the current US governments attitudes towards the middle east. Certainly it seeks to dictate a narrow range of behaviors (be a stable market for cheap oil, don't bother Isreal), and in order to do so it paints a very biased picture of the people in the region.

What I object to is that when the author lists examples from history of empires that degraded native people in order to take their land he mentions only western empires. Far Eastern and Islamic empires also have shining examples of degrading the natives in order to prepare the way for the stealing of their land and crushing of their culture.

For example, where are the Zoroastrians of Persia these days? Many fled to India (which fortunately was too big and populous for the Mughals to completely conquer), where they're now the dwindling community of Parsees. The rest were forced (perhaps by restrictive laws on non-Muslims rather than the sword) to become Muslims. Now the rich Persian culture is all but extinct, crushed and absorbed by a foreign empire. How is this better than the circumstances of the Native Americans (NAs)? The NAs were treated horribly as their land was stolen, but much of the initial destruction was by western disease rather than western armies. Otherwise they may have had the power to hold onto most of their land and culture as the Hindus did in India. Today the NAs have a very hard time practicing their old culture, but they can join the dominant culture with little discrimination. Invade, degrade, convert. Its standard practice for empire expansion and Muslim empires have historically been as good at it as anybody. That the west is currently ascendant only means its our turn to be evil rotten bastards. We're in decline now. It may be your turn again soon. It seems you've built up enough self-righteous anger and sense of your own cultural superiority (aka "cliches and meaningles slogans") to fuel a real nice, nasty empi

Yes...Yes, The mid-east and Muslims all over the world should get redefined and reunite as per ISLAM & HADITH. UNITE..UNITE...UNITE..
not with the help of non-believers.. but-how?

It must be under one union (of ISLAM), as one united Ummah, under one Shariah, have one IMAM/Leader, getting more closer than family members( like Prophet & Sahabah).

We must have united defense organisation, become independent in all fields, have unlimited co-operation in medicine, technology, engineering and industrial advances and so on under one UMBRELLA(Islam & Hadith).

YA-ALLAH- Please help us to unite, unite, unite unite. Aameen.

ONE earth under Quran is the solution.

World wild west: The Rich eat the poor

I hear and understand u and even commiserate with u.

But the point i kept rolling in my mind and saying is that Allah has told us about their type they are ..summum bukmun umyun...and ..fahum la ya'qilun. No matter what u say to a deaf, dumb and blind and also mad, he will not understand u. I tend to agree with those that say we pray earnestly for Allah to change the statusquo. But the fear here is that Allah's change can come in any form unknown to anybody. So in addition to the prayer for change we may add that Allah spares the true believers in Him.

I still believe also that Iran should go ahead with their nuclear programme in earnest.

I rest my case.