The death of a myth
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 12, 2004
One central myth has guided American Middle East policy for more than three decades: to wit, that resolution of the Palestinian-Israel conflict holds the key to curing the region’s manifold deformations. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman put that myth to rest for good last week – at least as far as the Bush administration is concerned – when he publicly told Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in Cairo that democratization of the Middle East is too urgent to "wait until there is full peace [between Israel and the Palestinians]." (The State Department had been the last holdout within the Bush administration.) For Israelis long inured to bad news, Grossman's statement is indeed cause for celebration.
The old doctrine, however, would doubtless return in full force in a Kerry administration. Witness how the New York Times trotted out Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski on Monday to instruct Vice-President Cheney that neither Palestinians nor Iraqis will be attracted to the virtues of democracy as long as their lands are under Israeli and American occupation, respectively. Brzezinski implied that the Bush administration’s focus on Arab democracy is nothing more than a device to avoid "any serious American effort to push the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a genuine peace settlement."
The thesis that the Palestinian-Israel conflict has caused the endemic failures of the Arab world cannot bear five minutes scrutiny. Even a brief catalogue of those failures makes clear Israel’s irrelevance. Israel had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, at the cost of more than a million lives on both sides, or with his decision more than a decade later to invade Kuwait. Similarly, Israel did not cause the brutal decade-long civil war in Algeria, and is not responsible for the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which recently prompted Saudi Arabia to contemplate building a fence across its southern border. The mutual loathing of Sunni and Shiite Moslems, so chillingly on display in Iraq last week, precedes the creation of the state of Israel by 1200 years.
Most importantly, Israel’s existence cannot explain the chronic backwardness of Arab nations, despite being blessed with the world’s most valuable natural resources. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), produced by a group of Arab intellectuals under the auspices of the U.N., identified three areas of deficit that characterize the Arab world: knowledge, democracy, and the status of women.
Arab states rank lowest on the freedom scale of the world’s seven regions. Arab despots are so terrified of their subjects that they fear to grant them access to knowledge. Internet connectivity in the Arab world ranks behind that of sub-Saharan Africa. The entire Arab world translates 300 books annually. Greece alone translates five times as many.
Arab expenditures on research and development as a percentage of gross national product are one-seventh of the world average. From 1980-2000, Arab countries registered 370 patents; Israel with less than one-fortieth the population registered 7,652. Any Arab who does manage to acquire a decent education quickly flees for the freedoms of the West, creating a massive brain drain. The result: the total GNP of 22 Arab nations, with 280 million people, is less than that of Spain, with a population of 40 million.
In light of the Arab world’s complete failure to keep apace of the West, it is pointless to ask why Arabs hate the West. As the great Orientalist Bernard Lewis notes, "It is very natural that they should. Your have this millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning." Those who are rich, strong, and successful are always likely to be despised by those who are the opposite.
Take any hotspot around globe where large numbers of people are being killed, and you will find angry Moslem men between the ages of 18 and 25 at the center of the action. (In Israel, they start younger and women join in the action.) Every single act of terrorism since 9/11 has been perpetrated by Islamic fanatics.
Arab and Moslem hatred of Israel is a subspecies of the generalized hatred of the West; only hatred of Israel is more intense because Israel is viewed as a projection of the West into the midst of Arab territory.
Israel is not the cause but the excuse for the Arab failure to join the modern world. Arab dictators require Israel as an object of hatred to distract the attention of their subject populations from their ignorance, poverty, and lack of freedom. So long as Israel exists in any form, they will continue to use Israel as a pretext for martial rule. As Lewis said in a Jerusalem lecture last week, "The great fear of Arab leaders is not that America will fail to establish a democracy in Iraq, but that it will succeed."
The Egyptian claim that democratization of the Arab world cannot take place as long as "Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people continues," is tantamount to a schizophrenic refusing to take desperately needed medication in order to punish his loving parents who are begging him to take it.
And Dr. Z is in the position of the psychiatrist who encourages that refusal.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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