April 18, 2007
When the Arabs Blame Israel for Their Problems, They Ignore A World of Self-Inflicted Failure
Dear Friend of FLAME:
David Brooks’ recent New York Times opinion piece, “A war of narratives,” reprinted below, really hits the nail on the head. In the prevailing Arab “narrative,” all the problems in the Arab world are due to Israel. In the Arab world, where Osama bin Laden is the Arabs’ most adulated hero because he committed the 9/11 deed (though everyone in that world also knows that “Israel’s Mossad was responsible for 9/11”), the crazy logic that “Israel is the cause of all Arab misfortunes” does indeed make sense.
However, in our world, a world that strives for rational analysis by means of objectivity and the evaluation of all relevant facts, things look different.
In the real world, Israel cannot be blamed for:
The appalling Arab narrative that Brooks summarizes below reflects a steadfast denial of reality, rooted concretely and unshakably in the Arab concepts of ash-Sharaf (male honor) and al-Haram (shame). To accept blame for failure causes loss of face, shame, loss of honor. So the political and religious and intellectual leadership of the Arab world descend to the irrational fantasy of what Brooks correctly calls the “Zionist-centric mythology,” in order to supply a face-saving scapegoat for their own failures.
Until Arab leaders are willing to accept responsibility for their own cultural dysfunctionality, they and their unfortunate subjects are unlikely to emerge from social, economic and political bankruptcy. Obviously, blaming Israel does not merely miss the point, it also creates a profoundly dangerous misrepresentation of the root cause of the conflict. It confuses the arsonist (obdurate Arab hatred of Jews) with the fire-fighter (Israel defending itself against Arab terrorism). Given this intransigent Arab hatred of Jews and Israel---as well as the message of misappropriated blame---it is not just folly for the USA to pressure Israel to make concessions when negotiating Middle East peace deals; it is actually a mechanism that stokes violence by supporting the Arab lie, and it weakens Israel’s ability to defend itself.
It’s time that Western governments stop pretending to believe the Arab lie. It’s time to address the real root causes of the relentless Arab war against Israel and the Jews.
A War of Narratives
On the Dead Sea, Jordan
I just attended a conference that was both illuminating and depressing. It was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and the American Enterprise Institute, and the idea was to get Americans and moderate Arab reformers together to talk about Iraq, Iran, and any remaining prospects for democracy in the Middle East.
As it happened, though, the Arab speakers mainly wanted to talk about the Israel lobby. One described a book edited in the mid-1990s by the Jewish policy analyst David Wurmser as the secret blueprint for American foreign policy over the past decade. A pollster showed that large majorities in Arab countries believe that the Israel lobby has more influence over American policy than the Bush administration. Speaker after speaker triumphantly cited the work of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter as proof that even Americans were coming to admit that the Israel lobby controls their government.
The problems between America and the Arab world have nothing to do with religious fundamentalism or ideological extremism, several Arab speakers argued. They have to do with American policies toward Israel, and the forces controlling those policies.
As for problems in the Middle East itself, these speakers added, they have a common source, Israel. One elderly statesman noted that the four most pressing issues in the Middle East are the Arab-Israeli dispute, instability in Lebanon, chaos in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran. They are all interconnected, he said, and Israel is at the root of each of them.
We Americans tried to press our Arab friends to talk more about the Sunni-Shiite split, the Iraqi civil war and the rise of Iran, but they seemed uninterested. They mimicked a speech King Abdullah of Jordan recently delivered before Congress, in which he scarcely mentioned the Iraqi chaos on his border. It was all Israel, all the time.
The Americans, needless to say, had a different narrative. We tended to argue that problems like Muslim fundamentalism, extremism and autocracy could not be blamed on Israel or Paul Wolfowitz but had deeper historical roots. We tended to see the Israeli-Palestinian issue not as the root of all fundamentalism, but as a problem made intractable by fundamentalism.
In other words, they had their narrative and we had ours, and the two passed each other without touching. But the striking thing about this meeting was the emotional tone. There seemed to be a time, after 9/11, when it was generally accepted that terror and extremism were symptoms of a deeper Arab malaise. There seemed to be a general recognition that the Arab world had fallen behind, and that it needed economic, political and religious modernization.
But there was nothing defensive or introspective about the Arab speakers here. In response to Bernard Lewis’s question, “What Went Wrong?” their answer seemed to be: Nothing’s wrong with us. What’s wrong with you?
The events of the past three years have shifted their diagnosis of where the cancer is — from dysfunction in the Arab world to malevolence in Jerusalem and in Aipac. Furthermore, the Walt and Mearsheimer paper on the Israel lobby has had a profound effect on Arab elites. It has encouraged them not to be introspective, not to think about their own problems, but to blame everything on the villainous Israeli network.
And so we enter a more intractable phase in the conflict, which will not be a war over land or oil or even democratic institutions, but a war over narratives. The Arabs will nurture this Zionist-centric mythology, which is as self-flattering as it is self-destructive. They will demand that the U.S. and Israel adopt their narrative and admit historical guilt. Failing politically, militarily and economically, they will fight a battle for moral superiority, the kind of battle that does not allow for compromises or truces.
Americans, meanwhile, will simply want to get out. After 9/11, George Bush called on the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Middle East. But now, most Americans have given up on their ability to transform the Middle East and on Arab willingness to change. Faced with an arc of conspiracy-mongering, most Americans will get sick of the whole cesspool, and will support any energy policy or anything else that will enable them to cut ties with the region.
What we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a gap between civilizations, increasingly without common narratives, common goals or means of communication.