Friday, July 27, 2007

Never passing up an opportunity

Ever notice how the Palestinians are the "caboose" of the Arab world? Meaning, they always adopt something that's old hat elsewhere and about to go out of style. For example, the PLO adopted radical nationalism in its 1964 charter, just when radical Arab nationalism was about to be discredited by the 1967 war. In the 1970s, it adopted radical Marxism, when that was about to be replaced by radical Islam. In the 1980s, the PLO clung to this orientation long after it was discredited. Then it reverted briefly to radical nationalism, supporting Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Only slowly did radical Islamic ideas and movements penetrate among the Palestinians, really only since the late 90s. By that point, they were old hat in the Shi'ite world of their Iranian sponsors, and they're presently becoming old hat among Sunnis as well. Indeed, now that Iraqis are the victims of suicide bombings and other radical-Islamic barbarities, splattered all over al Jazeera and al Arabiya, radicalism of that sort seems to be acquiring a bad rap in the Middle East. Not a moment too soon.

People speculate on why this should be so, but I think it's obvious: the Palestinians have no real developed politics of their own, only what various sponsors feed them for their own purposes. Far from being the "root cause" of the Middle East's problems generally, they are in fact the "outermost branch effect," a function of everything else - very much the tail, not the dog.

The Palestinian problem persists in part because the rest of the world, the West especially, has accepted without much question a set of wrong or misleading assumptions about the conflict's origin and nature. These assumptions were first promulgated by radical Arab leaders in the 1930s; became accepted in the West at first only in reactionary, anti-semitic, and oil-connected circles, in the 1940s and 50s; then adopted by the New Left in the 1970s as part of its ideology of "noble savagery"; and today are repeated by implication, with little awareness, in the media. The purest form of this poison can be found in the academic "Middle Eastern studies" cult. The media-diplomatic version is a watered-down version of same.

The Arab-Jewish conflict over Palestine (which is what it really is) is not "the" Middle Eastern conflict or problem - it's one of many, and not even the most important. It has produced four major wars, plus a number of less intense, but more dragged out, episodes. The first and third of those wars (in 1948-49 and 1967) produced somewhat less than a million refugees on both sides, all told. A number of conflicts in the modern Middle East have generated each significantly more refugees. The largest was the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which produced between one and two million deaths and about five million refugees. The Armenian genocide of 1915-17 produced a couple million refugees and over a million deaths. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s produced over a million deaths and a couple million refugees. The present civil war in Iraq has produced about a million outgoing refugees (so far), although that should be balanced against returnees.

Nor can it be claimed that the wars are somehow a product of the refugees - the truth is the opposite, of course: it's the wars that produced the refugees - wars started by Arab governments. The Palestinians are the deliberately orphaned tools of these wars - orphaned by those same Arab governments who bear the main responsibility for creating and perpetuating the problem. But spare a little pity for the tools - Newton's third law does apply here. Being used that way - as a tool to beat someone else, or "waving the bloody shirt" - has to hurt. That's where the radical ideologies come in - they're "opiates of the masses," in effect - both painkillers and hallucinogens.

Only the Jordanian government has taken up a smidgen of this responsibility, in that it's the only Arab government that allows Palestinians to become citizens. Palestinians are often looked upon with suspicion by Arab governments and sometimes kicked out when they wear out their welcome. (See Lebanon in the 1970s or Kuwait in 1991.) These governments obtained over 50 years ago a special UN agency (UNRWA) to administer Palestinian Arab refugees, separate from every other refugee problem, which is handled by different agency.

A British diplomat said in the late 40s, right after Israel's independence, that future Western attitudes towards it would be shaped by two factors, oil and anti-semitism. This situation hasn't changed much, at least as far as elites go. The oil factor plays a large role in the anti-Israel attitudes of elites both here and in Europe and, in fact, forms a central force in what might be called the "anti-Israel" lobby. It has limited presence in the more democratic and open parts of our political culture, but it lurks in the background in the more secretive and less public parts - anything connected with oil and oil regimes, and anything funded by oil money - Saudi-financed mosques and imams, "Middle East studies," and key parts of the "realist" foreign policy establishment.

But anti-semitism plays a large role as well. In Europe, it's often just - well - anti-semitism. But both there and here, there is another side: not anti-semitism, but a false perspective of "noble savagery" and victimhood that's imposed on the problem by liberals and the left. This isn't anti-semitism - but it is a consequence of it. These same liberals and leftists are quick to oppose religious intolerance and supremacism in the West on the part of Christians, something the Christian world has taken centuries to outgrow. When faced with something similar in the Muslim world, with similar origins, these same liberals and leftists often become confused, shuffle their feet, and change the subject - when they don't swallow the hatred whole, transform it into self-hatred, and demand that Jews share this self-hatred as a cheap higher virtue.

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