wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Barry Rubin

The Tragedy of the Middle East

After all, if foreigners were not to blame for the overwhelming problems facing the nation, the next likely culprit had to be the government itself. This is a common technique in politics, during all eras and everywhere in the world, but it has been used with particular effectiveness in the Middle East.

Syria's use of the Arab-Israeli dispute to justify and maintain its military presence and control of Lebanon as a satellite is a superb example of such an argument's indispensable usefulness. When Gibran Tueni, editor of the Lebanese newspaper al-Nahar, published an open letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in 2000 asking him to withdraw Syria's army from Lebanon, Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud, always submissive to Syria, could squelch the rather mild request by responding, 'This broken record is played with pro-Israeli motivations every time there are developments that may favor Lebanese and Syrian interests.' Tueni answered sadly but uselessly, 'It is a pity that someone who calls for the minimum standards of sovereignty and independence for his country is accused of treason.' Yet that complaint could be extended to the way any call for reform has been treated in the Arab world.

Any proposal for reform could be squelched by labeling it an alien Western notion, as if every import were a Trojan horse sent to weaken Arab resolve or Iranian morality and thereby make them easy prey to conquest.

Since the Arabs were said to be imperiled by merciless and evil enemies—Western imperialism, Zionism, traitors at home—who were responsible for everything wrong, they must fight on and on, never losing but never winning. They could not devote more efforts to construction, for they must man the battlements. They cannot challenge their own governments, because the endless war requires national unity. And what could be better portrayed as an example of imperialist and racist thinking than the simple observation that Arab governments and societies might actually have some real responsibility for their own fate? This has been a profoundly crippling tendency. If the proper question to be asked is, 'Who did this to us?' the response must be to unravel a conspiracy, and the issue will be how to fight better. But if the question is, 'What did we do wrong?' then the next step must be to figure out how to fix the problem by changing one's own thinking, methods, and institutions. Moreover, to argue that solutions were possible only when the 'enemies' were defeated—which was never going to happen—meant the endless postponement of the steps needed to find real solutions. This was the catch-22 of Arab politics: Nothing can be done until Palestine is liberated or U.S. influence expelled, or until unity comes for all Arabs or Muslims, and since these things have not happened, then the desperately needed steps to solve the Arabs' problems must wait.