Proud To Be A Delegate -

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Middle East Dialogue, Some History

1. V said

The only comment I would make on this is that Kurdistan will be a landlocked nation surrounded by enemies. The Turks and Iranians hate Kurds as much as Saddam ever did. The creation of American-back Kurdistan would 1) demonstrate to both the Sunnis and Shiites that the real purpose of the American invasion was to dismember Iraq, 2) encourage trouble amongst the Kurdish minorities just across the borders in Iran and Turkey. I suppose they can always ship their oil south, and pay 50% tax to the Shiites. So I don't think Kurdistan is viable, long term.
There is also the problem that the Kurds are also Sunnis, rather than Shiites. Kurds simply aren't Arabs, ethnically. So I don't see much future for an Autonomous Region of Kurdistan under a Shiite-majority national government.
I don't know of any history of Middle Eastern countries fighting each other. They hate Israel because the country was stolen, but I don't think Syria has ever fought Iraq, for example. And the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Omanis, and even Yemeni simply never fight anyone. Yemen had a civil war or something? There is perhaps some lingering hate of The Turk, but I don't think the Turks look south much any more. The Kurds are generally hated for, among other things, being the "cossacks" for the Turks during the Ottoman Empire. If you got too uppity, they sent in the Kurds.
For simply centuries, if not millennia, The Levant, aka Lebanon, was a model of peace and harmony with Christians and Moslems living together and agreeing to disagree on the weekends. Then non-Lebanese people decided to have a war there, causing uncounted billions of dollars in property damage. Lebanon is properly a province of Syria. I don't understand why there is such a big deal about Syrian "occupation". Would an American occupation be better? Dinky Lebanon can't afford to defend itself, and so there are lots of Lebanese who own guns, including stuff you can't generally buy at the Sporting Goods department at WalMart.

2. R said.

I was talking to Israelis the other day and they say that they used to go to each other’s parties and houses in the thirties and forties. It was the creation of a democracy that the Arab rulers hate and they use other reasons to inflame the people. As long as power remains in a few hands the Arab elites are comfortable that they won’t have uprisings and peoples rebellions. This was a new way for me to look at the issue because I thought it was racial/religious. Most Israelis do not think so, according to my guides.

3. V said.

Um, I kinda thought it was the opposition to the Zionists. In 1935 there were something on the order of 30,000 Jews in Palestine, and 1 million Moslems. The Zionists were the terrorists. The Moslems were acting civilized. The English army was trying to hold open violence down. The English government was trying to get more Zionists to move to Palestine. The Moslem government officials (Palestine was a Protectorate. The Moslems were allowed to have a pretend government under the English governor.) They were strongly opposed to the arrival of more Zionists because the announced intention of the Zionist movement was to steal control on the country.

After 1945, the English simply failed in their attempts to control immigration to Palestine, regardless of Palestinian complaints. When they thought they had enough guns, the Zionists staged a coup and installed a Socialist Theocracy, under which Moslems and Christians were second-class citizens. Zionists are, among other things, Socialists. The locals looked on this coup as an invasion by Europeans.

I understand that in the Moslem tradition religious leaders are also normally civil rulers, because Mohammed was, um, both king and pope. And I understand that Mohammed had direct, personal combat with Jews early in his career. (Um, Mohammed was a bandit? Many of the local merchants were Jews? Something like that.) So there is not much of a tradition of peace and harmony between the 2.

During the centuries when the area was completely controlled by Moslem governments, I believe it was remarkably peaceful (ignoring Napoleon's invasion of Palestine in 1797 or something). Small numbers of Christians and Jews lived there under no particular threat, and it was possible to make a visit, as long as it was clear that you weren't some kind of conquering crusader. "And kill Infidels" was of course a fundamental principle of the Moslem religion, but this was tempered by the Middle Eastern tradition of Hospitality to Travelers.

In 1918, the Arabs had every reason to believe that the English had helped them win a war of national liberation against The Turk. As with many other silly natives who have dealt with the Imperial Englanders, the Arabs found out that they had been suckered. The Englander had wanted them to help with the FIGHTING, but the Arab lands were then put under the control of English governors, and Syria/Lebanon was given to the French, for no particular reason. This did not make for a lot of happy campers amongst the Arab veterans who had fought side-by-side with the English. Colonel Lawrence was of course disgusted when he found out that he also had been snookered, by his own government. So he accepted the promotion and medals because it got him a private cabin on the ship home, and then he quit.

I believe that many Middle Eastern Moslems are really nasty people, in cruel, bloodthirsty kinda ways. And I believe that many of their governments are remarkably corrupt and generally incompetent (perhaps worse then even Italy). Syria is run in a very nasty manner. I would hate to be a middle class shopkeeper there. But they get to decide how they want to live in their own countries. Simply thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of Palestinians had their land stolen by the Israel government. This theft continues today as an organized policy of the government. There was/is a law in Israel that if a veteran wishes to attend a seminary and become a cleric, his entire tuition is paid by the government. Some years back, an Israeli Moslem (Palestinians who did not flee the fighting are of course nominally full citizens of what has always been their country) who had finished his time with the army applied under the program. The Theocracy went into shock. His application was of course rejected. The program existed ONLY to train rabbis at public expense. They thought everybody understood this and it showed remarkably bad manners for this guy to make a scene by exposing the rampant religious discrimination on which the government and its laws are based. He was a soldier. He refused to back down. He appealed. I think the case was headed for the Israeli Supreme Court. I never heard how it turned out.

As GK Chesterton said on Irish Home Rule, "Better a bad government of your own than a good government of someone else's."

4. R Reply to V

You are probably right that it is ultimately Zionism. This idea of anti-democracy might have been for US consumption. But it was given to me by several tour guides.

I believe that self-rule is desirable, even if shoddily performed (the US practiced with the articles of Confederation and our Civil War) – I am glad that we only have one displaced people in the US. Any acre in Middle East has been ‘owned’ by dozens of peoples. So the Israelis are not the first, but they aim to be the last. Who knows? As an aside, Israel is a jewel – I crossed two other borders, Jordan and Egypt. Jordan was ok, Egypt was very ugly. Tourist police to prevent bus hijackings and half-built hotels (I have since found to avoid taxes, not because they couldn’t finish them).

But this leads me to a conclusion. Most of our models of what is normal do not necessarily apply there. Not that logic is thrown out, but some of our ideas of cause and effect probably are. Everyone tells the story differently.

5. Liberty or Death Reply to R 2

R, I think the Israelis you talked to over generalized. There are many regimes that fear democracy because it would mean the end of their despotic rule. Most of those states we call friends. The people of the Middle East don't care one way or the other. The desire for democracy is not an innate human trait. As you recall from the proceedings of the constitutional congress proceedings a monarchy was seriously considered. Iran is a theocratic democracy. It is not a free democracy, but the civil government is a democracy. They just answer to the clerics, but this is informal. The Palestinians are a democracy. Hamas no friend of Israel, working within the democratic system won the elections.

No Arab is going to look to Israel as a role model for government or anything else. A significant %age of the population hates the Jews for what they are. Iran was not preaching to the choir when they said they would remove Israel from the map. This hatred is religious not form of government.

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