Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The collective mentality of the Arab Middle East 

I've been traveling and otherwise heavily occupied for the last few days, and now have to drive through beautiful foliage from York, Pennsylvania back to Princeton. Before I hit the road, though, I leave you with Victor Davis Hanson's list of things he believes we have learned, or learned more deeply, about the warped lens through which Arab Muslims of the Middle East regard the West.

It is difficult in history to find any civilization that asks as much of others as does the contemporary Middle East—and yet so little of itself. If I were to sum up the collective mentality of the current Arab Middle East—predicated almost entirely on the patriarchal sense of lost “honor” and the rational calculation to murder appeasing liberals and appease murdering authoritarians— it would run something like the following:

(1) We will pump oil at $3 and must sell it over $50 — and still blame you for stealing our natural treasure.

(2) We will damn your culture and politics, but expect our own to immigrate in the thousands to your shores; upon arrival any attempt to integrate Muslim immigrants into Western pluralistic society will be seen as Islamaphobic

(3) Send us your material goods, whether machine tools, I-pods, or antibiotics. We desperately want them, but will neither make the necessary changes in our own statist, authoritarian, religiously intolerant, tribal, and patriarchal culture to allow us to produce them ourselves, nor will show any appreciation for the genius of others who can do what we cannot.

(4) We ostensibly wish you to stop the killing of Muslims by ourselves and others—Milosevic murdering Kosovars, Saddam destroying Kuwaitis, Kurds, and Shiites, Russians killing Afghans and Chechnyans — but should you concretely attempt to do so, we will immediately consider your intervention far worse than the mayhem caused by others or ourselves.

(5) Any indigenous failure in the Arab Middle East will eventually be blamed on the United States or Israel.

(6) Your own sense of multiculturalism must serve as an apology for our own violent pathologies, that can only be seen as different from, never worse than, your own culture.

(7) We must at all times talk of anti-Americanism and why we want you out of the Middle East; you must never become anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, much less close your borders to our immigrants and students.

(8) We will tolerate and often defend those who burn churches, ethnically cleanse Jews from our cities, behead priests, kill nuns, and shoot infidels as the necessary, if sometimes regrettable, efforts of our more zealous to defend Islam. But if any free spirit in the West satirizes Islam, we will immediately demand that Western governments condemn such blasphemy — or else!

(9) Material aid—billions to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, or the Palestinians — is our entitlement. Any attempt to curtail it is seen as an assault on the Arab nation.

(10) We are deathly afraid of nuclear Russia, China, and India who have little tolerance for either Islamism or terrorism, and so will ignore their felonies, while killing you for your misdemeanors.

If you have to have a geopolitical adversary, we should be grateful that we have been blessed with such an obviously incoherent and incompetent one. It ought to be a huge advantage. Unfortunately, huge numbers of Westerners -- especially those schooled in our universities in the last thirty years and now populating the chattering classes -- are determined to cede that advantage. How? By declaring that it would be immoral to use the vast array of cultural, social, economic, political and military tools at our disposal for geopolitical gain against the Arab Muslims of the Middle East.

Flip off the safeties and comment at will.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


By Blogger DEC, at Tue Oct 24, 03:33:00 PM:

Victor Davis Hanson has played a useful and important role of the debate about Radical Islam. But he looks at a wide, wide world through a very narrow telescope. He needs to get out of the budget motels and talk to more people in the five-star hotels of the Arab world.

He thinks too much about the "Arab street." Heck, with one credit card I can put 10,000 people on an Arab street.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 24, 05:33:00 PM:


By Blogger Ken McCracken, at Tue Oct 24, 06:31:00 PM:

Yeah, VDH is painting with a very wide brush here.

There are millions of Muslims who consciously know that much of what he is saying is true and needs to be corrected, and are not complicit in these mental illnesses.

Having said that, if one can ever generalize, Islamic societies do seem to have more of their share of pathologies than just about any others.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Oct 24, 10:52:00 PM:

A sad fact of human nature, not just Arab nature, is that the more you give people the less grateful they are, feeling entitled to it almost immediately. Add to this that most Arab societies are clan-based and tribal. All societies in clan or tribal mentality are violent and retributive. Think Hatfields and McCoys. Think Yugoslavia. Think Northern Ireland.

Entitled people seldom need much justification, but Islam provides sanction of the highest order - the will of Allah - to the basest instincts.

Lastly, societies which greatly devalue women create young men with perpetually wounded egos. Boys who pass their mothers in status when they are still very young don't grow up with an ability to accept criticism.

It's a perfect storm - temporarily, we hope.  

By Blogger Jeff M, at Tue Oct 24, 10:54:00 PM:

I have a good friend who's father-in-law was a (really big) officer in the Mossad. His comment on this matter is as follows:

"It is not important that the Arabs LIKE you, what is important is that they FEAR you..."  

By Anonymous Ron, at Tue Oct 24, 11:32:00 PM:

Tigerhawk, PLEASE, for the love of God, stop reading Victor Davis Hanson. He doesn't know diddly squat about the Arab world today. I suggest Juan Cole instead. He won't tell you what you want to hear, so I suppose this advice will come to naught.

VDH is constantly wrong, I've blasted his columns and his predictions numerous times when he is shown to be an ignoramus. Jesus, I mean think about that pumping at three dollars and selling for 50 comment. Is VDH a commodities expert now? Hell, I'm not but even I can understand that production costs arent the only factor in an item's price.

Is there stuff wrong with the Middle East? Yes. Their intellectuals are aware of this, but they have an entrenched power structure that isnt interested in hearing its people, much like our own country. Don't be a bigot like VDH and lump all these people together. He gets paid to be an ass. You don't get paid enough. We have been tribal and clan based in our past, or more specifically race and ethnicity based in the past and still are to some degree today, and we only got around to the cessation of treating humans like oxen about 140 years ago, and gave our women the right to vote only approximately 70 years ago.

With this in mind, what kind of hubris are we entitled to as enlightened people? Who the hell are we to coldly gather the shortcomings of an entire faith?

Stop making unfathomable monsters out of 1/4 of the world population. Remember,alot of them see us as monsters too, is that what you want? That's today's reality, and its a dangerous one. And no matter what you all think, history did not start on 9/11, nor did it start at Mohammed's birth or the Crusades and suddenly skip 1000-1300 years to 2001. If I were you guys, I'd start looking into what the French and the British did to the Middle East after 1915, and what we have done with their help thereafter...and then you might get a picture of why many of today's Arabs hate us so much.

I realize it's useless to talk many of you out of your exceptionalist viewpoint, but I gotta try.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 25, 12:12:00 AM:

I suggest Juan Cole instead.

Damn you man, now I gotta clean all this soda off my screen before it dries sticky.

You shouldn't say shit like that without warning people first.  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Oct 25, 01:10:00 AM:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Oct 25, 01:13:00 AM:

Juan Cole, the guy rejected by Yale?

I am sorry, Ron, but you are in the wrong place. Comedy tryouts are down the hall and on the right.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Oct 25, 02:48:00 AM:

Juan Cole? Great, throw in Louis Farrakhan, David Duke and Pat Buchanan and we can really have a party. "Ron" is probably Cole's sock puppet.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Oct 25, 07:03:00 AM:

First, everybody stop picking on Ron. He made a temperate lefty comment, and that is just fine on this blog.

Second, I do read Juan Cole, probably about as often as I read VDH, which is only occasionally in both cases (a lot of the posts about VDH around here come from my co-bloggers, both of whom probably read him more regularly than I do). Juan Cole certainly knows more about the Middle East than Hanson. Hanson, though, knows a lot more about the nature of war. Cole, in my experiences, processes his considerable knowledge about the Middle East through a bizarre set of assumptions -- or perhaps political opinions -- about what would be a good outcome there. Hanson does tend to make sweeping statements about the region of the sort that Cole is too nuanced to make, but Hanson also has the capacity to make observations from altitude that Cole's specialization make difficult.

Now, about your oil prices point: Hanson would certainly agree that many factors go in to the price of oil other than production cost. It is, however, a competitive market no matter how hard OPEC struggles to make it otherwise, so at the end of the day the oil price reflects the results of global competition in production and demand. I think Hanson's point is not that $50 is an unreasonable price, but that a huge percentage of the Arab-Muslim world "still blame [us] for stealing [their] natural resources." They are far more inclined to do this -- in their public statements as reported by the West's own press, at least -- then they are to blame their own leaders for stealing the proceeds from the sale of oil.

Now, among your other charges. I know a great deal about what the French and British did in the Middle East after 1915, and I know that the United States opposed it, both with regard to the "mandate" system and Iran. I know that in 1946 Stalin would not remove the Soviet Union's troops from northern Iran, which it had occupied to protect the Lend Lease lines, until the Truman administration threatened it very hard. I know that Zionism was a European movement, that the French were the biggest supporters of the state of Israel, and that Europeans were thrilled at the time, if for no other reason than even more of its Jews would leave (the United States did not really become a strong supporter of Israel until 1967, when Cold War rivalries dominated our policy). And I know that it was the United States that prevented a large part of the Middle East from subversion or invasion by the Soviet Union. None of those considerations prevented a large plurality of the Arab and Muslim world from supporting those who would attack the United States, even before March 2003, and leaders of putative allies from providing aid and comfort to people who would destroy us. There is this, and then there is the tiresome tendency of Muslims to declare all infidels equal. Either way, I would say that the West -- even the VDH wing of the West -- has appeared substantially more nuanced in its public discussion of the Arab and Muslim world than the Arab and Muslim world has been in reverse.  

By Blogger raymondshaw, at Wed Oct 25, 09:26:00 AM:

As a matter of some relevance, Juan Cole is a Baha'i, a minor, relatively modern off-shoot of islam.


By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Oct 25, 09:41:00 AM:

That last paragraph of the follow-up comment is more reasoned and rational than the entire post.

On the other hand, you should probably mention the part where we invade Iraq and cause the death of a whole lot of people for no good reason. I hear that has some bearing on our image problem in the Arab world. I think their response has been pretty restrained, actually. If a powerful Arab nation overthrew a Western government based on false pretenses, and proceeded to turn that country to shit, we'd be kinda resentful.  

By Blogger Ken McCracken, at Wed Oct 25, 10:38:00 AM:

Lanky, you know perfectly well that our 'image problem' in the Arab world began a long time before the invasion of Iraq.

Iraq has just become yet another rationalization for putting off the real political work that needs to be done in the ME.  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Oct 25, 12:08:00 PM:

TH, I have done business in Muslim societies for 30 years. I lived in Egypt and Indonesia. I was VP of export services at one of the world's largest banks. Neither Cole nor Hanson has "it" right.

TH wrote: "Cole, in my experiences, processes his considerable knowledge about the Middle East through a bizarre set of assumptions..."

Yes, that is one part of Cole's problem. As every business executive knows, "Erroneous assumptions lead to bad decisions." Ask President Bush.

Re: "...so at the end of the day the oil price reflects the results of global competition in production and demand..."

That is true except in cases of government interference. OPEC is government interference.

TH: "I know a great deal about what the French and British did in the Middle East..."

A forty-something female art dealer in Cairo made an interesting comment to me not long ago. She said: "Egypt should have been under the French rather than the British during the Colonial Period. The French always gave back to their colonies. The British just took."  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Wed Oct 25, 01:22:00 PM:

Lanky Bastard, when you can include a phrase like "for no good reason" in what might otherwise have been a reasonable post, you identify yourself as a person who must see things in black-and-white. To claim there was not reason enough, or that losses outweigh gains is one thing; to make such sweeping claims goes far beyond any exaggeration that might attach to VDH.

DEC, you do sound like one who knows something. But if your Egyptian lady were correct, then Vietnam, Algeria, and Senegal would be better places to live than Canada, Australia, and India.

Ron, not all criticism of other cultures is necessarily arrogance or exceptionalism. That is a false dichotomy on your part. The US has been quite content, in the main, to let other countries go as they will. The same accusation against us that you make for the middle-east was made against us about Central and South America not so long ago. We maintained that we were only attempting to oppose hegemony by the Soviets. That was generally laughed at by the chattering classes at the time. Guess what? It was true. The Soviet Union stopped interfering in Latin America, and they now elect whatever governments they want and make whatever trade agreements they want, with the US doing no more than attempting to influence and negotiate, as all nations do with each other.

It is plausible to think that "they hate us because of our decades of awful foreign policy." It is an explanation that could have been true. But closer examination reveals it to be a facile excuse by nations that have shamed themselves.  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Oct 25, 01:41:00 PM:

"Vietnam, Algeria, and Senegal would be better places to live than Canada, Australia, and India."

And if she is right, Algeria would be a better place to live than Zimbabwe.

That's a silly game. We both know a lot of different factors had an impact on where nations are today.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Wed Oct 25, 02:00:00 PM:

I can't read Juan Cole, just can't. His egregious behavior after the murder of Steven Vincent was reprehensible. His comments were so inflamatory that he forced a grieving widow to abandon her mourning and defend her dead husband.

As Jack Aubrey might say, "The man is a scrub."

VDH, on the other hand, provides lucid and insightful analysis. He sees connections others miss and explains them in a clearly understood manner.

this statement is offensive:

Is there stuff wrong with the Middle East? Yes. Their intellectuals are aware of this, but they have an entrenched power structure that isnt interested in hearing its people, much like our own country

to compare our government to, oh let's say the Ba athists is to deny the power of democracy. I suspect that Ron is upset that Bush has made choices with which Ron disgrees. It's a democracy and our foreign policy has been the center piece of elections. The Democrats seem to be shy about this, but the foreign policy issue is part of this cycle as well.

I have an answer to this question as well:

Who the hell are we to coldly gather the shortcomings of an entire faith?

We are the victims of an assault on our civilization perpetrated in the name of Allah, that's who we are to coldly gather these shortcomings.

both Hassan Nasrallan and Mookie Sadr always appear in public dressed in the garb of the muslim clergy. The supreme leader of Iran, a country which celebrated Eid with a Death to America pageant BTW, is an Ayatollah. An aytollah is supposedly more holy than a mere mullah or Imam.

It's the faith Ron. And its long past time we faced this. As long as they kill us in the name of their god, we must fight them and their faith. It's sad, it really is.

For myself, I'm not making monsters out of arab/muslims. It seems to me that they are quite adept at generating such monsters on their own. Blaming their hatred on our behavior is simply a form of denial. they hate us because they hate. hatred is a clear part of their culture. It matters not what we do.

How else to explain the arab on arab violence we see? Combine corruption with hatred and blend in the prevailing Inshallah attitudes and it is clear that mayhem will be with them for at least a generation.

So their hate is their problem, not ours. This is war, not group therapy. If I could replace their hatred with another strong emotion it would be FEAR Ron.

In the short run these people must come to understand that attacking or threatening America has grave consequences. Until they realize this they will never stop coming at us.

In the long run we can try your navel gazing anger management approach to foreign policy, but for now we need to eliminate their ability to act on their irrational hatred.  

By Blogger Consul-At-Arms, at Wed Oct 25, 08:18:00 PM:

I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/10/re-collective-mentality-of-arab-middle.html  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Oct 25, 08:29:00 PM:


Regarding: A forty-something female art dealer in Cairo made an interesting comment to me not long ago. She said: "Egypt should have been under the French rather than the British during the Colonial Period. The French always gave back to their colonies. The British just took."

Recognizing that there were undoubtedly some French colonies that were better than some British ones, I do think that the weight of evidence favors the British contribution over the French, notwithstanding the opinion of your acquaintance. The same may not be true of the 20th century "mandates" in the Middle East, but they were neither legally nor actually colonies.

The key British contribution is the Common Law of England, which defines property rights, freedom of contract, individual rights against the state, and requires honest judges. The result has been that former English colonies seem much better at "economic value-added" than former French colonies, at least on average.

Zimbabwe, even, was as Rhodesia a great success, even for blacks (at least materially). The fact that the present government has systematically destroyed the British contribution does not make that contribution any less significant.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Oct 25, 09:02:00 PM:

Egyptians receive a very one sided education about the history of their country, and are taught to see the British as some sort of imperialist super-devils who, through their cruelty and mismanagement, are near single-handedly responsible for the poor state of modern Egypt. (with quick cameos by Israel, King Farouq, and the dictators since)

The centuries of misrule by Ottoman aristocrats and corrupt tax-farmers are mysteriously absent from the equation.

"If a powerful Arab nation overthrew a Western government based on false pretenses, and proceeded to turn that country to shit, we'd be kinda resentful."

Consider it this way.

"If a powerful Arab nation overthrew a Western dictatorship based on convincing evidence, and proceeded to install a free system, we'd be kinda grateful."

For someone who's supposed to appreciate multiple points of view, your thinking is often remarkably one sided. Not to mention misleading. (False pretenses? That implies that the national leadership knew that they had false information; information which literally almost every other country in the world believed too)

Allow me to direct you to this....


Because I know some of you are lazy, here's a quick excerpt.

"It was the moral duty of America, as the greatest and strongest power in this world, to topple these rodents, [Saddam and Omar] who treated their people ferociously. We should be happy." - Iyad Jamal Al-Din, Iraqi Member of Parliament

Mind boggling, I know.  

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