Barry Rubin in the Jerusalem Post articulates a widespread malady among the Western intelligentsia:
The idea that poverty, relative backwardness, violence and instability must be caused by external circumstances is ingrained in much of the Western intelligentsia. It contributes to a tendency to apologize for those regimes and radical groups that are the main cause of continued stagnation and suffering in the Middle East.
In fact, of course, these problems are usually based more on history, culture, geography, ideology and choices made.
For example, Muslim-majority countries have much lower participation of women in society; are more rural and agricultural, and have had no enlightenment or industrial revolution. Governments don’t care about developing good health and educational systems. Lack of freedom and cultural restrictions – things changed and challenged in Europe from the 16th century onwards – harm economic development and social progress. And so on.
Yet the idea that underdevelopment or instability is caused by imperialism is so highly developed among the Western intelligentsia that it ignores the fundamental internal shortcomings that are the real problem, thus understating the problems caused by traditional culture, the need for reform or the value of the virtues that led to Western successes.
MOST REVEALING in this respect is a recent exchange between Syrian author Nidhal Na’isa and Egyptian cleric Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khouli on al-Jazeera television, October 30, 2007. Khouli said: “Western civilization is not really a civilization.”
Na’isa responded by asking, “How did you come here [Qatar] from Egypt in two hours? On camels, it used to take you over six months to make a pilgrimage.” [translations by www.memritv.org] He might have added: Who developed the technology making it possible for you to speak to millions of people through airwaves to a box with pictures and sounds?
Other Arab liberals have pointed out that the ability to build airplanes is superior to the ability to crash them into buildings (the September 11 attacks).
INDEED, there are four main pillars critical to the Middle East’s dominant ideology:
“¢ that its problems arise from Western and Israeli oppression;
“¢ that the struggles and violence of radical Arab nationalists and Islamists are based on genuine grievances;
“¢ that the West behaves wrongly because it is hostile or ignorant about Arabs and Muslims;
“¢ and that Arab and Muslim society is vastly superior to the West – which justifies their rejection of it and will ultimately pave the way for their victory over it.
The first three pillars are too commonly accepted in the West; the last is largely ignored – creating a critical flaw in Western thinking, since the key to understanding the Middle East is not “Islamophobia” in the West, but the region’s own “Westophobia.” Within this broad category we can discern many other phobias: of modernity, secularity, democracy, freedom, female equality and of Judaism and Christianity.
THE BOTTOM LINE is that change is needed not in Western policies and perceptions, but in the Middle East itself. After all, the West succeeded precisely – as Arab liberals well understand – because its societies put a priority on internal change: education and honest inquiry; productive virtues; better social infrastructure; more human and civil rights; and a freer culture.
Confronted by the daily avalanche of naÃ¯ve nonsense or outright mendacity about the Middle East in the Western media, academia, and sometimes governments, I am haunted by something a Syrian friend told the “Syrian Journal” author:
“You know what pisses me off the most? Not the fascists here. But the appeasers in the West. What sort of message is that sending to us – those of us who want some reform, who want our children to live in an open society like you have in the West?”