Thursday, February 1, 2007

Bigots and history

Neo-cons, orientalists and Zionists gathered recently in Israel to confirm their fantasies about history, people and politics

By Azmi Bishara
Al-Ahram Weekly

"The seventh annual Herzliya Conference, held in the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre, featured a rarefied blend of neo-conservatives and old-guard conservatives who have preserved their "unbounded vitality and eternal youthfulness", as one might hear in the plug for one of our video clip starlets these days. How it warmed the heart to see assembled together in a single conference such illustrious figures as the eternal orientalist Bernard Lewis, the permanently startled Shimon Peres, the notorious Richard Perle and, of the same clique, former CIA director James Woolsey.

Where else in the world could you come across these sorts of people and other leeches upon this part of the world underneath one roof? It could only be in Israel, of course, which has become one of the major centres for provoking the clash of civilisations and cultures, and for glorifying "Western civilisation", in which Israel so unreservedly situates itself, in spite of the "Third Worldness" and corruption that pervade its mass culture and the mindset of its politicians. Israel has made itself a forum for economic liberalism and the politics of globalisation (to be read as Americanisation), without self-criticism inside the conference hall and without demonstrations outside. Herzliya, after all, is not Vancouver where people are mad enough to protest against this type of conference. It is located on the most extreme and most extremist fringe of Western colonialist culture; it is, according to Zionism's self- definition, the West's "spearhead against Eastern barbarianism," as that Zionist hero, Osishkin, put it in order to win the British over to the Zionist enterprise......

The crusader state, in its heyday, succeeded marvellously in turning brother ruler against brother ruler and conquering its neighbouring statelets, even without the advantages of state-of-the-art technological superiority and nuclear might. Indeed, they used very much the same instruments of war that the Arabs had and they didn't even enjoy the degree of social and scientific advancement the Arabs had attained at the time. And they certainly didn't have to convene a Herzliya conference. Their ally was the fragmented structure of the surrounding statelets and their mutual rivalries and suspicions. These are the historical circumstances that we cite metaphorically in order to warn of the consequences of failing to build a nation founded upon the concept of citizenship.

Believe it or not, this metaphor is closer to present day realities than Bernard Lewis's theories. The Arabs have made some progress since the Middle Ages -- some considerable progress: Israel can't keep them down or even preserve itself without technological superiority and other forms of superiority, unlike the crusader state which lasted for some 200 years without these advantages. But the unresolved problem of nationalism, Israel, and the failure to build a democratic civil state are definitely among the foremost factors to have stalled this progress. Meanwhile, the folks at Herzliya have their own theories to expound on the Arab condition, because they approach it from a different mindset altogether.....

Apparently, Peres hadn't attended Lewis's lecture about how little the rest of the world cares about this part of the world and Islam's next encroachment into the West -- he seemed indifferent to that danger. Rather, the impression he left was that Israel did not want peace with Syria, that it was preparing for war against Iran and that the Palestinians had better be ready to accept much less than what was offered to them at Camp David II. On the latter point, he was explicit about what the Palestinians had to accept. Israel, he said, has no intention of letting demographic reasons end its existence as a Jewish state. It would not go the way of Lebanon, which ended as the only Christian state in the region due to the demographic price it paid for its mistakes. Israel, in other words, would never accept the principle of the Palestinian right to return; as to what "mistakes" the Lebanese made, these were left unsaid.

Yes, with or without Bernard Lewis, the analogy to Mameluke petit states is very useful in order to grasp the blindness of an Arab order that supported the occupation of Iraq, that has no idea what stance to take on the current process of partitioning Iraq and on the prospect of an increase in American forces there, and that has a strong inclination towards availing itself of any mechanism, including fuelling sectarian tensions, in order to keep its people mired in backwardness.

And the analogy is particularly apt when it comes to the Arab order's stance, or lack thereof, on the attempt to impose Israeli conditions on the Palestinians by means of economic blockade, while at the same time calling for a Palestinian unity government on the conditions set by the Quartet, without making any demands on Israel, as a preliminary for reviving a negotiating process aimed at securing Israel's conditions for a settlement. This is definitely an Arab order in a muddle and looking for a way out of the awkward and embarrassing position that the resolve, perseverance and skill of the Lebanese resistance have put it in.

True, Israel's military and technological superiority is essential to its survival. However, the gap between Israel and the Arabs is not so much created by its superiority as it is by the Arabs' backwardness. At the root of this backwardness lie the petit states in which, to borrow from Ibn Khaldun, flattery and favouritism are the way to rank and power, rank and power are the route to money, and alliance with Israel and any other power is the way to forestall the rise of any alternative."

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