May. 23, 2005 20:14 Updated May. 23, 2005 20:37
By BARRY RUBIN
The Middle East poses the biggest threat to world peace and stability. One element that makes matters worse is the inability of so many politicians, diplomats, academics and journalists to understand the region...
....In my view, the Middle East today is simply repeating patterns seen elsewhere in the world. For centuries, Europe was beset by wars in which one ideology or leader thought it possible to gain power over the whole continent. For hundreds of years there were bloody ethnic and religious conflicts. Pragmatism was rejected, superstition overwhelmed science, and so on. Better types of thinking won out only after the high costs of reactionary notions were proven time after time. The same was true with the historical experience regarding the impossibility that the total victory of any state, ideology or ethnic group would lead to peace.
Propoganda as Truth
A second element here is a tendency to acceptance of regional ideology as truth...that if an Arab dictatorship, terrorist group, extremist movement or ideologically committed Arab intellectuals say something, it is either the truth or reflects their real beliefs. And if public opinion polls in the Arab world or Iran show the effects of decades of propaganda, this, too, reflects the masses' real sentiments.
Finally, the culture-denying mind-set includes a strong streak of utopian and wishful thinking.
...people want peace or democracy, or prosperity or international fraternity ...The desirable is not necessarily possible. Underestimating difficulties is a way of ensuring failure. What is needed instead is the most objective analysis ...Goals or preferences ....should not be allowed to make us misread reality. What is especially dangerous here is that once people get starry-eyed .... evidence to the contrary is rejected.
The unsurprising outcome of these three fundamental mistakes can go beyond appeasement of the villain to reversing the roles of hero and villain entirely.
- believing the Palestinian movement is moderate, pragmatic and ready to make peace....ignoring the movement's daily rhetoric, failure to keep commitments and continued incitement...
- considering Iran to be a responsible regime...Despite its overall record and consistent breaking of commitments on nuclear matters...
- thinking that radical Islamist movements do not really mean what they say about revolutionizing their own societies and destroying the West, and proposing they be given rewards to induce moderation....
- assuming that ideological dictatorships, those who benefit from serving them, and those shaped by decades of their propaganda speak freely and honestly...
These are the real difficulties .... Unless they are confronted and addressed, the common pattern of recent years, in which misunderstandings produce disasters and crises, will continue.
The writer is editor of the journals Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) and Turkish Studies