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May 17, 2007 10:31 AM   Subscribe

This opinion piece in Prospect magazine argues that perhaps the importance of the problems in the Middle East are overblown. Interesting read.
posted by zeoslap (33 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Didnt read it, but I once saw a video of Hamas in Palestine setting up a press release and was blown away by the number of reporters there setting up. If those reporters were aid workers most of the problems out there would have been fixed by now.

The amount of importance we give that region is mindblowing. Its one of the few places outside a PM's office\whitehouse were something said gets broadcasted to everyone in the world instantly and with great importance attached.

It turns out the press release was some hamas/fatah political bullshit, but even that stuff gets BBC news front page.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2007


I found this quote quite eye opening - "The ease of filming and reporting out of safe and comfortable Israeli hotels inflates the media coverage of every minor affray. But humanitarians should note that the dead from Jewish-Palestinian fighting since 1921 amount to fewer than 100,000—about as many as are killed in a season of conflict in Darfur."
posted by zeoslap at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2007


The Mussolini effect: true enough but then he allied himself to Hitler and that was indeed a potent military.

He is right of couse in many respects but then there is oil, oil, oil...and we are not about to do without it, nor is China, India, Europe etc etc
It is easy enough to dismiss the region but what does the author drive and how does he fuel it and where does the gas come from? And if we dismiss the entire region, how will he fill his car tank?
posted by Postroad at 10:58 AM on May 17, 2007


The idea that the middle east has served as a playground for political struggles that are actually taking place between western forces - going back at least to the days of churchill - is somewhat lost in this editorial piece, but overall i liked its tone.
posted by phaedon at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2007


Is this author arguing we should ignore Darfur until the refugees start producing something useful to the West?
posted by justkevin at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2007


Meanwhile, in Africa...

Of course it's all interlinked... without the engine of Palestine driving muslim unrest you wouldn't have got people flying planes through American buildings and so wouldn't have got an American backed genocide in Africa for the world to ignore...
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2007


So his point is that this grand cultural conflict is only a big deal because people keep making a big deal out of it, and if everyone just forgot about it, it would go away? Seems more like a restatement of the problem (and a broad oversimplification at that) than any kind of solution.
posted by rkent at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2007


But humanitarians should note that the dead from Jewish-Palestinian fighting since 1921 amount to fewer than 100,000—about as many as are killed in a season of conflict in Darfur.
That's not too many! The friends & relations of those 100,000 should realize that.

For decades now, the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, and an embargo would be a disaster for their oil-revenue dependent economies.
They sound trustworthy. But do extremists who plan attacks on oil fields worry about oil-revenue dependent economies?

The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognise that backward societies must be left alone...
We should leave them alone, but not because their society is backward.

Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.
So, when the oil runs out, things will get worse?!?
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2007


unrelated, but here's another recent piece by luttwak in Harper's on the theory of counterinsurgency warfare.
posted by phaedon at 11:09 AM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


yes. luttwak is the man. he had what i think is a better piece in harpers a couple months back called "dead end". he is very good at cutting through 'happy talk' and saying things that seem like they need to be said. thanks for posting this
posted by jmccw at 11:12 AM on May 17, 2007


That's not too many! The friends & relations of those 100,000 should realize that.

What an uncharitable reading. Setting aside the cost of human life, which nobody is debating, it appears that luttwak is trying to speak to the reader who may have no independent perspective on the middle east - he or she who knows nothing other than what he or she sees on television - and trying to illustrate the extent to which the media has amplified the situation by drawing a parallel to an atrocity of greater magnitude that undoubtedly has received less media attention.
posted by phaedon at 11:18 AM on May 17, 2007


The piece makes some valid points, but never really adds up to a convincing argument. It seems to suggest that neither harm nor good is done by intervention, or even interaction, with the Middle East. Essentially, the argument runs, "Arabs are bitter and lazy, there future stretches out behind them, let's just ignore them".

Does Middle Eastern unrest really only express itself through the 'irritant' of terrorism? I notice that the words "Pakistan" and "India" appear nowhere in the article. One can't simply equate "Middle East" with "Islam" and "Islam" with "terrorism", and then shrug "Well...that's all we have to worry about, and it's not really that bad". The Middle East is a significant and politically active part of the world, and has whole sets of influence beyond the pricks within and gathered around Al-Qaeda.

The author seems to pine for a bygone age, when we could simply buy those funny Arab chappies' oil, and not have to worry too much about talking to them, or being concerned with their difficulties. Indeed, it reads rather less as an attack on intervention than on interest itself. "Don't look over there, love, it'll only get you down and depressed".

Overall, some reasonably fair seeming analysis (military, economic) let down by a lack of coherence and by underlying racial and cultural assumptions that are never really backed up.
posted by howfar at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jerusalem Syndrome?
posted by acro at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2007


Similar views have been expressed before, such as in this seminal work by noted scholars Ian and Milano.
posted by BeerFilter at 12:07 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


...an American backed genocide in Africa for the world to ignore...

I'm afraid I don't know what that means. What genocide in Africa is America allegedly backing?
posted by Midnight Creeper at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2007


Is this author arguing we should ignore Darfur until the refugees start producing something useful to the West?

I think he's suggesting that we do indeed ignore Darfur because they don't produce something useful to the West. But its OK cos we should ignore the Middle-East as well. After all 9/11 was years ago
posted by criticalbill at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2007


That brings us to the mistake that the rest of us make. We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all.

I'm just absolutely speechless.
posted by limon at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2007


I'm just absolutely speechless.

especially when you consider what remarkably unproductive hipsters are up to in the states...
posted by phaedon at 12:24 PM on May 17, 2007


Softliners make exactly the same mistake in reverse. They keep arguing that if only this or that concession were made, if only their policies were followed through to the end and respect shown, or simulated, hostility would cease and a warm Mediterranean amity would emerge. Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. That fully explains the ubiquity of Muslim violence, and reveals the futility of the palliatives urged by the softliners.

The Palestinian struggle is not a struggle for the supremacy of Islam. It is the struggle of a people who have been herded into prison-cantons, whose economy has been systematically devestated, and who have been living under a brutal foreign military occupation for fourty years to live viable lives with some honest measure of liberty, autonomy and dignity which we take for granted. As with any political struggle, it has intertwined with the culture and religion.

There has been a broad international consensus on how to solve this conflict for decades: Israel must withdraw to 67 borders and dismantle its settlements in exchange for peace and normalized relations with the Arab world. It is the basis of the Saudi peace plan. The implementation of such or similar solutions has been rejected by both Israel and the United States for years and years.

I write this as a Jewish Israeli. I can't tell the rest of the world why they should care, but I care because I feel partly responsible. If you care, too, consider reading the late Tanya Reinhart's Israel/Palestine: How To End The War Of 1948.
posted by limon at 12:31 PM on May 17, 2007


.
Also by Tanya Reinhart: The road map to nowhere : Israel/Palestine since 2003
posted by acro at 12:51 PM on May 17, 2007


NYT Obituary.
posted by acro at 12:57 PM on May 17, 2007


per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, Israel gets more patents per capita than anyone else in the world, and many of those are owned by US companies...
posted by Pastabagel at 1:09 PM on May 17, 2007


why are you speechless, limon?

just curious...
posted by jmccw at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2007


Admittedly, the old (sic) quantum mechanics adage "you can't observe an experiment without becoming part of it" comes into play here. Our presence in the Middle East from the Executive branch to the Fourth Estate to Corporate meddling is definitely having an affect and it's not particularly positive. However, if western influences disappeared tomorrow it wouldn't make the conflict go away. The problems in the middle east existed long before we meddled, and they'll continue long after we give up.

We'll give up when the headlines stop making certain people money.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:19 PM on May 17, 2007


Arab-Israeli catastrophism is wrong twice over, first because the conflict is contained within rather narrow boundaries, and second because the Levant is just not that important any more.

Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and several of the 9/11 hijackers were motivated by American support for Israel.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2007


Yes, of course oil is available on the market and people with money will always be able to get it. No shit. But we don't support dictators, arm secret police and invade countries in the middle east because we're worried about paying five bucks a gallon at the pump. We do it so that, push come to shove, we can control other countries who need that petroleum. Suppose Japan decided to start rebuilding its empire? It's an economic superpower already. Except for the big, powerful military, they have everything they need. But if you could cut off their oil supply, the whole thing would be over before it began.

And "before it began" is key here. You don't maintain your status as a superpower (yes, I'm talking about the US, but let's not forget Russia, Europe, and China as well), by sitting around waiting for another country to get big and strong enough to challenge your dominance. You make sure they never get that big or that strong.

It's always been like this. A few hundred years ago, power was held by those countries who had big, bad-ass navies and controlled certain trade routes. A thousand years ago, it was the tribes/city-states who had the most plentiful supplies of iron-ore and the best weapon making technology. During the US civil war, the Union was able to crush the confederacy (at least partially) because they had far more factories and railroads.

It's pretty much the same deal now. Some countries have the resources, wealth and technology that allow them to beat the crap out of all the other countries. Oil just happens to be one item on that list.
posted by Clay201 at 3:17 PM on May 17, 2007


The Palestinian struggle is not a struggle for the supremacy of Islam.

It is the struggle of aimless goat herders, lost without land, eternally convinced they are refugees.
posted by four panels at 7:34 PM on May 17, 2007


Is this author arguing we should ignore Darfur until the refugees start producing something useful to the West? ... I think he's suggesting that we do indeed ignore Darfur because they don't produce something useful to the West.

My take was that the point was much simpler -- we're led to believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ginormous in scope and destruction, but it pales in comparison to something we all have heard of, but that doesn't receive a tenth of the attention.
posted by frogan at 8:30 PM on May 17, 2007


Luttwak's a professional contrarian. (His most well-known essay is probably Give War a Chance.)

The simple fact that there's one billion Muslims makes them an important factor in international politics. It's impossible to ignore their grievances, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the most important.
posted by russilwvong at 9:02 PM on May 17, 2007


The Palestinian struggle is not a struggle for the supremacy of Islam. It is the struggle of a people who have been herded into prison-cantons, whose economy has been systematically devestated...

The economy of what nation/province/city, and from what baseline?

...and who have been living under a brutal foreign military occupation...

With the entire Arab world fighting wars on their behalf. Hey, remember why the PLO was expelled from Jordan?

You're right, though -- the Palestinian struggle is not a struggle for the supremacy of Islam. It is a tool that other Islamic nations use to keep their populations in check and divert their hatred away from the dictators and "religious leaders" who are getting rich off the oil while their citizens get pennies. Which is why they will attempt to prolong this conflict as long as possible by offering Israel untenable conditions, while their cronies in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon escalate their attacks the moment Israel "shows weakness" by conceding to some of these conditions.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:38 PM on May 17, 2007


Vanishing Point tracks how often countries appear in western media. The resulting map is an interesting one.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:21 AM on May 18, 2007



Ljubljana - interesting site. ANy idea what is happening in Oman that French news is reporting so heavily on?
posted by Artw at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2007


Infographics News Zealand + Oman -- Related?
posted by acro at 12:10 PM on May 18, 2007


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