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Looking only backwards

This entire region is comprised of artificial states that have never managed to create cross-tribal or cross-ethnic national unity, and have always been ruled in the shadow of the bloody, torn past.


Salman Masalha ||
Looking only backwards: 
Nothing new in the Middle East

The West, led by the United States, reveals time and again its ignorance regarding this part of the world. This lack of understanding is tied to something deep at the heart of the American experience. It is also the secret of U.S. success, and what turned it into a superpower.

In contrast with our region, the U.S. is a superpower with a short history – one of the sources of its power. In places where there is so much past, like the Middle East, it is difficult to see the future. The East is like a man whose eyes are stuck on the back of his head – it can never look forward. It will always march backward, because that is the only direction in which it can see the road. Only there does it see its future.

In contrast, only the U.S. could give rise to Japanese-American Professor Francis Fukuyama, who posited that history had reached its endpoint following the breakdown of the USSR and the communist bloc, with the victory of the liberal-democratic values in the struggle for global domination. As fate had it, not a decade passed for this pipe dream before the U.S. was hit with the next phase of history, courtesy of the Middle East, on September 11, 2001.

The trillions of dollars spent on the war on terrorism, conquering Afghanistan and Iraq and the efforts to spread the democratic vision to the Arab and Muslim world – all these are currently going down the drain, as ISIS conquers significant territory in Iraq.

The West, led by the U.S., is stunned in the wake of the quick collapse of the Iraqi army, which was funded and trained by the U.S. The West cannot understand how entire units, soldiers and officers, are abandoning their bases and positions, fleeing from a handful of hardened Sunni fighters.

But it should come as no surprise that the Iraqi army collapsed, as less than a decade ago the large Iraqi army folded rather quickly with the American invasion. Then, too, soldiers and officers shed their uniforms and scattered.

Then as now. In order to understand what is happing in Iraq, one must internalize one simple fact: The Iraqi army, neither the old one ruled by Saddam or the new U.S.-trained one, could never be called “the army of the Iraqi people.” The reason for that is, simply, that there’s no such thing as the Iraqi people. This entire region is comprised of artificial states, created when Mr. Sykes and Monsieur Picot carved up the Ottoman spoils. These states have never managed to create cross-tribal or cross-ethnic national unity, and have always been ruled in the shadow of the bloody, torn past.

Everyone remembers how the Lebanese army split into ethnic factions during the “civil” war of the 1970s. For three years now, the world has watched as the supposed army of the “Syrian people” has massacred hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and scattered millions more to the wind. This teaches us that using the word “people” with regard to these countries is a farce.

The truth can be found in remarks made by Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, when he unambiguously revealed the under-the-surface tension that has triggered the “civil” war in Mesopotamia, stating “those who murdered al-Hussein [the son of Ali Ibn Ali Talib, the Mohammad’s fourth caliph, on whom the Shi’ite stream was founded] did not disappear. They are still here. Followers of al-Hussein and followers of Yazid [son of the founder of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty] face one another time and again in uncompromising, cruel conflict. This teaches us that crime against al-Hussein is still ongoing.”

That is how Iraq’s prime minister described that nation’s experience, an Eastern experience, which is anything but new.
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Published: Opinions-Haaretz, June18, 2014

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