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News ::
A problem with the world: the Arab war against the west (english)
04 Dec 2002
Arab Journalist Abdel-Moneim Said writes in AL-AHRAM

"The end of the Cold War is to a large extent responsible for the misunderstandings that characterised Arab reactions to 11 September. The experience of Arab ruling and non-ruling elites had been shaped by the Cold War division of the world, a situation that allowed Arab governments, both within and without the non-aligned movement, to play the bi-poles one against the other in order to win material and other gains.
A problem with the world

In a continuing series of articles, Abdel-Moneim Said argues that Arab regimes have fallen dangerously out of touch

The failure to come to terms with the changes that have occurred following the end of the Cold War is to a large extent responsible for the misunderstandings that characterised Arab reactions to 11 September. The experience of Arab ruling and non-ruling elites had been shaped by the Cold War division of the world, a situation that allowed Arab governments, both within and without the non-aligned movement, to play the bi-poles one against the other in order to win material and other gains.

It is surprising to find, when one turns back to the documents of the 1950s and 1960s, a general Arab dismay at the global division between East and West, socialism and capitalism, NATO and Warsaw Pact. The source of this dismay was that the Cold War had, in turn, divided the Arab world into socialists and capitalists, progressives and reactionaries, supporters of national liberation movements and colonialist agents. The American political scientist, Malcolm Kerr, was not exaggerating when, in The Arab Cold War, he portrayed the region as embroiled in an endless series of political crises, mutual antagonisms and media wars between Arab governments and leaders. During this so-called "glorious" era Arab countries fenced themselves off from other Arab countries despite the ubiquity of slogans and songs proclaiming Arab nationalism and unity.

Yet the Arabs have never stopped yearning for that epoch. And were it not for the continuing hope that the world will evolve into a multi-polar order that will increase the scope for manoeuvring, ducking and dodging and playing various ends against one another, the Cold War would remain the happiest of memories for the Arabs. In the closing years of the Cold War and afterwards the Arabs insistently asked the Japanese, Europeans and Chinese to pull together and form a global pole against the US. The question was posed so persistently because we could not shake our minds clear of the notion of a world founded on polarity, and because it was a comforting thought to be able to pass the onus of building an anti-US pole to others and then reap the fruit of those efforts. The Japanese, European and Chinese were surprised and, after the Cold War, dumbfounded, by the discovery that the Arabs did not know what was going on in the world, did not understand the changes in the relationships between these countries and the US and had failed to comprehend the meaning of polarisation and the nature of its responsibilities.

The fact is that beneath the surface of the Cold War profound changes were taking place in the international order as the result of developments in commerce, investment and the movement of capital. In short, there evolved a deep and complex dependency between the US and its potential rival poles. Europe could never have revived and flourished after World War II were it not for its transatlantic relationship. Japan could never have recovered its economic vitality were it not for US support for the yen and the boost given to Japanese industry and entrepreneurs during the US war in Korea. From at least 1978 the Chinese had realised that their only hope for development and the return of Hong Kong, Macao and even Taiwan resided in developing good relations with the US. In short, none of the poles that the Arabs want to emerge and take up the fight against the US on their behalf have the slightest desire to do so.

The world has become an exceedingly complex place for the Arabs following the end of the Cold War, which they cherished so long and found so easy to deal with. At one time, if an Arab country found that its demands from one camp were meeting resistance, all it had to do was signal its intention to switch sides, at which point everything proceeded smoothly again. Then the Berlin Wall collapsed and suddenly Arab foreign ministries, politicians and intellectuals found themselves up against something they could not comprehend and had no idea how to handle. Perhaps we have not forgotten how obsessed the Arabs were, throughout the first half of the 1990s, with the new world order and, throughout the latter half of the decade, with globalisation. In both cases the dominant tendency, just as in the aftermath of 11 September, was one of denial. There was no new world order or globalisation. Or, if it proved impossible to refute the existence of these two phenomena, then they were just a transitional phase presaging the rise of global poles in Japan, China, Russia and Europe, and the return of the good times. Unfortunately, it appears that the Arabs had forgotten that in those happy days of a multi-polar order the Arab world was colonised and divided up between the various colonial powers. Nor do they remember that in those happier times of a bipolar order the state of Israel was created with the approval of the two superpowers, the Arabs became more divided than ever and the fate of those who trod the "socialist" path was stalled development and the spread of poverty.

Still, the Arabs remained loyal to multi- and bi- polarity, refusing to acknowledge the changes that have taken place in the world. In part this blindness was due to the fact that the Cold War had been the training school for Arab leaders, diplomats, politicians and intellectuals. To a greater extent, though, it was due to the fact that the Arabs could never conceive that capitalism and liberalism could win that war. Such a victory was inconceivable because of its ramifications for the Arab state, which -- whether republic or monarchy, progressive or reactionary -- would have to relinquish its grotesque authority and its ignorant control over the economy. It would mean democratisation, respect for human rights, regional co-operation and freedom for civil society. What a pitiful sight it was to watch Arab political and intellectual elites strut around the various modern media decrying globalisation variously as Americanisation, an extension of Zionist influence, or an assault against the authentic and incomparably pure Arab character, which must remain safeguarded beneath the cloak of ignorance, fanaticism and religious and nationalist fascism.

Similarly, Arab elites struck out vehemently against all the ramifications of globalisation in the Middle East -- peace, a new Middle Eastern order, and regional co-operation -- for fear of ideological contamination and cultural decline. They rejoiced as the peace process floundered and efforts to assimilate the Middle East into the global economy deteriorated. However, their greatest jubilation was reserved for every manifestation of what they took to be cracks in the process of globalisation. When the demonstrations in Seattle took place against the WTO, Arab newspapers and satellite networks were exultant and the Arab left emerged from its long silence to declare the beginning of the end of global capitalism. Not, of course, that anyone went to the trouble of analysing the forces that marched in that remote American city.

The financial and economic crisis that rocked Southeast Asia was met by the usual Arab reactions. The immediate knee-jerk response was to attribute all economic ills in Asia to a conspiracy, masterminded in this case by the Jewish speculator, Sauros. Then they suddenly brought their conflicting global poles theory into play and accused the US of being behind the collapse of the Asian stock market because it had been unable to get a moments sleep for fear of the Asian Tigers. Naturally, no one was about to listen to what most Asian analysts themselves had to say, and no Arab commentator stopped to consider that the Asian economic boom was the product of the work of Western, and specifically American, transnational companies. True to form, when the crisis was resolved, largely as the result of US efforts, the Arabs forgot the subject and the conspiracy that had never taken place.

The blinkers of conspiracy theory and hostility to the West and the US in particular have fixed themselves over Arab eyes, preventing them from seeing the developments that have taken place in the global order. Thus, while the Chinese, Russians, Poles, Brazilians, Indians and other peoples responded to the call of globalisation, with its good and bad, and began to explore the best means to raise their lot, the Arabs tore their clothes and cursed their rotten luck.

This was the condition of the Arabs when 11 September struck. As a result they were unable to analyse the new situation, let alone optimise their interests under the new circumstances. Instead, and to raised international eyebrows, the Arabs suddenly fell in love with theoretical precision and demanded a definition of terrorism. Simultaneously, they grew even more infatuated with legalities. They wanted proof that Al-Qa'eda was responsible for the terrorist attack and nothing less than written or recorded confessions would satisfy them. Yet when the video confessions were aired the Arabs said they were forgeries.

More importantly, however, the Arabs were unable to fathom the ramifications of the use of force against the greatest power in the world. That event cast into relief the fact that there are two codes of conduct prevalent in the world today. One is founded upon the legitimacy of globalisation and progress, binding the countries that have chosen to work by this code through such regional and international bodies as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the G8, the EU, ASEAN, APEC, NATO and Partnership for Peace. The second is founded upon the rule of force, the code that inspired Iraq to invade Kuwait and devastate its own people, without referring to the Security Council or supplying any definition of invasion, aggression and terrorism. This is also the code that has moved Al-Qa'eda and similar organisations to kill thousands of civilians in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Algeria, without bothering to consult the international community beforehand.

11 September did not change the substance of globalisation though it did revive the classical, and sometimes brutal, notion of security against forces that have no compunction against perverting, circumventing and generally operating outside the law. Washington's position on Iraq reflects the coexistence of the two codes of conduct. Iraq is an example of the organisations, states and groups that have never operated by or recognised international legitimacy or the rules of the global order. What so few Arabs want to comment on is that Iraq has, indeed, violated the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, not only before its invasion of Kuwait, but afterwards. During the last four years, in the absence of international inspections from Baghdad, its breaches of prohibitions against weapons of mass destruction increased. Arabs also do not want to admit that Al-Qa'eda and similar organisations do not recognise or have the slightest inclination to abide by international law and international legitimacy.

The West, and many other nations participating in the process of globalisation, were understandably puzzled by the Arab's sudden enthusiasm for international legitimacy and law, especially coming from states that have experienced little in the way of legitimacy and rule of law domestically. All the more mystifying was that many of those states were silent towards, if not complicit in, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and chose to look the other way when confronted with the plight of the southern Sudanese or the Iraqi regime's gassing of Kurds.

More significantly, the Arabs paid little heed to the actions of radical Islamic groups in Chechnya and to their bombing of a housing complex in Moscow. As proud as we are about our relations with China, no one cared to consider the implications of the "Islamic" separatist movement there. Nor was there particular concern over the attempt of Islamic terrorist groups to bomb the Indian parliament. Clearly, the Arabs no longer have a problem with the West, or even with the US and Zionism; their problem is with the world.
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