Friday, August 11, 2006

The Square Peg and the Round Hole

You cannot eradicate an idea with a gun or a missile. Unfortunately, that is exactly the problem that the United States faces in this war on terror. There are so many reasons why our attempts to broker a long lasting peace in the Middle East has failed to make any meaningful progress. First and foremost is our demand for the emergence of western style democracy in the region. What makes this problematic and is clearly evident in our struggles in Iraq is that we feel that our view of how a country should govern its people is morally superior to the views of another. That my friends is ethnocentrism and is in fact the cornerstone upon which many European powers used to form the foundation for their Colonial efforts in India, Africa and the Middle East. Erroneously the average person believes that the Arab-Israeli conflict is just about Israel and the Palestinians, or Lebanon, or Hezbollah, or Syria, or Iran. Unfortunately, these are just the many manifestations and symptoms of a far larger problem. They do not however, begin to touch upon the nature of illness itself. Regardless of how one decides to view the history of the region, whether through religious texts or secular histories, it is clear that its earliest inhabitants are of Semitic origin. Of course there have been many wars fought over this relatively small strip of the planet and numerous powers have possessed and influenced this volatile region over time. However, the real root of the problem does not exist in ancient history, as many would have you believe. Unfortunately, its roots are very familiar and are much closer to home.

The epicenter of the current problem exists in the more recent history of European colonialism, more specifically French and British colonialism and its aftermath. Post World War I there was a political vacuum created in the region, primarily brought about by the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The British and the French took little time filling that vacuum and with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 in place, embarked upon a plan that would create new colonial spheres of influence. Have you ever heard the term divide and conquer? If so do you know what it means historically? It was the British term used to describe its policy for the administration of the Empires colonies. The British thought that if you created new countries with seemingly arbitrary borders, drawn not to include all members of a particular indigenous tribe or people, but to specifically include various tribes and peoples with long histories of hostility and war, then the subjugated “native” population would always be too busy fighting amongst themselves to ever unite and fight their colonial oppressors. So lets take modern day Iraq for example. For the British it was a simple and familiar recipe. Knowing that they would have a terribly difficult time subjugating an all Sunni or Shiite dominated Iraq, the British simply redrew the borders to include a large population of both, sprinkling into the mix a relatively small Kurdish minority for good measure. Finally, they would need to install a monarch then later a brutal, secular dictator to keep the peace. Enter Saddam Hussein. The same can be said for just about every other hot spot in the region. Did you ever wonder why Syria is always involved in Lebanon? It’s because Lebanon was historically part of a larger Syria. Only after a League of Nations mandate gave control of Syria to the French, was the small predominantly Christian coastal region split away and a new country - Lebanon formed.

We don’t have enough time to discuss the British role in the Palestinian conflict and as previously stated I realize that ancient Israelites were probably the first inhabitants of the region. I also know that for a thousand years leading up to the formation of modern day Israel, Arab Palestinians settled, occupied and called the region home. I don’t want to sound unsympathetic but the bones of displaced and subjugated peoples litter history’s long and ever winding road. Here is an idea…ask a Native American how he feels about the Arab Israeli conflict? I wonder where they would stand? There is no doubt that Native Americans were here first and no doubt that they were likewise displaced, murdered and eventually assimilated. Ask yourself how you would feel if all U.S. citizens who are not of Native American descent were forced to leave the country or live under strict Native American cultural traditions or as second-class citizens. I hope you get the point because that is exactly what the British did with the Balfour Declaration and with the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine.

We have to understand the problem in order to fix the problem. A square peg and a round hole will always be a square peg and a round hole. Both remain forever incompatible and forever irreconcilable. To make them fit…to make it work…you will have to change either the peg or the hole. Our elected officials and allies have much to learn from this simple analogy. They continue to ignore the problem as the planet sits precipitously on the brink of a third World War. What we now see developing in the Middle East is a more virulent 21st century version of Pan Arabism. However, the socialist and secular Pan Arab movement of the 1960’s is rapidly being replaced by the emerging ideology of Pan Islamism, which calls for Muslims around the world to unite against all non-Muslim oppressors. What is most troubling to me is that we continue to make all the wrong moves, fanning the flames of radicalism, hate and revenge. We can never hope to solve the problem unless we attempt to deal with it at the most basic level. I can promise you this…until we begin to address the hopelessness and despair that allows a mother to strap explosives to the chests of their children we will never have peace.

Think about it.

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