Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Sad Truth

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently published a column called Mideast Rules to Live By, which are, as he describes, "rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy". Though intended as a guide for decision-makers, these rules can be used by average observers to correctly interpret daily events in the most exciting part of the world. Here are a few:
Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn't count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.
When reading any report or article, try to determine the audience of the Middle Easterner being quoted. If it is a private interview, anything newsworthy usually will be either 1) later denied outright, 2) later "clarified" (denied) by other spokesmen, or 3) dismissed as an error of translation.
Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: "Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?" If you answer yes, you can't go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany — not Iraq.
It means that logic is not useful here. If it makes sense to do, for that reason alone it cannot be done.
Rule 3: If you can't explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all — they won't believe it.
And the identity of the conspirators will always be Jewish.
Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I could paper my walls.
See Rule 1.
Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: "We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too late. It's all your fault for being so stupid."
Heaven forbid anyone does anything for the simple reason that something is right to do. Actually, procrastination is simply waiting for an excuse not to do what one does not want to do. It is helpful also to absolve any responsibility for current problems by waiting for some unsuspecting dope to blame for everyone's actions and ills.
Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas — like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It's the South vs. the South.
It's all about being "Number 1".
Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, "I'm weak, how can I compromise?" And when it's strong, it will tell you, "I'm strong, why should I compromise?"
Compromise is for losers.
Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel's mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can't understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera's editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: "It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this."
The term "crybabies" comes to mind...
Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs' first priority is "justice." The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq's long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.
"Justice" in the Middle East is a loaded term because those who employ it really mean that "justice" is only what they determine it to be. For example, how can there be "justice" if they do not get everything that is rightfully theirs? Anything less than 100% of one's rights is NOT "justice" (remember, no compromise) and, therefore, must be rejected.
Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can't want it more than they do.
And if they don't want a better quality of life, they would rather die than have it. Sad.

The fact is that Middle Easterners are most interested in "honor" (an oxymoron according to the very definition of the term) and choose self-inflicted death over possibly being percieved as weak or in cahoots with non-Middle Easterners. Pick your poison.

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