When you've been doing something for half a century and you still find it doesn't work would you want to look back to the start and see if you've missed something that may account for your failures? If your shoes are way too small and keep giving you blisters on your feet, do you lay in a big supply of band aids or would you be happier getting shoes that fit?
We like to think of ourselves as enlightened, rational people. We get the facts and use them to make the best decisions possible. We expect our governments to follow that same path. What happens, however, when myth takes hold and displaces fact in the minds of one generation after another and numerous, successive governments? If the myth is powerful enough it can blind us to the truth and, instead, wed us to its delusions.
Welcome to the Middle East, a region in the death grip of myth that threatens us all.
We in the West have been fed some real whoppers that have shaped our perceptions of the Arab world. The Arabs are untrustworthy, they are pernicious in their ways, Arabs are besotted with violence, their culture is irredeemably backward and their religion is - oh come on - it's evil. Once you have absorbed this outlook you can tolerate or else comfortably ignore pretty much everything we've done to the Arabs and the Muslims generally going as far back as Napoleon. Because they're mysterious and threatening not to mention stuck in time and simply different, we can avoid dwelling on how we would react if we'd been in their shoes.
The Western nations have been interfering in the Arab world from the medieval period and the crusades. Back then we saw what is modern Israel as our own Holy Land. However we didn't really get into it until we found out these people had an astonishing amount of oil.
The 20th Century, in particular, witnessed rampant conquest, betrayal, deception, and oppression of the Muslim world by the West. Until the end of WWI, most of the Middle East was dominated by the Ottoman Empire (we call'em Turks today). Unfortunately, for them, the Ottomans thought Germany would be winning that war and sided with them. Bad choice.
Britain saw a chance to exploit Arab resentment of the Ottomans. It sent Colonel T.E. Lawrence (that's right, Lawrence of Arabia - picture Peter O'Toole in tropical uniform) to launch an Arab uprising. Lawrence was told to promise them that, once Germany was defeated, the Ottomans would be swept out of the region and the Arabs would be allowed to establish their own sovereign countries. Here's the best part - those backward Arabs fell for it.
When the dust settled, the Kaiser and the Ottomans were no more. This was the point where the Arabs were supposed to get their sovereignty. Oh dear, maybe not. Britain and France decided they might as well just take over from the Ottomans and divvy up the place between themselves. And that is what they did and that is a key to a whole pile of the problems that confront us today.
Glance at a map of the region and notice all those straight lines. Those lines, which today stand as borders, were actually drawn for the convenience of Europeans to mark their respective possessions. Big mistake. Huge blunder. What was convenient for Britain and France worked great mischief on the tribal, ethnic and social realities of the region.
Take the Kurds - please. The Kurds are a stateless people. What was their nation, Kurdistan, disappeared when the pencils and rulers came out in Paris and London. Where was Kurdistan? Here:
You'll see that the historical land of the Kurds just happened to lie at the junction of a number of nations including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and even Armenia. Thanks to fate and the self-interest of European states, the promise of Kurdistan vanished. For years the Kurds have waged a rebellion in Turkey that has been ruthlessly suppressed. Saddam, as we know, did his best to exterminate Iraq's Kurds. Iran has been playing both sides of the Iraq/Kurd conflict.
Why no Kurdistan? There was supposed to be such a state. It was specified in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres between the WWI allies and the Ottomans. Then a couple of things happened. Along came Turkey's legendary Ataturk and the allies discovered that what was to be the southern part of Kurdistan was rich in - you guessed it - oil. New deal, 1923, Treaty of Lausanne, divided up the Kurdish homeland between Turkey and the allies who put their part, the oil rich part, into another of their possessions, Iraq. Sorry Kurds, it's not you, it's the oil.
The Kurds now refer to their autonomous region in Iraq as "southern Kurdistan" a name that suggests there is more to follow. The first target is the Kurdish territory in Turkey and that has the Turks really up in arms. If Iraq plunges into full-blown civil war, it is quite likely that the Kurdish region will be invaded by Turkey's powerful army. That could well be enough to trigger some of Iraq's other neighbours to take their share, particularly Iran. America has always worried about the possibility of Iran wresting control of Iraq's oilfields but that's another story. Another war, Enduring Freedom II perhaps? Quite likely.
What can we do to keep these tensions from erupting? Well, for starters, we can treat the Muslim peoples as entitled to make their own decisions, even if we don't like what they decide. IT'S THEIR OIL. Say that a few times until it sinks in: it's their oil, it's their oil, it's their oil. What right have we to control their oil? On what basis do we think we can install thugs and puppet rulers who will serve our interests over their own peoples'?
Letting the Arab peoples decide sounds pretty straightforward except for - Israel. We have a whole nest of myths that have become ingrained in our culture, our society, our governments' foreign policies that aren't working because, well because they're myths. Myth #1 - Israel somehow popped into existance out of nowhere after WWII. In fact, Israel has been a work in progress since the late 1800's with the advent of the Zionist movement. Myth #2 - Israel was carved out of lands that no one else wanted, lands to which no other group held any ancient claim. Wrong, wrong and wrong. The Palestinian people lived there for, well almost forever. Myth #3 - the Palestinian Arabs left their homes in Israel in 1948 at the direction of their Arab leaders. This is the nub of it all - they were driven out, by violence, by the Zionists. It was terrorism, plain and simple. It was also what we know today as "ethnic cleansing."
So long as we continue to prop up this dark farce, the Muslims will see us as their enemies. The Palestinian issue burns in their minds, in their hearts. It shines as a clear example of what the Arab people mean to us in the West.
If anything, we are now probably in a pretty good position to settle the Israel/Palestine dilemma. Everyone knows the answer - Israel goes back to its pre-1967 war borders, Israel either grants the Palestinians who were driven out a right of return or Israel (that is the Western nations) properly compensate the victims for what was wrongfully taken from them; Jerusalem becomes an "Open City" under a permanent, UN mandate so that the interests of Jews, Muslims and Christians can be fully accommodated.
This is the answer but to get there we have to get past the myths. So long as we don't we're deluding ourselves. This lunacy has been tried and failed, repeatedly, for fifty years. The dangers of our delusion are getting much worse and it's time we got back to history, not fiction.