The Significance of Passover for Contemporary Arab and Muslim History / Prof.B.Rubin

One of the greatest little challenges of my life--at least in terms of needing to react instantly--came when I was sitting in a meeting with high-ranking Egyptian officials during Passover. One of them asked me if it was true that the Jews had a holiday about defeating the Egyptians. I realized I had about ten seconds maximum to come up with the best answer.

And it then came to me: "Ah, I replied, those were jahiliyya times."

In Islam, the time before the beginning of that religion is viewed as a time of not only paganism but barbarism. Pharoah is a villain in the Koran. So they instantly accepted my answer: celebrating a story which ends with the drowning of pharoah isn't an act against Egypt but against a hated tyrant.

We are in a similar situation today. Change for the better will only come when the ideas and individuals who dominate the Middle East today--and oppose modernization, women's equality, democracy, peace with Israel, and real friendship with the West--are seen not as heroic leaders embodying Arabism and Islam but as unrepresentative tyrants.

That is not going to happen any time soon. It will take decades. Coincidentally, I just read the following written by George Orwell in 1946:

"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible….This habit of the mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires...are expected to happen with earthquake suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end.”

Yes, this process has only "barely started" and there is a long way to go. Indeed, it is arguably true that more in the West have accepted the "Middle East" interpretation of reality in the last decade than the other way around, viewing Islamists as heroic revolutionaries and tyrannical regimes as fighters for the underdog.

A brave Syrian oppositionist once asked me whether I thought democracy would come soon to his country. I choked up, having to much respect for him to tell him a pleasing lie. He understood my silence: "Oh, well," he sighed, "maybe in my children's time."

And so let me give greetings today especially--though not exclusively--for the democratic forces in Turkey, the democratic opposition in Iran, and in Syria, and those who dream of a free Lebanon. Your liberation will come also. Not when those tyrants' and the revolutionary extremists triumph. On the contrary, it will come when the waters close over them for the last time.

But only when the masses see what so very many of them are so proud to extol today as greatness as instead the political and social equivalent of the jahiliyya times they despise--the time of slavery to men who acted as pharoahs and to ideologies that extolled the equivalent of barbarism--will it be anywhere near an end.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Leaving Behind All Logic and Rational Policy in an Effort to Bash Israel

Posted: 29 Mar 2010 01:12 PM PDT

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By Barry Rubin

When you barely scratch the surface of what's being said by the Obama Administration and supporters about its current one-way feud with Israel it is easy to see how ludicrous are the claims being made.

For example, here's Thomas Friedman producing a much-quoted statement where no one seems to see the glaring omission:

“This tiff actually reflects a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations. I'd summarize it like this: In the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for Israel — has gone from being a necessity to a hobby. And in the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for America — has gone from being a hobby to a necessity. Therein lies the problem.”

Typically, of course, he leaves out the second main party: the Palestinians. Imagine, in a conflict between two sides, the attitude of one of them has been completely left out of this formula. So I would add: for the Palestinians (or, if you wish, Palestinian Authority) the peace process has gone from a necessity to a nuisance.

And by the way: can anyone make a serious argument that obtaining a quick peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is either possible or a necessity for the United States? No. And the only way that this claim can be asserted is by systematically censoring out a dozen counter-arguments.

Moreover, as the United States fights for an instant peace process—only a few weeks after President Barack Obama admitted in January that it wouldn’t go anywhere—the Palestinians have been the main factor blocking it. The PA has refused to negotiate for 14 months while daily Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed the willingness to talk immediately.

The nonsensical view of the situation being pushed by the White House and its supporters can only be maintained by massive censorship of the facts.

Now we have the first fruits of U.S. engagement with Syria, as the Syrian government urges the PA to abandon negotiations altogether and return to violence. There has been no reflection on the fact that the concessions to Damascus have produced more extremism there.

Also censored out of history was the U.S.-Israel agreement last October to let Israel continue building in Jerusalem.

And how about speaking as if the only thing blocking a comprehensive peace was Israeli construction of apartments in Jerusalem without mentioning the fact that a radical Islamist group called Hamas, backed by Iran and Syria, which seeks to overthrow the PA and wipe Israel off the map, is ruling almost half of the Palestinian-claimed territory. No mention whatsoever as to how this might be a problem.

And no credit whatsoever is being given Israel for its last big concession: freezing all construction on the West Bank at the U.S. request, as painful as this was. If this is erased amidst demands that Israel prove itself supportive of peace (as if this has never happened before), isn't it completely predictable that the next big concession--say, stopping construction in Jerusalem--will be treated the same way?

The administration can twist the facts as it wishes but why should the mass media go along with these distortions?

It is starting to seem conceivable that the Obama Administration will back sanctions on Israel before it does so effectively on Iran. That says more about its foreign policy foolishness than just about anything else could.

I know that people have come up with many reasons for this confrontation--ranging from visceral and ideological hatred of Israel, to a cover for failure over sanctions on Iran, to a way to justify sanctions on Iran, to a way (rather misguided!) to protect American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But here's the bottom line analysis:

From a rational national interests standpoint, from a political standpoint to win support for the administration, from a standpoint of getting the administration's first foreign policy victory, from the standpoint of trying to strengthen support for U.S. policies in the Muslim-majority and Arabic-speaking world, this tactic makes no sense.

And for a U.S. government to behave that way is the scariest thing of all.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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