For one reason or the other, the Middle East draws the attention of the national media in many countries. In the US, Arabs have become used to a slanted version of actual events, one that invariably favours the Israelis. Israel is fawned upon as the lone democracy in the region, while the rest of us are often depicted as blood-thirsty, oil-rich potentates.
Based on some of the emails I receive from readers in the US, I am often amused by the depth of understanding some of these good people have on this part of the world. And I cannot really blame them. Their schools do not delve deeply into issues beyond their borders and when they do they cautiously skirt around the core of the simmering conflict.
Their media, apart from being branded as slanted, is often provincial to say the least.
But in the age of the internet, some have made the effort to look beyond their borders and learn about the many facets of the Israeli-Palestinian question beyond the one-minute news feeds they had become so used to. They seek alternate sources to try and really understand. To them I say bravo, get rid of your domestic shackles and explore.
The pursuit of knowledge is enlightening. And to the rest who prefer to remain in a dormant state for whatever reason, I will introduce a basic understanding of the Middle East in a language that hopefully they will understand.
To begin with, a freshman’s summary of the Middle East goes something like this. It is made up of many countries with different religions, customs and cultures. Think of the Middle East as you would the countries in South America. There is some commonality in languages and cultures; similar, but yet so different. Some of the hardcore Islamophobics would be surprised to learn that there are many religions that flourish in the region.
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Copts and others reside here.
Among the countries in this region, there are some who are blessed with natural resources that produce healthy annual incomes, and then there are the less fortunate ones with not much to fall back on except perhaps to provide a labour pool for the affluent countries. With the exception of Israel, very few receive aid that US tax-payers have to front for.
A great number of inhabitants of this region have in the past held an admiration for the American way of life. They bore no envy or hate towards Americans. Witness the annual migration of people to the US from this part of the world in the past four or five decades.
There was an earnest desire to learn and accept the good things America had to offer. Graduating from colleges and universities by the hundreds of thousands, most returned back to their countries to put to fruit their knowledge and experience.
Even in the days of the Cold War, most countries in the region allied themselves with America. And if America needed help in nearby regions such as when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the more prosperous countries here were usually very compliant in sending aid and whatever else that was necessary.
If member states got out of line, they were sounded out long before America got on the international stage. Libya, Iraq and Iran were firmly reprimanded from way back in the 80’s by the Arab League for transgressions made against one of their members, but this hardly made headlines in the US media.
So what happened? How did the relationship become what it is today? To most people, it was the disappointment of witnessing the US government failing in its role as an honest peace broker in the region.
Beginning in 1948, then 1967 and through successive conflicts until the present, administration after administration in the White House failed to grasp the importance of the faith that people here had placed in them to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict with justice for both parties.
Offering a way out of the deadlock, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz offered a peace initiative to the Israelis over a decade ago. It categorically stated that all Arab countries would announce the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict and through peace treaties begin normal relations with Israel. In return, Israel would withdraw to borders seized by its forces prior to the 1967 war. The state of Palestine, with its capital in occupied east Jerusalem, would be officially established. This offer has remained ignored by the Israelis to date, as more and more illegal encroachment of Palestinian land continues.
Time and again, we witness Israel flaunting UN resolutions backed by the steady supply of sophisticated aircraft and armaments from the US government. We hear loud protests by the current US administration about weapons of mass destruction in Arab or Islamic countries, but nary a peep about Israeli violations in its development of nuclear weapons.
We hear calls for justice and democracy, and yet very little when it comes to the ethnic cleansing by the Israelis of a people in their own lands. And the list goes on and on. As a beacon of democracy, America’s foreign policy in this region has sadly been a failure. So if an average Joe back in Peoria, Illinois, does wonder, then perhaps education is the first step to truly understand what goes on within the psyche of the people of this region. And then take the step to demand that your administration go back to playing the role of the honest broker.
By Tariq A. Al Maeena Gulf News