September 15, 2011: In the last decade, the world has learned what Israelis have known for a long time; Arabs and their governments tend to favor self-destructive policies. Western nations have generally ignored this madness, or excused each instance as a momentary lapse in good judgment. But this bad behavior has spawned Islamic terrorism, and sustains it. Many Arabs believe what al Qaeda preaches, that the world should be ruled by an Islamic religious dictatorship, and that this must be achieved by any means necessary (including force, against non-Moslems, and Moslems who don’t agree.) This sort of thinking has been popular with Islamic conservatives since Islam first appeared in the sixth century. Since then, it has periodically flared up into major outbreaks of religious inspired violence. But that’s not the only problem. Arabs, in particular, sustain these outbursts with their fondness for paranoid fantasies and an exaggerated sense of persecution and entitlement. For example, most Arabs believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not carried out by Arabs, but were a CIA scam, to provide an excuse for the West to make war on Islam. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. troops in Iraq were amazed at the number of fantastical beliefs that were accepted as reality there. Then there is the corruption and intense hatreds. It’s a very volatile and unpredictable part of the world, and always has been.
For centuries, the West was shielded from this problem because the Ottoman Turks ruled most of the Arabs. Western diplomats often heard the Turks complain about their Arab subjects. A favorite quip among the Turks was, “One should not involve oneself with the affairs of the Arabs.” Then, when World War I, and the Ottoman Empire, ended in 1918, Western nations found themselves temporarily in charge of these former Turkish Arab provinces. Before World War II broke out in 1939, most of these Arab provinces were turned into separate states. These new countries were not stable. After World War II began, for example, Iraq (a monarchy at that point) attempted to ally itself with Nazi Germany. Arabs admired the Nazi attitudes towards Jews (not realizing that Nazi anti-Semitism applied to all Semites, of whom Arabs were the most numerous.) Britain could not afford to have a Nazi ally sitting on their major source of oil, and gathered together a few divisions and invaded. Three weeks later, Iraq was conquered, and a more agreeable group of Iraqis were found to run the place for the rest of the war.
After World War II, there were problems in several Arab states, most of them involving reformers (who turned out to be dictators, once they took over) and the ruling traditionalists (who were less efficient dictators, for the most part). Then there was Israel, where Arabs had been demonstrating the religious intolerance they have long been infamous for. Around the same time, Saudi Arabia was explaining to Western oil workers why the long list of lifestyle rules for foreigners (no non-Moslem houses of worship, restrictions on the dress and activities of women and so on) was necessary, and mandatory (on pain of death). But when the UN approves the establishment of Israel (and an adjacent Arab state), the Arab world announces that they will not tolerate this. Arab states tell Arabs living near Jews to flee, temporarily, while the combined armies of all Arab states in the region attack and wipe out the greatly outnumbered Jews. To the world’s amazement, the Arabs are defeated. Even though Arab military skill had been held in low esteem for centuries (and Jews were not considered much better), this defeat came as a shock.
The newly created state of Israel studied all this, and concluded that the Arabs were done in by corruption and self-delusion. These two problems continued to cripple Arab military effectiveness. There were a few exceptions. The Jordanians institutionalized the training they had received from the British, although that only made them a more difficult enemy for the Israelis to defeat in 1967. Since then, Jordan has maintained good relations with Israel. Egypt reformed its military in the early 1970s, but those reforms were gone by the late 1970s, replaced by the usual corruption and incompetence.
The Arabs have fought five major wars with Israel, losing all of them badly, even though Israel was always outnumbered and outgunned. Unlike Jordan, all the other Arab states continue to insist that Israel must be destroyed. Palestinians continue to believe the promises of these Arab states that this will soon be accomplished. In the meantime, the descendants of the Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 are still living in refugee camps, because the Arab states those camps are in will not accept the Palestinians as refugees, and give them citizenship. In the West, the Palestinians were accepted as refugees and allowed to settle and become citizens. The Palestinians are unimpressed at how Europe handled a similar situation after World War II, when many borders and millions of people were moved. After the Arab attack on the newly declared Israeli state in 1948 failed, Arab nations refused to take in any of the 700,000 Palestinians who fled the fighting. Had those Palestinians stayed, they would have outnumbered the 600,000 Israelis and the history of Israel would have been quite different. It's interesting to note that nearly all of the 25 million refugees produced by the aftermath of World War II in the late 1940s were resettled. This included 600,000 thousand Jews who fled Arab nations after Israel was established.
It gets much worse. As hundreds of billions in oil revenue poured into the Persian Gulf states, the Arab nations there did not invest in their economies, instead they created government jobs for most of the males, and imported foreigners to run the economy (pick up the garbage, build and maintain everything, run the stores, hospitals and so on). East Asian nations, without oil, invested what they had in education and their economy. Fifty years later, the Arabs still have their consumer society, run by foreigners, while the East Asian states (some of them Moslem) have achieved economic independence, with vibrant, self-sustaining economies. Some Arabs have noticed this, but the majority have not.
The madness continued, especially when it came to the lack of tolerance for other religious or political ideas. For example, in Iraq, a Sunni minority had long ruled a Shia Moslem majority, often using a lot of brutality to keep the Sunnis in power. A Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein, came to power in the late 1960s, and in 1980 ignored thousands of years of history (where the more powerful Iranians kick the Arabs around at will most of the time) and invades Iran. There is a revolution going on in Iran at that time, and Saddam believes he can seize some oil fields just across the border, and then negotiate a peace deal with the distracted Iranians. That’s not how the Iranians operate. They never have. A bloody war ensues. Total casualties are several million dead and wounded. In 1988 both sides agree to a ceasefire. The armies were basically sitting on their pre-war borders at that point. Iraq gained nothing, except a lot of debts (needed to buy weapons, and loyalty from Iraqi Shia). The insanity continued in 1990, when Saddam decided that he could invade Kuwait (to whom he owned over $10 billion) and add their oil to Iraq’s already enormous reserves. Saddam overlooks the fact that the West (and most Arabs) consider him an unreliable maniac, and will not tolerate the seizure of Kuwait. Within six months, a coalition of Western and Arab troops drive Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait and demand reparations for all the damage Iraq did to Kuwait. The UN puts Iraq under an embargo until the debts are paid, and weapons inspectors are satisfied that Iraq has no more chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Note that the Arab states joined this coalition only after the United States promised not to invade Iraq and remove the Sunni Arab minority from power. This was part of the long struggle between Iranians and Arabs. Iraq had a Shia Moslem majority (as did Iran) and the Sunni Arab oil states did not want a more pro-Iran Shia government running Iraq.
Saddam, terrified that Iran would now invade Iraq and kill him (Iranian leaders had publicly vowed to do that), now that Iraq was so weak, refused to admit that he has already destroyed his “weapons of mass destruction.” This fact was kept very secret because, as Saddam later admitted, he wanted Iran to think he still had these weapons (to discourage Iran from invading.) Saddam believed that the UN would eventually get tired of the embargo and inspections and go away. Iran, however, would always be there.
When the U.S. invaded in 2003, Saddam’s forces folded about as quickly as they had in 1991. But Saddam had a Plan B. He told his Sunni Arab followers to begin a terror campaign against the foreign troops (which did not work out too well) and against Shia Arabs (which killed over 50,000 civilians). Saddam reasoned that this would cause the Shia Arabs in Iraq to attack Iraqi Sunni Arabs, and that this would bring in neighboring Sunni Arab nations to aid the Iraqi Sunni Arabs in taking power again. Saddam even considered it possible that he would end up as the dictator of Iraq again. This was insane, but it made perfect sense to many Iraqi Sunni Arabs. None of the neighboring Arab states were going to aid the Iraqi Sunni Arab terrorists (other than allowing their own terrorism minded citizens to go to Iraq and get killed as suicide bombers or inept gunmen). This Sunni Arab terror campaign went on for nearly five years, until most Iraqi Sunni Arabs (at least the ones who had not fled the country, as a fifth already had) gave up, and turned against the terrorists.
But most Arabs admit that their main reason for hating the West, is the existence of Israel. The Palestinians are united by their desire to destroy Israel and drive all Jews from the Middle East, but they are also divided by many things, including religion. Although most (except for three percent who are Christians) are Moslem, they are at odds over what kind of Islam should be practiced. Many, but not most, Palestinians in Gaza (where 1.5 million live) favor Islamic conservatism, and making religion the center of people's lives and forcing all Palestinians to comply with Islamic law (Sharia). But in the West Bank (where 2.5 million live), the trend is definitely in favor of education (always popular among Palestinians) and moving away from destructive practices (religious conservatism and Islamic terrorism). This is actually still a contentious issue in the West Bank, where the ruling (as the PLO) Fatah party has long been known for corruption more than any kind of reform. But the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (a Fatah man) has been talking up more education, and critical thinking (something that could get you killed in Iran).
Some Arab leaders go even further. Four years ago, at a meeting of the Arab League, the king of Saudi Arabia told the assembled rulers that the biggest problem in the Arab world was poor leadership. This was a bold statement, but not unusual for the senior people in the Saudi government. These princes have also been supporting the Arab Reform Movement, which is based on the idea that most of the Arab world's problems are internal, not the result of outside interference. Actually, most educated Arabs will readily admit that their leaders have been less than stellar, and largely responsible for the corruption and bad decisions that have put the Arab world so far behind the West, and every other region, except Africa, when it comes to economic growth.
But knowing and admitting to the problem does not solve it. The United States found that out after Saddam Hussein's Baath Party dictatorship was overthrown. Iraqis eagerly embraced democracy, only to find that the people they elected were not a big improvement over Saddam. Some of Iraq's new leaders backed terrorists. This was especially true of Iran backed Shia factions, which unleashed death squads, that killed thousands of Sunni Arabs. Some of the Sunni Arab leaders supported terrorists who targeted Shias. And then there was the corruption, with billions of dollars of government money missing.
This incompetence is also, as the Saudi king likes to point out, the cause of the Islamic terrorism that has found a home in the Islamic world. Indeed, these terrorists only began attacking kafirs (non-Moslems) in the 1990s when they realized Islamic terrorists were getting shut down in Arab countries. In Egypt, Syria and Algeria, Islamic radical attempts to toss out corrupt governments all failed. While Arab leadership may suck, these guys have certainly mastered the art of running a police state.
But attacking non-Moslems, outside of the Moslem world, brought into play the Western media. This was important, because the Western media now had 24 hour, world-wide (via satellite) outlets. All the people that mattered could now see what the Islamic terrorists did. Before, terror attacks inside Arab countries were largely ignored by the rest of the world. But now, the instant publicity was critical, because there were millions of Arabs living in the West. These people were making more money than they were back home. Fed up with the corrupt and incompetent leadership back home, they moved. This Arab Diaspora provided a refuge for Islamic militants. Another benefit was the appearance of Arab language satellite news services in the 1990s. Terrorist movements thrived on publicity, and the more news channels there were out there, the more attention terrorist attacks would get.
All that terrorism was a sign that some Arabs are very unhappy. For decades, the powers-that-be refused to acknowledge why the kids were pissed off. Thanks to all those suicide bombs and breathless news reports, the family secret was out there for the entire world to see. No, not the al Qaeda "the West is making war on Islam," canard, but an earlier al Qaeda call to overthrow the corrupt leaders of the Arab countries. Al Qaeda has to come up with the "war on Islam" angle to justify September 11, 2001, and earlier attacks. But the root cause is bad leadership at home.
The Palestinians have used terrorism against each other, as well as the Israelis, and it has not worked. The Arab states that donate so much money to the Palestinians have noted that, as well as the fact that Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the threat to keep going (had not the American led coalition promptly shown up.) Palestinians continue to support al Qaeda, which is still at war with the Arab nations Palestinians depend on for payroll money.
So when the king of Saudi Arabia tells the assembled Arab leadership that they are the problem, you can take that as a sign of progress. But real progress it ain't. Arab leaders are victims of their own success. Their rule is based on corruption and police state tactics. Think East Europe before 1989. Big difference is that, although the populations of East Europe then, and the Arab world now, were both fed up with their leaders and governments, the Arabs were not willing to make as painless a switch as the East Europeans did in the 1990s. That's because the East Europeans had two choices; communism or democracy. The Arabs have three; despotism, democracy or Islamic dictatorship.
In Iraq and Gaza we see how the Islamic radicals react to democracy. They call it un-Islamic and kill those who disagree with them. The Arabs have to deal with this, and in Iraq they are. In Gaza they aren't. But the violence in Iraq has revealed another Arab problem. Even if you remove religion from the equation, not all Arabs are keen on democracy. In Iraq, the Sunni Arab minority believe it is their right (or responsibility) to run the country. This is a common pattern in Arab countries. One minority believes they are rulers by right, and that democracy is an abomination and un-Islamic (or at least inconvenient for the ruling minority). This is the pattern in nearly every Arab country.
But there is hope. One of the least known members of the Arab League, Mauritania, held elections five years ago and now have the only other, besides Iraq, freely elected Arab government. The divisions in Mauritania, with a population of less than four million, are between the Arab (about a third) and "former slaves" (black Africans from the south). Mauritania exists on the border between Arabs and Bantu (the ethnic group that predominates in Africa south of the Sahara). Blacks were the slaves, and slavery was formerly abolished only in 1981. But slavery still exists in Mauritania, but so does democracy. Like South Africa, and a lot of other places where "democracy won't work," it does. Not democracy like in the United States, or Europe, or anywhere else. Every democracy is different, just like every culture is different. Democracy is a messy, inefficient form of government, but compared to all the others, it tends to be preferred by most people.
Arabs, even Arab leaders, know they need democracy. They have tried everything else, and nothing else works. But democracy is strong medicine for Arabs, and many would rather just talk about it, and go no further. And that is the problem in the Arab world, especially among the Palestinians. Islamic terrorism is the result. The Palestinians have, to many of their Arab patrons, not gotten the message. Apparently some Palestinians realize this, but they won't admit it. The Palestinians are still obsessed with having it their way, especially if Western and Arab donors continue to subsidize the dream of destroying Israel. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to be destroyed, and that sets the stage for some awesome violence if the fantasies continue to flourish.