Magazine article The Spectator

The Fault Lies Not in Ourselves

Magazine article The Spectator

The Fault Lies Not in Ourselves

Article excerpt

A BRUTAL FRIENDSHIP by Said K. Aburish Gollancz, 20, pp. 412

The Arab world today, as Said Aburish rightly describes it, is a menacing cauldron of despotism, corruption and injustice. It takes courage for someone of Arab origins to say so. Polemicising against those he holds responsible, he is often on target, but sometimes goes beyond the historical facts. Either way, he will make few friends. Are there Westerners, it should be asked, who write Arabic as pithy as his English?

No trace of democracy or unity is to be detected anywhere in the Arab past, but Arab nationalists have always argued that if Arabs were freely allowed their say they would prove to be democratic and united. Aburish still takes this for granted. To him, self-declared nationalists such as Gamal Abdul Nasser, some of the Syrian presidents, even Abdul Karim Qassem liquidating the Iraqi monarchy, offered real hope of democracy and unity.

So why did they fail, and unleash so much violence? Why is Arab democracy and unity a mirage? Aburish gives the standard nationalist answer: it is all the fault of someone else. Something called `the British' or `the West' deliberately kept, and continues to keep, the Arabs backward and divided, the better to exploit and control them.

This required tacit conspiracy on the part of Arab leaders. Aburish has a hitlist including the Al-Saud and Hashemite families, Nuri al-Said in Iraq, Haj Amin the Mufti of Jerusalem, Camille Chamoun in Lebanon, all of them accused of selling out democracy and their own people for the sake of personal advancement. Even Nasser, in this view, began as the CIA's man.

Both `the British' and `the West' are abstract reductions which seemingly give purpose and thrust to events actually at the mercy of hazard. Politicians and their agents at all levels take initiatives for all sorts of reasons, high or low. Entering the Middle East, the British and French discovered a tribal and absolute system, with strict but Darwinian procedures for obtaining power and eliminating rivals. The Al-Sauds and Hashemites were indeed willing clients of the West as a result of anti-Zionist intrigue by a local official. Miscalculating the advantage in it, Haj Amin later went over to Hitler. Even Nuri al-Said, supposedly Britain's most loyal collaborator, was to put out feelers to Hitler. Not suddenly a generation of quislings, such men were operating according to the rules of absolutism. …

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