THE United States-led offensive against Iraq is stirring unhappy
memories among Arabs, Middle East analysts say, and is prompting
comparisons with foreign adventures in the region from the more
The Gulf crisis is also underlining differences in outlook
between the people of the Middle East and those of the West, these
The 20th century began with Western powers (notably Britain and
France) drawing new lines on the map of the Middle East after the
breakup of the Ottoman Empire. (See chronology.) Now, Arab
commentators are pointing out, the century is coming to a close with
Western powers still trying to impose their authority - this time in
"I think people in the Middle East are extraordinarily aware of
what's happened within the century," comments Roger Owen, a
specialist in the region at St. Antony's College in Oxford, England.
"There was the coming of the West, then the going of the West, and
now their return."
Arabs who express these thoughts point not just to comments from
Western leaders on the need for what US Secretary of State James
Baker III has called a new "security structure" in the region once
the current crisis is over. They question the whole attitude of the
"We do not seek the destruction of Iraq," President Bush said in
his state of the union address last month. Rather, he went on, the
Western allies wanted an Iraq which would use its resources "to
build a better life for itself."
Western attitude questioned
"What right," an Arab academic asks, "does Washington have to
decide what constitutes a `better life' for Iraq?"
In trying to understand why the West should suddenly have gone to
such lengths in taking up the cause of Kuwait, many Arabs point to
the oil wealth of the Gulf region. But they also find their minds
wandering back to events which began in the 11th century: the
"People in the region can not quite decide, whether it's an oil
war in the guise of a crusade, a crusade in the guise of an oil war,
or some fusion of the two," says Kamal Salibi, lecturer in Middle
East history at the American University of Beirut. "Certainly,
everyone feels it is an attempt on the part of the United States and
her allies to impose a new order on the Arab world and on the Arabs'
ability to make independent decisions."
Professor Salibi says that the splits within the ranks of Arab
leaders over the Gulf crisis also mirrors what happened at the time
of the crusades.
"The Fatimid rulers of Egypt were reckoned to be in cahoots with
the crusaders - they actually invited them, with the Normans of
Sicily as intermediaries, because they had a common interest in Red
Sea trade," Salibi says. "Then there were those leaders who
cooperated with the crusaders because they felt they were winning
and it was better to be on the right side. Others reacted negatively
to the outsiders - by sheer instinct."
Echoes of crusades
As every Arab man, woman, or child will tell you, the crusaders
were eventually driven out of the region. Historical echoes like
that, as much as anything else, generate popular support for Iraq in
the current crisis. …