War Cries!

Cool heads do not seem destined to prevail in the region these days. They are too few to begin with. In fact, I can only count one: Fouad Seniora. The hot heads, on the other hands, are too numerous to list in toto, but they surely include: Mahmoud Amhadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah and Bashar al-Assad. The first has just wasted his fifteen minutes in the UN by failing to offer anything of substance to advance his country’s cause. Grandstanding may get you a few laughs and applause (a la Chavez, I guess), but not understanding or support.


Meanwhile, the last two has just performed a bizarre sort of a Laurel and Hardy act by threatening UNIFEL and slamming all their opponents in Lebanon, accusing them of treason and of being agents for Israel, which is not only dumb, but very unimaginative on their part.

Still, what we see here is coordination in action once again, the Radical Alliance is upping the ante once again, and the ground seems set now for a Round Two of sorts with Israel. For, everybody wants to provoke the beast again. Everybody needs a distraction.

I wonder what sort of guise the provocation will assume this time!

(A continuation of the post found at Heretical Offerings – a mirror blog I maintained for a while at Newsvine)
Be that as it may, some will find in this line of reasoning an attempt to blame only one side of the equation. Perhaps it is. Indeed, I always blame “us” first and foremost. Why? Well, because we have been falling back on victimary rhetoric for decades now, to no avail. We need something better. We need different approaches. And by “we” I definitely do not mean the Assads of Syria, or any of the existing regimes in the region, who are either too stupid, too corrupt, or both, to think along different lines.

I actually mean the more educated classes, be they academic, intellectuals, or professional of different types, who, by virtue of their education and experiences should know better by now than to continue to bet on the existing regimes, and who, in fact, should know how recourse to victimary rhetoric and playing a zero-sum game have only served to empower despotic regimes, wreak havoc upon our economies and degrade our infrastructure. Raison d’état in this case means that we should learn when and how to cut down our losses, so that we can invest whatever little resources we have left in developing our countries and integrating them in the global economy in such a way that will allow us to accrue some benefits, and not just pay the price.

Indeed, our traditional resistance has always been futile, not to mention all too costly. Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan understood that all too well, which is why they signed that deal with Israel and got their countries of the loop. But peace with Israel, as we have seen, does not automatically translate into development, reform and democratization. So, if development and democracy are the real goals, why not start with them? Why continue to out them off until some unspecified almost fantastical future date? Indeed, a democratic Syrian government might indeed be much more capable of sealing a peace agreement with Israel than an authoritarian one. We have tried the authoritarian option anyway, and it didn’t lead anywhere. Isn’t it about time we tried a different approach, one that puts development and democratization as items number one on our national list of priorities?

But coming at this point in time, and focusing on the “weaker” side of the equation, and seeming to justify or ignore the policies of the Bush Administration, my criticism is bound to meet with opposition, especially from those quarters that prefer to preserve the status quo, for all its perceived and acknowledged ills, for fear that the region and its peoples are simply not ready for change at this stage, especially one that is introduced from the outside. But I happen to believe that the wait for the opportune moment in this regard is an exercise in futility, because there will always be internal and external crises that can be used as excuses as to why reforms should be postponed, indeed, this has been the case for the past fifty some years.

Moreover, in this world, much of the reform impetus is bound to have connections to the outside world, for the outside and the inside have become too inextricable linked for this to be avoided. In fact, the regimes and the Islamist nationalist forces continue to be the greatest beneficiaries of external support than all liberal democratic actors combined. Most Islamist and nationalist groups tend to be funded by external actors (except in the Gulf, where they seem to be financed by renegade elements in these countries), and most regimes, even the Syrian one, continue to be supported and shored up by external actors. So, it is only the liberals who are decried when they seek to strengthen their ever weakening hand at this stage by seeking external support and succor. How telling.

Meanwhile, all actors involved in the political game in the region are sticking to their guns in an ever vocal, aggressive and hostile game of mutual blame and recriminations. Indeed, we all think that we are justified in our stands and motivated by the rights ideals and intentions. We all just know that we are enlightened enough to know what is really involved here and to see what the other side does not see. And even though we all speak about compromises and dialogue, none of us has so far made any real compromises or concessions. The only thing that changed over the course of our dialogue of the deaf is the fact that more and more people are adopting an alarmist tone, perhaps I can say, by way of conceding to my ego at least, my alarmist tone. For I have been warning about an upcoming wide-scale regional disaster for years now.

Pretty soon, we, the last remaining technocrats and professional and intellectual elite with some lingering regional ties, will find ourselves at different sides of the new Great Divide, shouting if not shooting at each other, for all the similarities in our ideals and all the right intentions we have always had. Here is human nature at work for you. This is what happens when we rally behind murderers and charlatans, all while knowing the reality of who they are, citing raison d’état, real politick and “live and live let live (but occasionally die)” and “don’t rock the boat” approaches as the main motivations.

But, in truth, we just did not have the guts and the vision to resist when resistance would have really meant something and would not have been in any way futile, albeit, it might have required too many sacrifices and a lot of patience. We couldn’t rally behind members from our own ranks and select new and more worthy leaders from amongst them, both out fear and clashing egos. Indeed, the fact remains that we had our chance, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had a window of opportunity that lasted for 15 years in some cases to take some initiative and pave the way for some internally engineered change, and we blew it. Oh yeah, things were never that easy and that simple, I know. But are they supposed to? Could there ever be in life a time when things are that easy and simple?

Facts are always muddied, realities always hard to face, change always difficult to work out, and good leaders hard to come by. Indeed, good leaders will not emerge except through the process itself. Things are not set in motion by the right leaders, but the right leaders could be produced in the process of motion and change. This is why the status quo should be broken, breaking it, even at the cost of instability and of finding ourselves at opposite ends of all sorts of weapons of war, both rhetorical and real, is our only hope. Or is this my pride and sense of folly talking?

Hmm. I haven’t read Herman Hesse in a while, but I think he had a few things to say about such existential crises.

Meanwhile, the blame game and the exchange of mutual recriminations between people who have always been too powerless to really influence things, regardless of how highly they regard themselves, is an essential part of this little tragic charade that is unfolding all around us.