Re: More war stuff

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Fri Nov 23 2001 - 04:08:51 MST

On Fri, Nov 23, 2001 at 04:33:45AM -0500, wrote:
> My contention is that many of the Middle Eastern societies were "messed-up"
> before the US was ever heard of


> , and they are messed up now.

also agreed

> I believe they
> have pissed-off the wrong people.


> I feel no nationalist rage here, only an
> awareness that many Middle Easterners values are what is behind their own
> misery, poverty, inequalities, and injustices; but they use America as a
> scape-goat.

Here's where we part company.

Firstly, these countries mostly didn't exist before the 1920's. There
isn't a strong tradition of nation-building in the islamic world; they're
all supposed to be one big happy family, which is why you tend to see
strong clan/extended family ties and then a curious lack of structure
all the way up to Empire size. The last big islamic empire, the Ottoman
Empire, picked the losing side during WW1, and the French and British
grabbed the left-overs; they then carved them up into western-style
nations and installed puppet monarchies.

(With me so far?)

With a modicum of political and social development, some of those nations
held revolutions and kicked out the kings, in some cases replacing them
with more or less democratic republics. A few monarchies survived, either
by brutal repression (Arabia) or by constitutionalising themselves along
British lines (Jordan, very approximately). The power vacuum also gave
rise to a specifically nation-building creed, Ba'athism -- which, however,
was crippled by (a) its nostalgia for pan-arabism (the happy family shtick:
except each Ba'ath party thought _it_ was the head of the household, so
they tended to squabble), and (b) the fact that Ba'athism was, structurally
speaking, a reincarnation of National Socialism (ick).

Left to their own devices I suspect the Middle East would by now be a mess
of developing nations along the lines of South America. But two factors
came along to destabilize the region: oil, and the Cold War.

The need to protect western nations' oil supplies caused successive
intervention in the region -- first, the British/French Suez affair, in
which the USA basically ended up threatening Britain and France with
economic sanctions if they didn't pull out, and then a variety of low-
key machinations by the US, moving into the power vacuum left by the former
European colonial powers. These included some very dubious affairs -- such
as the overthrow of a democratic government in Iran and its replacement
with a hereditary dictatorship, support for some of the more barking-
mad neo-Nazi Ba'athists (such as Saddam Hussein) and reactionary Feudal
monarchs (such as Saud) and so on. Respect for human rights wasn't on the
agenda during this period of the cold war, and it built up a bitter legacy
of resentment because "securing the west's oil lifeline" actually involved
destroying all hope for democracy in the region.

The suicide fanatics of Al Qaida are basically the end-product of a
whole generation of the disposessed -- young men (growing population,
y'know) who see nothing but corruption among their national leaders,
who have no hope for direct political involvement (demonstrators tend to
be shot, there is no freedom of speech in much of the Middle East) and
who think their own culture is being submerged by that of the repugnant
aliens who've squashed all hope of political or economic development in
their own countries.

The point you need to bear in mind is that these guys are a minority,
even in the Middle East. A small minority. And a good way of pulling the
rug out from under their feet would be to take a hard look at ethics in
foreign policy. Supporting any damn neo-Nazi regime or feudal monarchy
just because it's good for business may, well, be good for business, but
ultimately it builds up a charge of resentment that if you're not lucky
will find its way to you, rather than to the more appropriate targets
(the neo-Nazi dictatorships and those feudal Monarchies).

-- Charlie

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