Sunday, March 20, 2005
The Thin Heretical Line!
American policies are not set in stone. There have been thousands of documents like Clean Break that never amounted to anything but wishful thinking. They were either shelved in favor of other policy options or were simply overtaken by events. Those in the Middle East who fear the “ominous” content of Clean Break should realize that the implementation of it, no matter how influential its authors seem to be at this stage, could, nonetheless, be seriously undermined through the adoption of a more pragmatic and proactive attitude by the regimes and parties concerned.
Dealing with US policy with a sense of fatalism will only justify the basic claims and arguments of the Clean Break advocates, namely that most ME societies, especially traditional Arab societies, along with the ruling regimes they have spewed and regurgitated over the years, are simply irreformable, irredeemable, unsalvageable, and, in short, incapable of working out their own salvation. As such, external interference is a must even if, on the short to intermediate run, it means chaos. For a chaotic dynamism is much better, from their view, than static nihilism.
In all this, America, regardless of where it is located with regard to this at a given moment, is all too simply and earnestly seeking to achieve its own interests. What else?
For politics, frequent recourse to moral justifications notwithstanding, is an amoral science par excellence. Only victims of this science tend to complain about its nature and applications. The beneficiaries, on the other hand, will simply state that this is the way things have been since time immemorial.
For instance, all Arab nationalists are willing to condemn American imperialism but none is willing to condemn the Arab imperialist experiment that took place under the banner of Islam. We can all understand the special circumstance and context of the imperialist ventures of our forefathers, but we are completely unwilling to fathom the logic behind the imperialist ventures perpetrated against us at any given moment, so long as we remain the victims thereof. This is only natural of course. No one likes to be a victim.
The problem here, however, is that victimary mentality leaves no room for creative solutions, where such solutions are most sorely needed. Complaining about the cold is not going to make me any warmer. While fighting off the cold with my bare skin is not the smart thing to do. This region is going to witness a lot of pressures from the US in the days, months and years to come. Complaining about the perceived double standards and the injustice of it all will not help. While butting head with the US is simply an exercise in futility, especially when the regimes involved continue to wallow under the dark shadows of illegitimacy and the people are so alienated and powerless.
So, and while America may not be the solution, it is definitely not the real problem, but a mere symptom or a manifestation thereof. Indeed, America would not have had any reason to come here had we been able to fathom and accept the nature of the world around us and its continuingly changing realities, and had we been able and willing to accommodate ourselves to that.
This region has been in a serious crisis mode ever since it was pulled into the modern world from the medievalistic temporal enclave in which it long buried itself, and yet no one has yet attempted to manage this crisis in view of minimizing losses and maximizing potential advantages.
Rather, the political, economic and intellectual elites have, for the most part, busied themselves simultaneously denying and exploiting this crisis to their immediate advantage. Still, let’s not waste any time blaming them here, for in reality they could not have behaved differently. Elites, after all, are but products of their own societies and often suffer from the selfsame problems and handicaps they tend to diagnose and attempt to treat.
One of these problems is that of our self-image which continues to be shaped by medievalistic realities, realities that are no longer relevant today, realities that could never again be relevant, no matter how long we wait or how hard we pray.
We need to be realistic here so as to avoid reaching the breaking point, for breaking is not inevitable. We need to redefine our understanding of many “basic” concepts, such as sovereignty, national identity, and, more importantly perhaps, national resources. Indeed, and all through recorded history, these things have consistently been nothing more than pipe-dreams.
For the real practical meaning and application of these concepts has always depended on existing power relations between the various states and empires involved. The stronger parties interfered, expropriated, dabbled and imposed, while the weaker relented, complained, rebelled, and surrendered or were destroyed. There were times where resistance was indeed possible and others when it was not.
In this, resistance based on a realistic assessment of one’s own potential and of what is actually at stake was the only resistance that managed, eventually, to succeed. Meanwhile, resistance based on denial has only paved the way for destruction, and though it did serve, at times, as a symbolic testament for something whose real meaning continues to be disputed.
But ours is not the time for such symbolic testaments. And we should know. The last fifty years or so of our “modern” history have been replete with such testaments, but what did they really bring us so far but shame? Nonetheless, we might still be able to give some meaning and dignity to some of these testaments (the Palestinian struggle for statehood, for instance) provided we make the necessary compromises to achieve so today. If not, then all the sacrifices made, all the sacrifices we were compelled to make, were for nothing.
Accepting reality and dealing with it as such, involves walking a thin line between two types of fatalisms: one calling for blind nihilistic resistance, and the other for an equally blind nihilistic surrender. For you simply have to work with what you have, or what you can get at this stage, in order to improve your lot. Else, your choices are narrowed to being either a victim or a perpetrator. For as long as you think like a victim or a perpetrator, you cannot stop being one.
Fatalism is not simply an admission of weakness but is often a reflection of a serious lack of understanding, imagination and gumption, a lack of the desire and willingness to change. Indeed, fatalism is often a stark manifestation of a wishful strand of thought to the effect that a certain crisis could be averted so long as it is, and its deleterious effects upon our social, cultural and spiritual fabric, is ignored.
Some might say that in the age of human rights, things should be better than this, that we deserve better than to have to put up with such dreary amoral understanding and practice of life and politics. Indeed, this should be so. This is indeed part and parcel of the struggle to reach a greater, deeper and downright better sense of humanity. But this is the story of the human adventure itself, isn’t it? This is the essence of our continued being. None of us is likely to ever live to see the day when this dream is fulfilled. We always have to make do with something that is much less.
To what extant less? Different people will always have different answers. Always.
As such, this rambling of mine will probably convince no one of anything really, and might indeed harden people in their erstwhile stances. Still, I needed to make it. Some people write their testaments in the sand or air, I write mine in bytes. Let the misunderstandings come.