by Victor Davis Hanson
Tribune Media Services
“The Palestinian people will never forgive the Hamas gangs for looting the home of the Palestinian people’s great leader, Yasser Arafat.” So Palestinian Authority spokesman Abdel Rahman recently exclaimed. “This crime will remain a stain of disgrace on the forehead of Hamas and its despicable gangs.”
Looting? Crime? Despicable gangs?
Excuse me. For years, Palestinian Authority-sanctioned gangs shot and tortured dissidents, glorified suicide bombing against Israel and in general thwarted any hopes of various “peace processes.”
Of course, this kind of behavior isn’t limited to the Palestinian territories but is spread across the Middle East. The soon-to-be-nuclear theocracy in Iran is grotesque. Iraqis continue to discover innovative ways to extinguish each other. Syria assassinates democratic reformers in Lebanon. ABC News now reports that new teams of al Qaeda and Taliban suicide bombers have been ordered to the United States and Europe from Afghanistan.
Here’s why much of the region is so unhinged — and it’s not because of our policy in Palestine or our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
First, thanks to Western inventions and Chinese manufactured goods, Middle Easterners can now access the non-Muslim world cheaply and vicariously. To millions of Muslims, the planet appears — on the Internet, DVDs and satellite television — to be growing rich as most of their world stays poor.
Second, the Middle East either will not or cannot make the changes necessary to catch up with what they see in the rest of the world. Tribalism — loyalty only to kin rather than to society at large — impedes merit and thus progress. So does gender apartheid. Who knows how many would-be Margaret Thatchers or Sandra Day O’Connors remain veiled in the kitchen?
Religious fundamentalism translates into rote prayers in madrassas while those outside the Middle East master science and engineering. Without a transparent capitalist system — antithetical to both sharia (Muslim law) and state-run economies — initiative is never rewarded. Corruption is.
Meanwhile, mere discussion in much of the region of what is wrong can mean execution by a militia, government thug or religious vigilante.
So, Middle Easterners are left with the old frustration of wanting the good life of Western society but lacking either the ability or willingness to change the status quo to get it.
Instead, we get monotonous scapegoating. Blaming America or Israel — “Those sneaky Jews did it!” — has become a regional pastime.
And after the multifarious failures of Yasser Arafat, the Assads in Syria, Muammar Gaddafi, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein and other corrupt autocrats, many have, predictably, retreated to fundamentalist extremism. Almost daily, some fundamentalist claims that the killing of Westerners is justified — because of a cartoon, a Papal paragraph or, most recently, British knighthood awarded to novelist Salman Rushdie. The terrorism of Osama bin Laden, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban is as much about nihilist rage as it is about blackmailing Western governments to grant concessions.
Meanwhile, millions of others simply flee the mess, immigrating to either Europe or the United States.
These reactions to failure often lead to circumstances that can defy logic.
The poor terrorists of Arafat’s old party, Fatah, seem to shriek that they have been out-terrorized by Hamas, and desperately con more Western aid to make up for what has been squandered or stolen.
Muslims flock to Europe to enjoy a level of freedom and opportunity long denied at home. But no sooner have many arrived than they castigate their adopted continent as decadent. The ungracious prefer intolerant sharia — denying to their own the very freedom of choice that was given to them by others.
Our response in America to this perennial Middle East temper tantrum?
In the last 20 years, we’ve sent billions in aid to the Arab world. We’ve saved Muslims from Bosnia to Kuwait. We’ve removed dangerous thugs in Afghanistan and Iraq, fostering democracies in their place. We’ve opened our borders to immigrants from the Middle East. We’ve paid billions of dollars in inflated oil prices. All the while, many in the West have wrongly blamed themselves for the conditions in the Middle East.
It’s past time for Middle Easterners to fix their own self-inflicted mess. In the meantime, the U.S. and its allies should help as we can — but first protect ourselves from them as we must.
©2007 Tribune Media Services