In the Middle East alone, invented nations include Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, and even Turkey. Like the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza, these, too, were all once part of the Ottoman Empire. None existed before World War I, after which these jerry-built states united various, and often competing, sectarian, ethnic, and tribal identities.But inventiveness in the Middle East goes beyond the new Arab and Muslim countries that have only recently come into existence--once could equally point to the fictions attached to terms such as "Arab People" and "Muslim World":
The real question, then, is not whether Palestinian nationalism is “authentic,” but whether this particular national fiction is useful. Gingrich’s proposed alternative identity for the Palestinians—linking these Arabic-speaking, non-Jewish residents of the territories to the rest of the “the Arab people”—is bad for the region, the United States, and Israel.
The problem is that current Palestinian nationalism is not strong enough. If it were, Yasser Arafat and, later, Mahmoud Abbas might have been more inclined to accept the peace deals offered by Israeli prime ministers and American presidents. If Palestinian leadership were more like the early champions of Zionism, who wanted a state for the Jews no matter its size, then the conflict might have been resolved at any point over the last seven decades."
The United States has bilateral relations with other nation-states and political institutions like the Palestinian Authority. But this country is ill-equipped to deal with large amorphous bodies like the “Arab people” or, alternatively, the “Muslim world.”Generalized terms such as Muslim World and Arab People are convenient for conversation, but are not conducive to good US foreign policy.
The latter was the intended recipient of Obama’s Cairo speech in June 2009. Unfortunately, it seems not to have occurred to the president that the Muslim-majority Middle East comprises various Muslim sects often at odds, plus non-Muslims as well. By employing this particular fiction, the “Muslim world,” the Cairo speech happened to comport perfectly with the belief of Islamists who hold that non-Muslims and even Shiite Muslims are second-class subjects in the Sunni-majority Middle East, rather than individuals deserving of equal rights.
The “Arab people,” like the “Muslim world,” is an invention—and neither of them should hold much appeal for U.S. policy-makers. Given the nature of our own polity, Americans should take the lead promoting particular identities, even if some of them are formed more recently than others, like that of the Palestinians. This makes them no less worthy of the rights and respect due to other Middle Eastern identities, some of them ancient, like Egypt’s Christian community, or the region’s Jewish minority, which after being ruled by the Ottomans and other regional empires and powers, now enjoys its own state in Israel.
One need only look at the state of Obama's Middle East policy to see that.
Technorati Tag: Muslim World and Arab People and Middle East.