I know that the situation has become far worse in recent years, having vivid memories of how my two main Middle East studies professors—both Arabs, both anti-Israel, and one of them a self-professed Marxist—had contempt for Edward Said and the then new, radical approach to the subject. At one graduate seminar, the students--every single one of them hostile to Israel but not, as today is often the case, toward America--literally broke up in laughter pointing out the fallacies in Said’s Orientalism. Today, no one would dare talk that way, it would be almost heresy.The fact is, as Barry Rubin explains, that Arab nationalism has been serving as the tool of imperialism since before World War I.
Let me now take a single example of the radical approach so common today and briefly explain how off-base it is. I won’t provide detailed documentation here but could easily do so.
The question is: Who in the Middle East was the tool of imperialism? Most likely the professors and their students, at least their graduate student acolytes, would respond: Israel. Not at all.
To summarize Rubin's main points:
Before and During World War I EraThe French both encouraged and subsidized Arab nationalism before the war.
During WWI the British sponsored the Arab nationalist revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
The Germans allied themselves with the Ottomans and encouraged Islamism.
Post-WWIBritish policy turned away from supporting a Jewish state by the early 1920s and considered an Arab alliance more valuable. They used the local Arab elites to build their imperial position in the region. Likewise the French and Russia, especially to undermine their opponents in the area.
Before and During World War IITo maintain Arab support in the coming war, the British adopted an appeasement policy that sacrificed the Jews to maintain Arab aid in the war -- while Germany and Italy supported the Arabs with the same goal.
After World War IIThe British again used moderate Arab forces -- this time to consolidate their position. The British were the real founders of the Arab League.
The US attempted to use the Arab armies as an anti-Communist force, such in Iran, became too strong.
The Recent EraThe United States did not start to support Israel till the 1970's, as part of the Cold War against the Soviets and their Arab allies in the region -- also backing a number of Arab states against Russian influence
Interestingly, the discussion of Imperialism sidesteps the irony that today, the biggest Imperialists in the Middle East are the Islamists themselves:
Of course, the debate today is so structured as to leave out the fact that local countries can also be imperialistic in that they seek to take over the entire region or most of it. The modern history of the Middle East has been characterized by a battle between Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi imperialism seeking to gobble up Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinians, the Gulf monarchies, and each other. Today, the nationalist motives have simply been replaced by an Islamist-driven drive to gain hegemony in the region with Iran and Turkey added to the mix. There's a long-term dream of reestablishing a caliphate. But the more realistic goal is that of old-fashioned imperialism, hegemony, and creating a sphere of influence for the country and regime involved.Read the whole thing.
Rubin notes the further irony, that the Obama administration is trying to exploit the anti-Imperialist Islamists in order to further US interests in the region.
If the Arab world is looking for Imperialist tools in the Middle East, it need not look far.
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