We’ve heard it before. Every problem in the Middle East can be blamed on the West, the United States, and Israel. Britain and France carved up the Middle East after World War 1 and milked it for resources. America sponsored coups against legitimate governments and supported wicked regimes to fight Communism (not to mention the Iraq War). Israel gets special censure for its deplorable treatment of Palestinians, and countless wars against its neighbors.
Much of this is true. There’s little doubt the West and Israel have much to answer for their conduct in the Middle East. But can all troubles in the region be conveniently blamed on outside influence or Israel? To suggest the undemocratic regimes of the Middle East, with their incredible oil wealth, and considerable military power, have always been the victims is absurd.
Since the late 1940s most countries in the Middle East have been sovereign states. There have been coups, and at least in Iraq the overthrow of a sovereign country by America, but overall the states in the region have enjoyed freedom to do what they want. What have these countries done for the last seven decades?
Have they built legitimate liberal democracies? No. Have they generally emancipated women or oppressed minorities? No. Have they shared wealth equally among elites and the masses? No. Have they built modern, diverse economies that aren’t dependent upon oil prices? Mostly not.
Have they built huge standing armies to fight Israel and each other? Yes. Have they constructed massive security apparatuses to control their peoples? Yes. Have they built palaces and other luxuries for elites while their people wallow in poverty? Yes. Have they supported terrorist groups against Israel, America, and even each other? Many times.
This doesn’t mean all states in the region are wicked, corrupt, and inefficient. Countries like Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States are relatively progressive, and most are generally peaceful. To be fair many problems infecting the region can be seen in Asia, Africa, South America, and increasingly in Europe and America!
However, despite seventy years of independence the Middle Eastern regimes have squandered their resources on enriching decadent elites, and futile wars against Israel and each other. They could’ve used their oil money on building prosperous societies, diverse economies, and democratic institutions instead. But that would’ve threatened the rule of their undemocratic regimes led by corrupt monarchs, dictators and rubber stamp parliaments.
While the western media often focuses on how many muslims have been killed by America and Israel, it misses the fact during the last seventy years muslims killed more muslims than the West and Israel combined.
The Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) saw more muslim deaths then all Arab-Israeli wars combined. There was the Yemen, Lebanon, and Jordanian Civil Wars, Afghanistan after the Russian withdrawal, the Egyptian-Libyan conflict, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the ongoing Syrian Civil War, and many others. One could argue Iraqis and foreign insurgents have killed more Iraqis than America has. This includes Saddam Husseins crackdowns on the Kurds, the cruelties of ISIS, and ongoing fighting since America withdrew in 2011.
This doesn’t even include the Palestinians. While the masses in the region go on about Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, history shows the Arabs haven’t treated them well either.
In the 1948-49 war where Israel was created Egypt and Jordan occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank respectively. These areas had a majority of Palestinian inhabitants, and were supposed to form most of what was to be the Palestinian nation as deemed by the U.N. Did Egypt and Jordan hand over power to the Palestinians and help them create an independent state? No. Did they annex both territories and use them as springboards for terrorism against Israel? Yes. It should be noted while countries in the region spent much money funding Palestinian terror, they’ve done little to alleviate the poor living conditions of the Palestinians themselves.
After the Six-Day War (1967) Israel conquered the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and Egypt and Jordan washed their hands of them. To this day the Arab occupation and pillaging of these territories is barely mentioned in western media.
As for death counts Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon killed many Palestinians over the years. Jordan killed nearly as many Palestinians during its Civil War (1970-1971) as Israel did during both intifadas. Syria killed countless Palestinians in refugee camps during its occupation of Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War local militias butchered the Palestinians on many occasions, including the infamous slaughter at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon (1982).
Finally, we shouldn’t forget about the Kurds. Countries like Iraq and Turkey have used brutal means to crush Kurdish independence movements. The poison gas attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja (killing perhaps 5000) by Saddam Hussein is the most tragic example. Syria and Egypt have also used chemical weapons in the region, Israel and America have not.
It’s beyond hypocritical that people and rulers in the Middle East are so outraged by Western and Israeli actions, but conveniently forget their states have killed more muslims, and many Palestinians and others. It’s even more incredible the majority of people in the Western world don’t know these simple facts; often being content assuming America and Israel are always to blame.
That many people in the region believe these lies is more forgivable; their media is under state control and they’re often raised to hate Israel and the West. That many in the Western world believe these lies despite an overwhelming open media… well, that’s deplorable.
A final point is how people in the region feel they’re portrayed in the media. It goes without saying there’s no lack of intolerant, or ignorant people in the West who don’t know the first thing about Islam, or Arab and Muslim values. It’s not unfair for muslims and arabs to suggest they are often victims of discrimination. Islamophobia and racism against arabs and others in the region is just wrong. As is the suggestion that Islam is inherently violent, or more than a small percentage of muslims sympathize with terrorism!
On the other hand the way the West, and especially Jewish people, are depicted in Arab media is even less flattering. Everyone should remember the stupid cartoon made in Denmark that criticized the Prophet of Mohammed. In the aftermath the Arab Street went berserk and attacked embassies, threatening violence against the West. All of Western society was deemed culpable for a single cartoon drawn by one man in Copenhagen!
While it’s supposedly unacceptable for Western media to draw cartoons offensive to Islam, it’s apparently fine for Arab media to draw racist caricatures of Jewish people with stereotypically hooked noses, and blatantly spreading hatred against Israel and the West. Much of these media methods have origins from the Third Reich.
None of this is to condone bad and immoral policies made by the West and Israel. On the contrary they should own up to them and be held accountable. It’s fair to say Western and Israeli influence on the Middle East has often been negative. However, the same must be said about the countries in regions. Only by owning up and learning from their mistakes can they leave behind all the hate and rage that has done nothing but ill for their peoples.
Yet, considering these states often harness such hate and rage to distract their peoples from their authoritarian and often corrupt rule, we shouldn’t hold our breaths.