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Will the Middle East Ever Progress?

In discussing the Middle East, we cannot help but talk about all Arabs or all Muslims as endemically opposed to "progress." What is progress? In these discussions, progress always ends up a badly defined and ultimately culture-dependent contrivance by Western governments to demand significant sacrifices in self-determination of certain individuals because of their identification as either an Arab or a Muslim.

"Progress" in America has failed to net us anything of value either, making spurious indeed the claim by the nation builders of the Middle East that Arabs or Muslims in general have only themselves to blame for their failed states. Lack of independence and self-determination have been to blame, largely owing to the constant intervention of Western governments to create "progress." Anything resembling native culture or religion has been declared enemy of the hoped-for homogenous nation-state, to fit neatly into the hegemonic, Western-led de facto world government of interlocking international organizations.

When the Middle East was only totalitarian, Western spectators fit each nationalistic aspiration thwarted by a despot as a pattern of basic backwardness of the Arab or Muslim, somehow neglecting to mention the proxy backing of each one of these governments either by either the West or the Soviets, and thus its basic illegitimacy as a government created or sustained by a foreign power.

It is hard enough, anyway, to legitimize a "nation" which began as often nothing more than colonial partition.

Now that totalitarianism is in danger, almost every discussion of the Middle East involves how the failed nation can be led to progress through tempering of the Islamist nation state in the form of unity governments with the old guard Arab nationalists, usually aligned with the West. One such unity government, in Iraq, has obviously not lived up to its billing.

If the Islamist state cannot be tempered, well then it must be contained, by which is usually meant isolated from the community of nations, for the crime of expressing a will towards self-determination.

We have to let go of defending made-up colonial partitions. Arabs and Muslims must be allowed to determine what is best for them, and which associations or disassociations make the most sense for them.

Some Resources


Makes the case that Christians in the Middle East are suffering from throwing their support behind despots like Mubarak, Hussein and Assad, who suddenly fell out of favor with the West.


Very long summary of Middle Eastern modern history, in which it is argued that Arabs have been tricked so often by pan-Arab Nationalism that they don't want to hearin it anymore, and prefer literally any platform or program besides. From 1993, so gives a nicely dated overview.


Discussing reasons for divergence and prospects for a convergence of Arab nationalists and Islamists.


A dense but rewarding discussion of how Arab nationalism was accidentally created by academics in Europe who pre-ordained that all places in the world should be made up of nations, and how Arab leaders of the period used European discourse on themselves to legitimize themselves or de-legitimize their enemies.

Thought this passage was of special note: "As an Enlightenment discourse, one can note, orientalism assumes a world of ethnic nations, while in observing non- Western societies, it pre-marks their ethnic faultlines, tracing in advance the borders along which new lines of cleavage would emerge and new identities would blossom. Nationalism, like orientalism, is imbued with idea of progress, accepts the idea that human history unfolds according to stages and regards non-modern traits as survivals from an earlier age." (pp. 6)


Discusses the CIA and MI6 deposed prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, who was alleged by the British to be a communist to engender American support for his ouster, when all he really did was ask British Petroleum to renegotiate the terms of a deal for Iran's oil profits.


I am reminded of a discussion I read in a paper about reconstructed memory (I apologize, I have lost the link). The author noted that while reconstructed memory can have a legitimate kernel of repressed memory, the method of recovering memories is so powerful that it can create false memories that seem real. In this way, the attempt to recover the past can actually become a powerful tool to erase it.

In many ways, the Middle East seems to me a place whose history has been erased. Western powers, and to a lesser extent the Soviets, attempted to recover a truer Arab or Muslim community of nations from the Ottomans who for centuries dominated them. While there may well have been one, the constant intervention by external forces has eliminated any trace of it.

Therefore, the Arab, and especially the Muslim Arab, is like the protagonist in the thriller Memento. He holds on to his enemy because he has nothing left to hold on to.

Progress is a made up government buzzword intended to shame a person into giving up their right of self-determination. In the name of progress, it is perfectly permissible for nations to be razed and rebuilt and razed and rebuilt again. Each time a new wonderul objective is thought up, it becomes necessary to destroy whatever came before, and declare whoever opposes this program illogically attached to their "old" ways of doing things.

Islam, like many forms of cultural conservatism, is a perfect target for progressives. Cultural conservatives have trouble expressing their desire for self-determination without expressing their most deeply held religious views. The harder progressives strike at them, the harder cultural conservatives lash back in religious cloaked language and redetermination to protect their beliefs.

Progressives become, then, only right to nullify the freedom of cultural conservatives, because cultural conservatives can't articulate their right of self-determination without espousing their right to do some invented no-no, whether that be cultural or religiously based resistance to some program of health or education or a large, internal improvement. Progressives can just call this superstition, and relieve people of self-determination through unilateral aggression in their best interest.

Muslims are easily transgressed upon because of previous elimination of any solid link to a national or cultural past. Syria is a recently invented concept, as is being Syrian. This invention, what it means to be Syrian, then becomes a tool for international organization to demand Syrians to behave in the best interest of Syria, and against their right to self-determination. They cannot argue, as they themselves have no firm understanding of what it means to be Syrian; they then can hardly be asked to defend what they do not understand, and which is mostly imposed on them by foreign powers.

We should not be so easily fooled. Any man (or woman) has a right to self-determination unfettered by the agenda of our social betters--even an Arab Muslim.

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Nice post

tks, good read. Very interesting indeed

One day, I'm gonna' change my name to Dale Lee Paul

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.