Imagine if these divisions were all states in a federal republic. Myself, I think some of them,maybe even half of them, could be combined, but if that ever happened, and the resulting combined administrative divisions of the Arab world federated, the region would be in much better shape. (The federation of Arabia would need a Senate, of course.)
- “[…] many Chinese people believe it should be the United States, European states, or at least Arab states that resettle Middle Eastern refugees, based on the logic of ‘punishing’ those who caused the problem in the first place.“
- ‘It was the biggest explosion I have ever experienced.’
- Why Saudi Arabia hates Al-Jazeera
- “The money spent on Aboriginal language television programming could have been spent on something else, and that something else would also have created jobs. What is special about Aboriginal language television programming?“
- Cool map, bro
The Turkish Empire, also called the Ottoman Empire, was founded in 1299 and lasted until 1922. At the start of World War I, the Turkish Empire still included much of the Levant, including what are now Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and part of Saudi Arabia. The Sultan, as the emperor, was also the head of the Caliphate, the realm of Islam.
Libertarians are generally opposed to empires. However, a great historical error was made by the victors of World War I. The chiefs of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, broke up the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Turkish Empire. Whereas the Arabs helped the British defeat the Turks in the expectation that they would achieve independence, the British and French betrayed these hopes by making the Arab lands colonies. The British obtained Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, while the French took Lebanon and Syria.
Under the Turkish Empire, the diverse religions of the Middle East were able to co-exist. The Empire had a policy of local self-governance under the “millet” system whereby people could use their own religious laws. The term derives from the Arabic word millah, for meaning “nation.” Because they were all under one empire, the ethnic groups such as Kurds and the religious minorities did not fight over land.
Today’s problems in the Middle East, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian civil wars, the dictatorship and war in Iraq, the violence in Lebanon, and the rise of supremacists, all stem from the breakup of the Turkish Empire. That realm had its problems, including violence against Armenians and others, but most of the residents of the former Turkish areas would probably wish they had stayed in the Empire.
With the discovery and development of oil Iraq became of strategic interest. If the Turkish Empire had not been broken up then the oil would have served the Empire; and the dictatorships and tyrannies of Syria and Iraq would have been prevented. Most likely, the Turkish Empire would have been a constitutional monarchy. The retention of the Caliphate would have avoided the nostalgic yearning of Muslims for its restoration by violence.
But now, is it too late? We cannot restore broken Humpty Dumpty, can we? Maybe not, but what is the alternative? Nobody is talking about restoring the Turkish Empire, but there does not seem to be any better solution.
The restoration of the Turkish empire does seem crazy, ridiculous, and absurd. But it would unify the region. There was no Sunni-Shia war under the Turks. Christians were able to follow their faith. Jews who had lived in the region since the BC times did not have to flee.
The new Turkish Empire would include Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq. Kuwait was separate from the Empire, and could join or not as it wished. The government of Turkey would start the process by sending in troops to take control of Syria and sections of Iraq. The other states would be invited to join in.
The new empire would not be called “Turkish,” although Turkey would be the major power holding it together. It could be called the Confederation of the Levant. The states of the confederation would retain their own institutions. Israelis and Palestinians would benefit by joining the new Turkish empire. Just as Muslim cities once had Jewish quarters, the Empire would regard Israel as the Jewish quarter of a Muslim empire, while Palestinian Arabs would no longer be under Israeli occupation; they would constitute a state within a Muslim Caliphate, and the Israeli settlers would recognize the Palestinian jurisdiction by paying rent.
The US is now reluctant to send in troops to pacify the Levant, and Turkey is in the best position to do so. Having become more Islamic, now is the time for it to take the next step and restore an Islamic empire with a Caliphate, but a peaceful, democratic, and tolerant one.
Just as breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a big mistake, which allowed Nazi Germany to swallow up Austria and then Czechoslovakia, so was the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. The European Union has replaced the old European realms as it becomes a new empire of democratic states. Nothing like that is happening in the Middle East.
It’s time to talk Turkey!
Richard Epstein, the legal scholar and libertarian Republican known for his erudite wisdom in the fields of law and economics and tort law, has recently joined in the chorus of Right-wing critics attacking Senator Rand Paul (and President Obama) for arguing that the US government does not have enough information to carry out an attack or launch a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and that further action on the part of Washington will only make things in the region worse rather than better.
Unfortunately, Epstein’s argument represents the best of what is essentially a quick-tempered fallacy that’s short on details and long on moral posturing. Epstein, for example, provides absolutely no outline for what action the US government should take against ISIS. Should the US bomb targets from afar as it has been doing in Pakistan? Should the US government put combat troops back on the ground in Iraq? Should the US invade Syria and strike ISIS from there? If you read carefully the arguments put forth by proponents of attacking ISIS, you’ll notice that none of them have an outline for what the US government should do about it (even the usually sharp Professor Epstein refrains from providing a coherent outline). Instead, readers are treated to ad hominem attacks that liken Senator Paul to the worst-possible person imaginable: the Big Government-loving Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, Barack Obama. Oh, the horror!
Epstein’s argument lays a great foundation for any starting point that discusses what a libertarian foreign policy should be. He writes:
Libertarian theory has always permitted the use and threat of force, including deadly force if need be, to defend one’s self, one’s property, and one’s friends. To be sure, no one is obligated to engage in humanitarian rescue of third persons, so that the decision to intervene is one that is necessarily governed by a mixture of moral and prudential principles. In addition, the justified use of force also raises hard questions of timing. In principle, even deadly force can be used in anticipation of an attack by others, lest any delayed response prove fatal. In all cases, it is necessary to balance the risks of moving too early or too late.
Of course, none of this provides any helpful hints for what the US government can or should do going forward to deal with ISIS. Libertarians, like everybody else in the West save for a few disgruntled young Muslims, think that ISIS is morally bad. It does not follow, though, that the use of military force is the best (or even fifth-best) option going forward.
Unfortunately, many libertarians (though not Senator Paul) erroneously fall back on the fallacy that because the US government is unable to coherently attack ISIS (much less define it), Washington should simply adhere to a policy of non-intervention. So what follows is a modest proposal to implement a more libertarian foreign policy toward ISIS.
The interwar Austro-Jewish economist and one of libertarianism’s patron saints, Ludwig von Mises, wrote in his 1927 book Liberalism that:
The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars (109).
This observation – a basic tenet of libertarian political theory – ties in quite well with one stated goal of Islamist political theory, which seeks to partition the Sykes-Picot states of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon into smaller states in order to destroy the influence of Western “imperialists” in the Middle East. Lest detractors start accusing Islamists of being closet libertarians, it is worth noting that Islamists also seek to break all economic ties with the non-Muslim world in favor of an inter-regional protectionist union (to say nothing of Islamism’s views about religion and society).
The words of Mises summarize nicely not only where libertarians and Islamists can agree intellectually, but also points – if ever so subtly – to a new leadership position for a benevolent liberal hegemon like the United States to take up in an increasingly Balkanized world.
Instead of blindly attacking ISIS with no real plan in place, the West should temper the prudence of President Obama and Senator Paul with the libertarian notion of self-determination by recognizing the existence of the Islamic State and swiftly incorporating it into the existing IGOs – such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF – that the West has built up and maintained since the end of World War 2.
This policy would do much more than strike directly at the legitimacy and power of the authoritarian Assad and Maliki regimes by carving up their territories without their permission; it would also place the burden of governance directly upon the Islamists who have proclaimed an Islamic State.
ISIS has obtained power only because of the vacuum left behind by the Bush administration’s fatally flawed decision to remove regional strongman (and secularist) Saddam Hussein from power. ISIS has therefore had no responsibilities to date – despite its claim to govern territory – save to plunder and murder in the name of religion. Placing the burden of governance directly on the shoulders of ISIS would necessarily alter its foundation of power, and when it becomes apparent that Islamism’s political and economic theories leads directly to despotism and poverty, the benevolent liberal hegemon will be waiting to recognize the independence of regions within the Islamic State that aspire to independence or union with another state.
This policy would also shift the ability to make and enforce international rules and norms back to Washington and would bring a semblance of order to the Middle East by placing a benevolent liberal hegemon into a position of leadership that is capable of recognizing and engaging with the Arab public’s desire for liberty. A liberal hegemon could achieve much of this peacefully and legally.
It is unfortunate that many libertarians – especially in the United States – have adopted the reactionary stance of non-intervention in foreign affairs. Aside from being impossible, non-intervention is also inimical to libertarianism’s social individualism. In the same vein, the calls for military action and the personal attacks against politicians unwilling to act blindly in the realm of foreign affairs does more harm than good as it distracts citizens from focusing on the issue at hand: namely, what is to be done about ISIS. Senator Paul and President Obama have so far made the right decision, but unless Islamism is tackled directly – intellectually – the woes and fears of the West will only continue to mount.
It is time for the West to adopt a more libertarian foreign policy.
The question in the title is to be taken very seriously and not just as a prelude to a comforting ‘of course there is’ answer and a few helpful hints to how to engage in respectful debate. This is a debate which stretches at the limits of debate, at all attempts at civility and respect for other points of view in debate. I am trying to find a way to discuss the issues in a way that is equally considerate of the rights and interests of all parties to the debate, while also finding that debates about Arab Palestinian and Jewish Israeli positions may at some point just not be open to rational debate, and can only be settled by pragmatic compromise at best, and violent imposition in the less happy scenarios.
This started with a social media post on my part condemning George Galloway, a very left-socialist British politician for making remarks in response to Israeli Defence Force operations in Gaza that to my mind cross a line between criticism of the government of Israel or acts of the Israeli state into anti-Semitism, in demanding that Israeli tourists be excluded from the English city, Bradford, he represents in Parliament. I paired it with a social media message condemning the University of Illinois for withdrawing a tenure track job offer to Steven Salaita (just before the start of semester and after he had resigned from another job), evidently as a result of social media messages criticising Israel and Jewish settlers in land outside Israel’s 1967 boundaries in a quite extreme way. Both Salaita and Galloway have the right of free speech, as recognised in the United States in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Less protection exists for free speech in the UK, I am sorry to say, if the speech is deemed racist or to be ‘hate speech’, and I have to say I am very unhappy that the police in Britain are investigating Galloway’s comments, and I will certainly condemn any attempt to prosecute him. Unfortunately if a public university in the US withdraws a job offer over a free speech issue, then the situation there is also open to improvement. I am against Salaita’s speech in the same way as I am against what Galloway said, both stepped over a line.
I won’t dwell any further on Galloway and Salaita, but will now move into some discussion of what distinguishes criticism of Israel as a state from anti-Semitism, posing as just standing up for Palestinians suffering from the actions of Israel’s armed forces, and will then move onto more general comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First of all though I accept that not not all those who define themselves as anti-Zionist are anti-Semites, condemning all Zionism is anti-Semitic. Yes there are Jews who are proud of their identity who define themselves as anti-Zionists, but they are complicit with views discriminatory against Jews if they condemn all Zionism.
There is a stream of bi-national Zionism, that is a state shared between Jews and Arabs, which has always had some appeal to liberal and left leaning Jewish intellectuals, and which was certainly prominent amongst some of the early European migrants to Ottoman and then British Palestine, before the state of Israel was established. They were arguing for non-discrimination against the Arab population and peaceful forms of settlement. Dismissing this as just an expression of the European colonialism and racism of the time is completely wrong. The wish to create peacefully a national homeland without discrimination against the existing Arab population and to create a state for both peoples cannot reasonably be defined in this way, and the more aggressive forms of Zionism should not lead anyone to deny the existence of a form of Zionism that was not based on aggressive nationalism.
Even before the Zionist movement got going in the late nineteenth century, there was a Jewish population in Ottoman Palestine that could trace its history back to ancient Biblical times. Inevitably estimates of what per cent age of the population was Jewish before the modern Zionist movement are contentious, but I have not seen any figure less than 5 per cent. Was it inherently racist and aggressive for those people to have some corner of Palestine for a Jewish state? That is war implied in saying that all Zionism is to be condemned and adopting an anti-Zionist political posture. Was it inherently racist and aggressive to hope that Jews persecuted in Europe and elsewhere might seek a homeland with that historic population in some part of Ottoman Palestine, presuming there was no intention of pressure on the Arab population to give up land or deprive that population of full rights?
I will return to the historical issues soon and what I say will not all lean towards the Israeli side at all. Picking up on current ways of discussing Israel and Palestine, all attempts to burden all Jews everywhere with some responsibility for the most unpleasant acts of the Israeli state, and target them with demands for condemnation, or worse, are anti-Semitic. Moving to a more contentious discussion, while I accept that many who target Israeli citizens or non-state institutions for sanctions are not deliberately anti-Semitic and may again be Jews who are proud of their identity, that is a discourse which is at the very least unintentionally complicit with anti-Semitism.
Demands for boycotts of Israeli universities, unless they condemn the actions of the government are highly discriminatory unless part of a more general and global scheme for boycotts of academic institutions in countries where the government is doing very bad things. I would not welcome such a global scheme, which is applied strictly and consistently could have disastrous affects on international academic life, for no proven benefit, but it would have the merit of consistency. Demands to boycott Israeli universities are not part of such a plan. Since they are linked to demands for academics and university boards to take positions contrary to Israeli government polices, they look very much like attempts to control to speech of Israeli academics and tell them what opinions they are allowed to have. While public universities are by definition supported by the state, they should be treated as educational institutions not arms of state propaganda, or as on a level with armed parts of the state inflicting violence on civilians, and indeed Israeli universities are quite successful in promoting free thinking education, which it should not be forgotten benefits Israeli Arabs as well as Jews.
Demands to restrict, or end, contacts with the Israeli government or military are a different matter, but punishing the educational sector or indeed discriminating against ordinary Israeli Jews travelling outside Israel is not something to be welcomed by advocates of liberty, or by anyone concerned with equal rights for everyone. Where is the evidence that boycotts will bring any benefit to Palestinian Arabs?
The short term material effects of reducing Israeli economic activity and employment opportunities would be very negative for Palestinian Arabs, and the long term political return no more than speculative. Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are presumably going to respond that their movement is popular with Palestinians suffering from Israeli military, administrative, and economic pressure, but it is a movement committed to ‘return of refugees’, which for reasons I explain below is simply not going to happen except at some very small level in a period of much happier relations than exist now between Israelis and Palestinians. A movement committed to full return, even if it does include some Jewish supporter, is committed to unrealistic maximalism. Since it exists, I can only hope it has some effect in moderating the actions of Israeli governments, but I fear it is more likely to foster polarised reactions and with no real change to the benefit of Palestinians. Israel looks more not less nationalistic at a time when its international reputation has declined, and moments like BDS have grown. The sort of economic pressure from the major western economies, particularly America that could force change is not on offer now, or in any foreseeable future. The biggest impact would come from Israel’s neighbours becoming economically dynamic democracies with much improved individual right, eager to trade with Israel and benefit from its technological achievements. The activism of a far left minority in the west, supporting some of the most implausible and damaging maximalist Palestinian demands has rather less potential to influence Israel in the right way. A campaign that condemned the anti-Semitism and terrorism of Hamas, as well as the not entirely pure record of Fatah on these issues, as much as the brutality of the Israeli state, might just have more influence on Israel than BDS in its present form.
Getting onto the broader issues, I have to say that whatever impression the above gives, I do not find that there was any strong original justification for an Israeli state dominating all of, or most of, the land between the eastern Mediterranean and the Jordan River. However, it is also the case that I do not find there was any strong original justification for a Palestinian state dominating the same land area.
The problem with the Zionist claims, leaving aside bi-national Zionism or a Zionist project in one corner of what was Ottoman Palestine, and concentrating on what Zionism has largely been in practice, is that the Jewish population of Ottoman Palestine, was a small per cent age of the population. The historical and religious affinities of Jews elsewhere to the land of the Biblical Jews, and the persecution they endured, might justify some concessions of land to create a state in what was Ottoman Palestine beyond the population per cent age of the time, but some large part of the Zionist movement (roughly speaking Revisionist or right-wing Zionism) was always ready to take all of Ottoman Palestine regardless of the wishes and rights of the Arab population, and some other large part (roughly speaking Theodor Herzl Zionism, which defined the mainstream of the original large scale Zionist movement) simply evaded the issue of how the majority of Ottoman Palestine could be settled without conflict emerging between Jews and Arabs, and without violating any hopes Arabs in the area might have or, might come to develop, for sovereign national existence. Given that Zionism emerged as an imitation of 19th century European nationalist movements, and the growing tendency of European peoples with some kind of collective historic identity to express that identity in state sovereignty, it is not too much to ask that the original Zionists should have been aware of the likely development of Arab nationalism, on a general scale, and in distinct pre-national parts of the Arab world (i.e. nearly all of it) under Ottoman or European colonial control.
Arab nationalism grew rather later than Zionism, and the Palestinian aspect of it was definitely later. If there had been no Zionist movement, it seems likely that Palestine would have been part of a post-Ottoman Syrian or possibly Jordanian state, with no more than regional consciousness within than entity. Can we justify the emergence of an Israeli state of its current extent on the grounds that European Jews develop a Zionist movement more speedily than Arab national and in independence movements developed? That is not just a question inviting the reply ‘no’ though it might appear so. The reality is that throughout history states emerged where one people was more strongly organised than another and could imposed its will on another people, or at least a state elite could impose a statehood more suited to one group than others. The same applies to modern nationalist movements which drew on various democratic, republican, and populist ideas of self-government, or at least monarchy with popular legitimacy, for self-contained peoples, with anything that contaminated a pure self-contained identity pushed out of public recognition (or violently eliminated). If Israel’s existence in its current form in its current borders is simply based on winning out in struggles about who get to define the people who ‘own’ that land, then it is not obviously weaker in its foundations than many other states. Enthusiasts for the Israeli state often like to find some justification of pure right in the Balfour Declaration, that is the letter Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary directed at the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, via Lord Rothschild:
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of the object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious’ rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
The declaration was written into the League of Nations Mandate that legitimated British occupation and administration on Palestine until 1948. However, the same people eager to take the letter and the League of Nations recognition of it, as the basis for Israel’s domination of most of what was British Palestine (and the more radical kind of Zionist thinks that what is now Jordan was promised to them, because it was included within the first borders of mandate Palestine, before a division was effected) are not so eager to mention United Nations resolutions after the 1947 resolution that envisaged an Israel state. What was envisaged, in any case, was a partition of almost 50-50 proportions between an Israeli state and a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as a bi-national enclave under UN administration, so well short of the boundaries Israel established. Of course the selective approach to League of Nations or United Nations resolutions is also practised on the Arab side. In any case, the Balfour Declaration was not the result of consultation with the Arab population of Palestine, who were placed under British administration with no regard for their opinion in the matter, and seems a poor example of a purely just foundation for a state
Of course if Israel’s existence is justified by struggle rather than pure right, then Palestinian domination would be no more or no less just if the Palestinian people had been better organised or just more lucky early on in the Zionist movement, or even before the Zionist movement. However, there was no Palestinian national movement before the Zionist movement, it was a reaction against that movement. The word Palestine was used, sometimes, during Ottoman times to refer to the parts of what was then the Province of Syria round Jerusalem, Haifa and so on, with no idea of a separate identity or people there. There was no idea of a Palestinian people until the British Mandate, which inadvertently became the hot house for two mutually hostile national movements.
The 1948 attack of several Arab states on Israel, as it existed within the boundaries defined by the 1947 UN Resolution, was not an attempt to institute a Palestinian state. The Arab Legion (that army of the Jordanian monarchy) grabbed the West Bank and the East Jerusalem, and Egypt seized Gaza. Syria certainly hoped to turn Palestine into a southern part of its own territory. Palestinians fled their homes in all Israeli controlled territory, because of a mixture of Zionist violence and incitement by Arab states who promised to arrange a rapid return. The balance between these two causes is of course hopelessly contentious, but I will at least say that no one who denies that both were a reality is engaged in reasonable discussion. The emergent Israeli army succeeded in establishing the 1967 boundaries, which are still the recognised boundaries of Israel, though in practice Israel now exists as the completely sovereign power in East Jerusalem and a number of settlements in the West Bank.
The 1947 UN Resolution was preceded by a British plan to award 17% of Mandate Palestine to a Jewish state. Palestinian nationalists succeeded in negotiating quasi-statehood in Gaza and some parts of the West Bank in the 1990s, but the idea of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank as well as Gaza is now essentially dead, though various people find it necessary to claim in public that a two state solution on that basis is coming. One obvious point here is that if the Palestinians had negotiated pragmatically on the basis of existing realities instead of trying to go back to some earlier situation, at various times, they would have much more territory in a viable state. Maybe 83% per cent of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Of course it is also the case that many Zionists would not have settled happily for 17% during the Mandate or even 50% in 1948, except as a short term expedient before establishing a state in all of, or at least the great majority of, Mandate Palestine, but at least the Palestinians would have gained some credit with the international community, and how would they now be worse off, it they had accepted those deals and tried to make them work?
The Arab states did not bring the Palestinian refugees of 1948 back to their homes and did not give them equal citizenship in the independent Arab nations either. Leaving them as symbols of Arab unity in refugee camps was a ‘solution’ which simply adds to the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most people in refugee camps were born after 1948 and increasingly so. Their numbers have grown and cannot be absorbed into their ‘home’ towns or villages, without a complete transformation of Israel’s demography. This is simply not going to happen, except though a massive military defeat of Israel, which is most unlikely anyway because Israel would use its nuclear arsenal in such a situation, and the US would probably intervene massively before that point. It is not a reasonable demand for anyone who genuinely wants a settlement. Arab states should integrate refugees and their decedents with full citizenship rights in the places where they have been based for decades. In such circumstances, some very limited ‘return’ of refugees and descendants might be negotiated, though by that time whenever it might be, I doubt any original refugees will still be alive.
The current situation is that the Palestinians have not succeeded in creating well functioning institutions in the West Bank or Gaza. No doubt some blame belongs to Israel. If any Israeli government ever genuinely hoped for a viable Palestinian state as a neighbour, the idea is certainly dead now. Palestine for the foreseeable future will only exist as a fragmented entity, increasingly hemmed in by West bank settlements and security measures, which are turning that area into an aggregate of not very well connected Palestinian zones side by side with element of Israeli sovereignty. This is not a viable long term basis for peace and stability.
The only long term solutions now are: the forcible expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza, which is not likely, but might just happen if war breaks out between Israel and neighbouring Arab states; the removal of West Bank settlements, because Israel decides that full Palestinian sovereignty is a welcome prospect, but I presume there are too many settlements too deeply embedded for that to happen now; a complete defeat of Israel by a military alliance of Arab states, but that would lead to the use of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, if not massive US intervention before that stage; gradual movement towards a binational state of Israel-Palestine. I believe that last option is the most likely long term result, but I mean long term, and I expect much polarisation, violence and suffering in the meantime. Gradual pragmatic adjustment will I believe lead both sides to see that total victory or total separation between two national entities is just not viable.
Personally I’m deeply disturbed by the Israeli treatment of Palestinian civilians now and in the past. However, dramatic gestures, boycott calls, and anti-Zionist discourse will not resolve the issue. Realistically errors and crimes on the Arab side have brought us here as much as the bad things done by Zionists, and the Zionist movement did not destroy an existing national entity. The early pacific binational Zionists were often in practice irrelevant and naive, as well as paternalistic and patronising towards Arabs, but their ideas are the only basis now for an enduring settlement. That will require some Arab equivalent, some new ways of thinking about Palestinian nationality and sovereignty, which can find precedents such as the sympathy of the Saudi monarchy at the end of World War One, for a Jewish presence in Palestine (not that the House of Saud is without great faults). Such a movement will progress at a micro-level only for decades and maybe generations, involving Israeli Arabs as well as Israeli Jews and the Palestinian of the West Bank and Gaza. At some point a critical mass on both sides will realise that exclusivist nationalism cannot win a complete victory, certainly not if the wish is to live in a democracy with individual rights and flourishing civil society.
Rami Khouri has a great piece about the effects that The State has on Arab democracy in the Beirut-based the Daily Star. Khouri argues that states in the Arab world are designed for a top-down approach to governance whereas the traditional legal and political institutions of the Arab world are bottom-up (“indigenous” as well as “inclusive”) creations. The inability of Arab states to properly funnel this tension is, Khouri argues, responsible for the lack of democracy in the Arab world. Unfortunately Khouri’s piece fails to explore two complementary strands of thought.
1. The bottom-up approach to democratic governance is the only way that democracy can actually be democratic, and it took a long time to get to this point in the parts of the world that actually have democracy.
The West was able to reach this bottom-up democracy by recognizing that democracy is not an end, but rather a byproduct of a legal framework that protects individual rights and especially the property rights of individuals. Revolutionaries in Western Europe did not demand free and fair elections; they demanded liberty. Reformers in the Arab world (including Khouri) seem to treat democracy as if it were an achievable goal without having to liberalize Arab economies (domestically as well as internationally) first. Democracy is a byproduct of institutions that protect individual rights, not a catalyst that will enable states to include these rights into a post-election legal framework.
2. Like the state itself, IGOs such as the United Nations bear responsibility for the lack of democracy in the Arab world. IGOs legitimize the state as it is in the Arab world. In order to understand this argument it is useful to reach back into history a century ago and reacquaint yourself with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France (and, initially, czarist Russia). You can read up on the developments of these two events, but for the purpose here it is important to remember that Paris and London drew up borders that more or less followed the pattern of Istanbul, and that these borders eventually became sacrosanct internationally upon the UN’s recognition of Arab states’ sovereignty.
By recognizing the legitimacy of arbitrary states and the sanctity of their borders, the UN contributes directly to the sham elections and bloodshed that have occurred as the rival, bottom-up factions Khouri identifies seek power through gaining control of the capitals of these states.
Because these states are legitimized by the UN, the rival factions can simply seize control of a capital and automatically gain leverage over their domestic and international enemies (Muammar Gaddafi, for example, was a political nobody before his ascension to power in Tripoli). Thus Arab dictators and would-be dictators are engaged in a form of rent-seeking when they attempt to obtain power through Arab capitals. In some respects, the United Nations and other IGOs have simply served to further the imperial ends of the British and French in the Middle East after World War I.
Is everybody with me? Disparate factions in Arab states seek to control their own regional territories while simultaneously seeking to stave off the influence of the capital if their man is not in power (pretty standard fare worldwide, actually). This tension – between resisting influence and seeking to exert it through governing a capital city – is driven by the realization that capturing the rent provided by IGOs will lead to leverage over enemies. This, in turn, not only keeps nationalist sentiment in Arab states strong but also ensures that only a strong man will be capable of holding these states together.
Now the nationalism that glues these failed Arab states together is one that is largely acknowledged, but the necessity of a strong man to hold these states together gets less respect.
Just think though: Strong men can earn the rent that Arab states get from IGOs by more easily being able to eliminate or suppress factions that do not wish to go along with renting the services that IGOs provide (loans, military support, etc.).
A democracy, on the other hand, is designed to incorporate as many factions within a society as possible into the political framework of a state. Democracies are less predictable than autocracies. For IGOs – created by, and for, already established democracies – this lack of predictability is unwelcome.
It is important to note that there is no explicit animosity directed towards Arab democracy from IGOs. The inability of IGOs to incorporate fledgling Arab democracies is built in to their systems. IGOs are always at the forefront of calling for free and fair elections in Arab states, for example, but institutions like the UN were implemented for a different world. Great Britain and France had overseas colonies in 1945. There were two Germanies when the UN was chartered and no academic programs devoted to exploring “post-socialism.”
Delving into why IGOs are structurally unable to support democratic initiatives in the Arab world is far beyond the scope of this post, and I think Khouri’s focus on the failures of the state is a big step in the right direction. However, if frustrated reformers wish to better understand the plight of democracy in their societies, it will not be enough to blame the autocrats who have been smart enough and ruthless enough to game the international state system that Arab states participate in.
Let us hope so, but I won’t hold my breath. Sharmine Narwani thinks otherwise. She argues that both Western states and “the locals” are now looking at more decentralization in the Middle East as a viable option:
The Mideast will one day need to make region-wide border corrections, but to be successful, it must do so entirely within an indigenously determined process. The battles heating up in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere are a manifestation of a larger fight between two “blocs” that seek entirely different regional outcomes – one of these being the borders of a new Middle East.
The rest of the article is fairly atrocious, but it goes without saying that she should read (ha ha) my musings on how to go about decentralizing in a cool, calm and collected manner. Here is the shorter version of my argument: the West should emphatically not go around breaking up the states of the Middle East into smaller ones, but it should recognize breakaway regions as soon as they, uh, break away. This’ll give these states a little bit of breathing room on the international scene and deter older states from trying to reclaim their old territory.