Basic understanding of the region


During a recent trip to the USA, I was often amused by the lack of understanding some people had of this part of the world. And I cannot really blame them. Their schools do not delve deeply into issues beyond their borders, and their media is often provincial to say the least.

But with the coming of the Internet, some had made the effort to reach beyond their borders in an attempt to understand themselves and what the world perceives them to be. To them I say bravo. Get rid of your domestic shackles and explore. The pursuit of knowledge about others is enlightening. And to the rest who prefer to remain in a dormant state for whatever reason and allow Fox Network News to feed them their news fodder, I will introduce a basic understanding of the Middle East in a language that hopefully they will understand.

To begin with, a freshman’s summary of the Middle East goes like this. It is made up of many countries with different religions, customs and cultures. Think of the Middle East as you would the countries in South America. There is some commonality in languages and cultures; similar, but yet so different. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Copts, Maronites and others comprise the religions of the people here.

Among the countries in this region, there are those blessed with natural resources that produce healthy annual incomes, and then there are the less fortunate ones with not much except perhaps a labor market for the richer countries. With the exception of Israel, hardly any receive aid from US taxpayers.

A great number of inhabitants in these countries in the past had an admiration for the American way of life. They bore no envy or hate toward the people of the USA. Witness the annual migration of people to the US from this part of the world in the past four or five decades. There was an earnest desire to learn and accept the good things America had to offer. Graduating from colleges and universities by the hundreds of thousands, most returned back to their countries to put to work the fruit of their knowledge and experience.

Even in the days of the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union, most of the regional countries allied themselves with America. And if America needed help in nearby regions, the more prosperous countries here were usually very compliant and sent aid and whatever else that was necessary. Such was the case in the US-Russian conflict in Afghanistan.

And if member states got out of line, they were sounded out long before America came on the international stage. Libya, Iraq and Iran were firmly reprimanded as long ago as the 1980s by the Arab League but this hardly made headlines in the US media.

So, what happened? Why did the democratic values of the US begin to lose their shine? It began with the growing perception in the Arab street that the US government was failing in its role as an honest broker for peace in the region. Beginning in 1967 and until the present, administration after administration in the White House failed to grasp the importance of the faith that people here had placed in them to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict justly.

Instead, what people witnessed time and time again was the Israeli flaunting of UN resolutions with acquiescence from the US government, the Israeli bombardment of the civilian population of Gaza, the Israeli bulldozing of Palestinian homes to make way for illegal settlements, the Israeli targeted killings of peaceful protestors, the Israeli imprisonment of young children and women and much more.

Regretfully there is no objection voiced by the US about these continuing Israeli violations. We hear calls for justice and democracy, and yet very little when it comes to the ethnic cleansing by the Israelis of a people in their own lands. It is an apartheid state. As a beacon of democracy, America’s foreign policy in this region has sadly been a failure.

So, if an American does wonder, then perhaps education is the first step to truly understand what goes on within the psyche of the people of this region. And then take the step to demand that your administration goes back to playing the role of the honest broker.

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena