Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arab Political Upheavals: Obsession with Israel Blinded Westerners to the Real Middle East

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By Barry Rubin

As we consider the lessons of the dramatic upheavals in Arabic-speaking countries one of the main ones is this: the overriding obsession with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel-Palestinian conflict, and Israel as the supposed cause of all regional problems has repeatedly blinded people to the realities of the region.

The "normal" issues of repression, dictatorship, economics, social questions, human rights, corruption, and so on have been neglected as everything has been subsumed to a remarkable extent in the idea that Israel is the issue, the sole issue, the main issue, and the fundamental issue in the Middle East.

But Arabs are actually people! They have other concerns! Arab regimes are not just the representative of the just wrath of the masses against the West and Israel!

Ironically, this event follows the Wikileaks affair that showed the same thing, that the regimes were not obsessed with Israel but had other concerns, namely revolutionary Islamism and Iran.

Not everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli issue. There have been ethnic and internal conflicts all over the place. When Sunnis and Shias fight in Iraq, for example, it is not a resut of Israel's existence. Yet so powerful is the obsession that one wonders if anything will really change in the Western perception of so many people in influential positions.

I vividly remember how, after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and then Arab countries cooperated with the United States in forcing him out--that was 20 years ago!--many said that the obsession with Israel and the centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict would be finished. Then with the September 11 attacks the same point was made, since anyone who actually read al-Qaida's statements in the years leading up to the attack could easily see that he virtually never mentioned Israel.

But it wasn't and isn't. Indeed, when the Washington Post reviewed my book, Anti-American Terrorism in the Middle East the reviewer (a notorious Israel-hater) praised the book for supposedly showing the attacks were motivated by anger at U.S. support for Israel even though the book included a content analysis of the group's previous statements showing this was far down the list of motives

Yet how many journalists, academics, and policymakers have learned this lesson?

Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: His blog, Rubin Reports,

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