How The Other Side Sees It
Hudson New York
27 September '10
Our media, talking heads, academics, and even our government strategic thinkers have been dealing with the Arab and Muslim world based on the politically-correct paradigm of even-handedness, attributing most international problems to poverty, misunderstandings, rectifying historical grievances, and, in the case of Israel, territorial disputes -- while ignoring or underplaying key elements, such as the importance in Middle Eastern cultures of the values and importance of honor, shame, clan loyalties, theocratic religion, retaining absolute power, and frustrated religious imperialism.
As Harold Rhode, recently of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, wrote for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, it is crucial to understand the mindset of our enemies – something the current US Administration and the leaders of the European Union appear loathe to do.
Dealing specifically with Iran, but implying that the Arab dictators and despots of the Middle East move to the same beat, Rhode concludes that the paradigms that govern US foreign policy in the Middle East today are totally at odds with the paradigms that actually govern the actions of our enemies.
The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians or the Arab world in general. As Rhode notes: "One coming from a position of strength will only make a concession if he is absolutely sure that doing so will consolidate and therefore increase his power. If one believes that his adversary will gain even the slightest advantage through such a measure, he will never concede an inch." The attitude, quite simply, is: "rule-or-be-ruled." As such, compromise, as we understand the concept, "is seen as a sign of submission and weakness" that brings shame and dishonor on those -- and on the families of those -- who concede.
This was made abundantly clear in Hamas's violent reaction to Mahmoud Abbas's direct negotiations with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in Hamas's insistence that Israel never be recognized as a Jewish state.
Much the same point is made by Richard Landes in Augean Stables: "Arab leaders view any compromise with Israel as a catastrophic loss of face, since such an agreement would mean recognizing as a worthy foe an inferior group that should be subject. Such a blow to Arab honor cannot be tolerated for cultural and political reasons: losing face means to feel utter humiliation, to lose public credibility, and to lose power;" the only way to restore such lost honor is not through compromise, but to shed the blood of this enemy. In this kind of war, negotiations will not work as the solution is in zero-sum terms: I win, you lose. The Palestinians cannot recognize Israel without suffering an unbearable, catastrophic loss of honor; while Israel cannot cede any further territory without absolute security guarantees and its recognition as a Jewish state.
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