Sunday, 13 April 2008

Blaming Israel and the West for the ills of the Arab world

I was looking forward to the feature on contemporary Arab literature in yesterday's Guardian Review section. But my enjoyment was spoilt when I read the introductory piece by Ahdaf Soueif (missing, strangely, from the online version) which, while acknowledging the many problems facing the Arab world and Arab writers in particular, seemed determined to blame these on outside influences.

For example, Soueif described Israel as 'a stone thrown into the heart of the Arab world, the ripples from which, far from fading away, are building into a tidal wave.' This peculiar metaphor seems to suggest that Jews are an alien intrusion in the Middle East (ignoring their continuous presence in Palestine and other 'Arab' lands for more than two thousand years), while there is a distinct note of Ahmadinejadian menace in the analogy of the 'tidal wave' (sweeping away what, or whom, exactly?).

The Egyptian-born novelist also argues that 'for Arabs today there is...the overwhelming sense of being the targets of a new western imperialism.' But where is this 'imperialism' to be found, exactly? Whatever your opinion of recent conflicts, can a campaign to liberate a country from a brutal dictator, or UN-backed support for a democratic government against an extremist sect that harbours mass murderers be described as 'imperialist'? Doesn't 'imperialism' imply a desire to stick around and hold on to territory: whereas western governments are currently agonising about how to effect a speedy withdrawal from the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In short, rather than confronting the real causes of the many obstacles facing Arabs (including writers) - not least the flourishing of reactionary homegrown ideologies such as Ba'athism and Islamism - Soueif prefers to indulge in the easy cop-out of blaming the Arab world's problems on those familiar demons, Israel and the West.

1 comment:

Tom said...

The reference to imperialism is aobut stuff like this.

Imperialism is clearly understood hear to mean the invasion of a country by another to increase the rate of cross-border exploitation of the workforce.

I'm not saying that's what Iraq was for, but it is certainly what it has become.

Further, as I'm sure you'd concede, the intention to declare war on Iraq was not inspired by the removal of Saddam in the first place.

At least, that's what the public were told.