Monday, December 11, 2006

Familiar music

Saudi mover and shaker Mamoun Fandy disappointed his some of his fans this morning by putting off analysis of the Baker-Hamilton report, but probably he pleased others with a Saudi re-mixing of the racism story: The problems in Iraq and the region are the combined fault of dictatorship and race. Not Saudi dictatorship, Saddam dictatorship; and not Arab race, but, well, he's a little vague on that today. Baker-Hamilton showed laudable self-criticism, he says, but with he Mideast region "under the dark clouds that will rain death upon us", what do we hear, he asks, except some of the people singing that they are the scions of the Pharaohs, others that they are Babylonians, still others that they are sons of the Phoenecians, or of the Caananites. What an irony! (Fandy writes). What a contrast between a miserable and hateful present and a supposedly proud past! Fandy does not tell us in so many words, but clearly it is those Babylonians you have to keep your eye on.

If we are really the offspring of these proud races, says Fandy, whence the Iraqis that are killing each other whence the Lebanese that are insulting one another on television? Resorting to his famous wit, he says: They did not come from outer space! Nor did the Americans bring them with them when they came.

No, says Fandy. "The Americans let the spirits out of the bottle, but it did not create them."

In Iraq, these evil spirits of hatred and intolerance both pre-existed and even flourished under the concealing blanket of the Saddam dictatorship. That they burst out into the open when America removed the blanket is no surprise. It was the removal of the blanket that was America's only "unforgivable error". This is followed by quite a nice riff on "dictatorships and totalitarian concepts", referring to Communism and to Saddam, regimes that cover racial problems over, but don't end them. In Iraq, the problem was that Saddam tried to relocate Shiite Arabs to the Kurdish north, and northerners to the south, which is "different racially and by sect", so when Saddam was removed, people wanted to move back. There is a brief excursus on the dictatorial mind, "fictive and deceptive", then this: "The scandals we face now are the direct result of this deceptive mind". And if the people in Lebanon want to know what is in store for them all they have to do is look south to Palestine (where Fandy's Saud-family patrons are leading supporters of the Fatah faction); and if Hamas wants to know where their "rejection of the reasonably possible" will lead them, they have only to look to Iraq (where race and the prior Saddam dictatorship are apparently to blame). It is almost as if Fandy wasn't expecting anyone to actually read this, or perhaps more to the point it is as if what matters is the music of the language and the authoritative key-signature, and the vague and sometimes not-so-vague racism, perhaps the kind of thing you can get in America by reading a days' worth of Matt Yglesias Iraq blog-postings or... You can take your pick, I guess. It is not as if Fandy is actually harping in this particular column on the issue race. His aim here is to merely exonerate America by the tautological method. "Bin Laden and Saddam and Moqtada al-Sadr are us, " he says, launching into a whole series of these "they are us!" clauses. He exclaims in conclusion: "Our future is linked to our past!" It is not as if power-politics had anything to do with it.

Anyway it is a very popular way of looking at things these days. Matt and Mamoun should form a Saudi American friendship committee and organize conferences on this. Maybe somebody already has.


Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Thanks for the great coverage of interesting stories from the Arab press. Much needed. Joshua of Syria Comment.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I have noted in a previous comment and will again because it is so relevant to this posting: we (Westerners) preclude race as an explanatory hypothesis even though there is a long history (8 -10,000 years) of conflict between peoples of different races.

We are willing to accept that Sunni Arab states will conflict with Shia Iran for religious reasons. However, even though the Arabs are predominately Semites and the Iranians predominately Eurasian we will not entertain the idea that the racial difference is the basis of conflict.

This is not to say that racial differences are if fact the basis. Rather, that we will not even consider a racial hypothesis. The West has been so traumatized by racism (slavery, apartheid, Nazism, etc) that we cannot in good conscious treat it seriously as a possible basis for conflict. The denial of racism is in one sense a virtue. We hate it so much that we can’t talk about it; only condemn it. Intellectually, however, it may result in our inability to understand the dynamics of some conflicts and therefore our ability to resolve.

3:19 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Joshua, thank you very much for the kind remarks.

Anonymous, I remember your point from the other time this came up. I guess you're saying people shouldn't be in denial about the fact race enters into their own or other peoples' judgments and so on, because if you don't understand causes, you won't solve problems. To me it was part of the whole left approach back in the old days: we're all racist to some degree, it's how you deal with it. I think thoughtful individuals do realize that, but I think where the problem starts is that institutionally (and in the media for instance) it's a taboo. Fandy is interesting, because sometimes (like today) he seems to be keeping a lid on it, yet sometimes he seems to be saying out loud: we don't want an alien race meddling in our region.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“I think thoughtful individuals do realize that, but I think where the problem STARTS is institutionally (in the media for instance).”

What I am wondering about, in an anthropological social psychological sense (not the politics of the Left), is if the institutions are manifestations of a more fundamental racial disposition. For example, your characterization: “we don't want an alien race meddling in our region.” Westerners reject such thoughts as individual or group prejudices (e.g. politics of the Left). However, there are patterns in history, especially in the Middle East, suggesting that people react to race in a subliminal way even if they do not articulate thier race motivation or even understand them.

I am not a scholar. However, I have read a great deal about the history of the Middle East back into ancient times. And, I believe that the pattern of race conflict is almost factually undeniable. I am especial fascinated with Toynbee’s analysis of the conflict between Shia and Sunni from the inception of Shiaism; which, if I understand him correctly, was essentially a conflict between Persians (Eurasians) and Arabs (Semites).

I know this takes you quite afar from the purpose of this blog. However, your media selections keep bringing this thought to my mind and I thought I would share them with you.

Thank you for your excellent blog and thoughtful responses.

4:23 AM  

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