News on both the BDS and international fronts keep delaying some of the commentary I was planning to do on the upcoming PCUSA divestment debate (which may be a good thing, given how uncharitably I’ve been feeling about the organization over the last year which will likely lead to some less-than-kindly words I may end up regretting).
But the recent election of an Islamist government in Egypt presents one of those times that it’s worth doing some political analysis normally beyond the scope of this blog, if only to put what both pro- and anti-BDS activists do into the proper perspective.
While local or online activism can be a wonderful thing (or at least an empowering experience, used for either good or ill), we all need to keep in mind that the primary driver of history is political and military power, which can also be wielded for both good and evil.
Many commentators have already talked about the delusional way we Westerners looked at the so-called “Arab Spring” which our media filtered through its own experience of youth counter-culture and middle-class “revolution.” Yet, as anyone with eyes could see, in a situation where unlimited political power was up for grabs, guns and fanaticism would be a bigger driving force for change than Facebook accounts.
There are two competing “narratives” regarding the sources of misery in the Middle East, one that focuses all attention on Israel (or metaphysical entities such as “Zionism” and “Settlements”). While proponents of this view are rarely so reductive as to claim that the entire region would be in a state of bliss if only the Zionist interloper was removed from the map (or had never come into being in the first place), they have no problem bringing every conversation about any Middle East subject (current or historic) back to their one topic of concern: “The Occupation”.
The Palestinian variant on this narrative (embraced by those who support BDS) sees 1948 as a Nakbah – a catastrophe – which destroyed an idyllic land called “Palestine,” whose restoration will not only bring redemption to “The Palestinian People,” but to the Arab world as a whole. Within this context, discussion of any other political issue related to the Middle East is immaterial.
Those of us who reject this reductionist view have tried to actually include the Middle East in any discussions of the Middle East. And as difficult as it is to come to grips with painful reality, that region has been a political basket case for generations, with all-powerful kings giving way to all-powerful military dictators who now face challenges by religious fanatics.
In each of these transitions, a sure-fire way an up-and-coming power uses to legitimize itself is to embrace hatred of Israel (tied to the “Palestinian Paradise Lost” narrative described above) to one up competitors (who are characterized as sell-outs and agents of Zionism and imperialism). This is why Arab leaders frequently accuse their enemies of being closet Zionists (or even secret Jews).
This is also why the Palestinian refugee issue, alone of all refugee issues in the world, has never been solved. While, like every other refugee challenge throughout human history, it would have cost something to settle the question decades ago, it has cost hundreds of times more in terms of money and ruined lives to keep the Palestinian issue on a perpetual boil to ensure there would always be foot soldiers for a uncompromising revolution that would ultimately deliver a fantasized redemption.
As fanatics continue to gain the upper hand, we can expect the immiseration of the region to accelerate, despite the fact (or, more likely because of the fact) that unearned oil wealth greases the wheels of rejectionism and ensures that no political misjudgment or mistake can’t be covered over (or at least pushed down the road) through an adequate application of petrodollars.
And as the people of Egypt lose whatever human rights their previous tyrants allowed them, we can expect a further intensification of hostility targeting the one enemy all can agree to hate: the Jewish state (or, as more and more frequently and openly stated, just the Jews).
And before anyone starts raving that this analysis is “racist” for daring to use the word “Arab” when analyzing Arab states and Arab politics, keep in mind that we have seen this whole story play out previously in other parts of the world. Most notably, there’s 20th century Europe where competing flavors of totalitarianism slit each other’s throats before a World War that cost millions of lives and left a continent ruined, followed by a Cold War that kept the world on nuclear high alert for decades, demonstrating that no regions or people are immune from the Totalitarian Temptation.
This doesn’t mean that “movements” like BDS should be regarded as anything less than a weapon system masquerading as a peace movement, or that we should slow in any way our challenges to their attempts to infect civil society with their toxic agenda.
But we should keep in mind what a small part in the overall story we and our opponents are playing as men with guns and zeal continue to define the world in which the rest of us have to live.