Who Is the 'Imperialist Tool' in the Middle East?
Let's examine claims from the radical academia currently hegemonic in North America and Europe. What is fascinating is that a well-informed observer can easily demolish such claims. That's precisely why such people are not being trained today and those who do exist must be discredited or ignored to keep students (and the general public) relatively ignorant.
To paraphrase George Santayana’s famous statement, those who fail to learn from history make fun of those who do.
I know that the situation has become far worse in recent years, having vivid memories of how my two main Middle East studies professors -- both Arabs, both anti-Israel, and one of them a self-professed Marxist -- had contempt for Edward Said and the then new, radical approach to the subject. At one graduate seminar, the students -- every single one of them hostile to Israel but not, as today is often the case, toward America -- literally broke up in laughter pointing out the fallacies in Said’s Orientalism. Today, no one would dare talk that way, it would be almost heresy.
Let me now take a single example of the radical approach so common today and briefly explain how off-base it is. I won’t provide detailed documentation here but could easily do so.
The question is: Who in the Middle East was the tool of imperialism? Most likely the professors and their students, at least their graduate student acolytes, would respond: Israel. Not at all.
Before and During World War One
It can be easily documented that the French subsidized and encouraged Arab nationalism before the war and during it the British took over, sponsoring the Arab nationalist revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Before the war, Islamism was sponsored by the Ottoman Empire in order to keep control over the region and battle Arab nationalism. For their part, the Germans sided with the Ottomans and encouraged Islamism.
What about Zionism? The British did not issue the Balfour Declaration, supporting a Jewish national home, because they saw Zionism as a useful tool in their long-term Middle East policy. In fact, they were interested in mobilizing Jewish support elsewhere, specifically to get American Jews to support the United States entering the war on Britain’s side and to have Russian Jews support keeping that country in the war. Both efforts did not have much effect. At any rate, long-term British policy always saw maximizing Arab support as its priority.
Post-World War One
While having promised Jews a national home, British policy soon turned away from supporting Zionism and certainly from backing a Jewish state, even by the early 1920s, realizing that having the Arabs as clients was a far more valuable prize. It was through local Arab elites that the British built their imperial position in the region. The French toyed a bit with Arab nationalism as a way to undermine British rule but also backed Arab elites. The new Soviet Union actually sponsored Islamism for several years as a way of undermining both the British and French in the region.
The only exception was T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and a few other visionaries who thought that both Arab nationalism and Zionism could co-exist under British sponsorship. That concept didn’t last very long and had no policy influence beyond the early 1920s at most.