Why has the Arab world found it so hard to challenge and revise its own disproven assumptions and failed policies? The key to this apparent mystery is hidden in the issue of who is to be blamed for this unhappy history and pessimistic outlook. The overwhelmingly dominant answer in the Arab world and Iran has been to attribute responsibility to the United States, Israel, and traitorous—because they are insufficiently radical—rulers at home. The outpouring of anti-Americanism, both before and after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on America, reflected this overall assessment that the United States was to blame for everything that had gone wrong in the Middle East.
But if America is responsible, of course, that means Pan-Arab nationalism, Islamist radicalism, dictatorship, badly run and rigidly statist economies, strategies rejoicing in violence and terror, and a media system dominated by propaganda have nothing to do with the Arab failure to prosper and progress. If these internal factors are irrelevant—or lacking only a more courageous and consistent application of the correct principles—then nothing needs to be altered. Yet if these things remain unchanged, the Arab world will continue to lurch from one embarrassment or defeat to another.
Those in the West who agree with the assessment that outside oppression is the true roadblock for Arabs and Muslims think that they are nobly helping the Middle East’s people against their enemies. Echoing their views and explaining their grievances is expected to persuade the West to understand the Middle East and then to change its ways, thus solving the problem. Anyone who disagrees is said to be merely an apologist for imperialism and Zionism whose work does not deserve to be read and whose analysis need not be considered.
In fact, though, these “pro-Arab” forces are reinforcing the Arabs’ and Muslims’ worse possible enemy: the unwillingness to confront the real issues and problems that have caused so many disasters and kept them from achieving more progress. At any rate, such arguments will never convince Western leaders or citizens, because they clearly do not conform to reality. The principle problem is not that the West misunderstands the Middle East, but rather that the Middle East misunderstands both the West and itself.
From The Tragedy of the Middle East by Barry Rubin.