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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Advice to Western Leaders: Don’t Visit the Middle East

Visits of Western leaders complicate old problems and create new ones, and moreover, the chances that these visits will yield a positive effect or result in a real solution to any problem, is quite low.

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John Kerry: Here he comes again

John Kerry: Here he comes again

(7) Middle East Racism Towards Blacks. President Obama also presents a difficult cultural challenge to the Middle East: a dark-skinned man of African descent is called “Abed” in Arabic, meaning “slave”, so how can such a person tell the Arabs, Persians or Turks what to do or what not to do? Add to this the claim that he or his father left Islam, and according to the Islamic approach, whoever leaves Islam must be killed. Many people in the Middle East ask themselves “How on Earth can such a person dare to come to Cairo, to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq as the head of a state?” These words are not spoken aloud, but this is the feeling of many, too many, in the Middle East.

(8) Colonial Language. Visitors usually speak European languages, especially English and French. But these languages were the languages of colonialism, so when the visitor makes public announcements in one of these languages it marks him as a colonialist, a foreigner, and someone who is arrogant, humiliating and exploitative, and therefore also hated and shunned.

(9) The ‘Warm’ Reception. In preparation for visits from noted Westerners, there are many who would like to prepare a “reception” for him in the form of attacks and other terror operations, mainly in order to prove “who is in charge here”. This was obvious in Iraq after 2003, and during the Palestinian Intifada from 2000 to 2007. As a result of this it can be said with assurance and great sorrow that visits of notables from the West cause bloodshed in the Middle East.

A visit from a Western notable is usually short, lasting a day or two, during which he tries to find a solution to a problem that has lasted for a long time and involves conflicts with ethnic, tribal, religious or sectoral factors or some complex combination of these components. The conclusion that arises from all of these reasons is that it is preferable for leaders and senior officials from the West not to visit the Middle East. These visits complicate old problems and create new ones, and moreover, the chances that these visits will yield a positive effect or result in a real solution to any problem, is quite low.

It would be better to conduct diplomacy behind the scenes, with a minimal presence. It is possible to offer support and to help heads of state, politicians, organizations and activities, instead of coming for hasty, public visits, which do not serve the goal in a basic and positive way.

Leaders in the West to understand that the Middle Eastern culture is not the same as the European or American culture. the people of the Middle East are aware of their history, and have a totally different value system and system of priorities from those of Western cultures. The status of the group – ethnic, tribal, religious and sectoral – is immeasurably higher than the status of the parallel group in Western culture, and it is not possible to implement solutions in the Middle East  that are tailor-made for European or American cultures.

Religious considerations play a key role in the Middle East, and therefore for the leaders of the states  that exercise separation of religion and state, where it is a personal matter for every individual, a basic component necessary to understand the culture of the Middle East is missing.

Visits from leaders are an important part of the political culture in the West, but are perceived in a totally different manner in the Middle East. Therefore it is important for world leaders to understand that their visits in this area are not effective and not positive and therefore cannot bring the desired results.

My words also relate to Israel, because this country is not located in Europe or in America, but must find its way within the Middle Eastern maze . The visits of European and American presidents and heads of state in Israel do not bring positive results, and it is enough to mention President Clinton, whose visit to Israel pushed its leaders to sign the Oslo Accords, which resulted in the rise of Hamas and this organization’s takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Obama’s imminent visit to Israel may – moreover- push Israel to agree to the establishment of an additional terror state, this time in Judea and Samaria, because no one in the world, including Obama, can assure that Hamas will not take over this area too in time.

Just as a doctor must study at least ten years before he can operate on his first patient, likewise, an engineer studies many years before he designs his first bridge. And a diplomat should study the Middle East well and in depth, its culture, its religions and its history before he comes for his first visit. It would be better if all Western leaders had an academic degree in the history of the Middle East and the cultural  characteristics of this region, before he tries to engineer solutions for societies such as that in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before he comes for visits attempting to solve problems such as those between Israel and her neighbors.

The problems of the Middle East – and the bloodbath in Syria proves this in the most terrible way – stem from the attempt to impose the political culture of foreign societies upon the Middle East. The time has come for the world to stop this and begin to relate to the Middle East according to what it actually is, and not in the dreams of visitors who come for two days.

Originally published at Middle East and Terrorism. Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.

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