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The ‘Imperialist Tool’ of the Middle East

Historically, inasmuch as there was any European or American “imperialism” in the Middle East it made use of Arab political factors over Israel.
imperialism

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

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 well-informed people are 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 era. It can be easily documented that the French subsidized and encouraged Arab nationalism before the war. 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 the wartime mobilizing Jewish support elsewhere, specifically to get American Jews to support the United States entering the war on Britain’s side and Russian Jews in 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 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.

Before and During World War Two. Realizing that it needed Arab support to fight in the coming war, the British followed an appeasement policy that was quite willing to sacrifice the Jews for Arab help—or at least non-interference—in the battle. If the Arab side had cooperated with these pre-war plans, Arab Palestine might have emerged in 1948, with the Jews driven out or massacred shortly after.

Instead, the radical Arabs—both nationalists and Islamists—made a deal with the Axis. Germany and Italy supported these forces in order to destroy the British and French position in the region, just as the Germans had done in World War One.

While the British worked with the Zionists during the war on common endeavors, there was never any notion that a Jewish state would aid British interests in the region. Quite the opposite. The British focused on moderate Egyptian and Iraqi politicians plus the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

After World War Two. The British quickly sought to use moderate Arab forces to ensure their position. That’s why they were the real founders of the Arab League. The Zionists fought the British. The United States supported partition of the Palestine mandate and the creation of Israel but with no strategy of using Israel as a tool in Middle East policy. Indeed, the United States had no ambitions in the region at the time. Israel was largely ignored by the United States during its first two decades of existence.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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7 Responses to “The ‘Imperialist Tool’ of the Middle East”

  1. Ruth Hirt says:

    Essential policy structures to know. Highly recommended reading.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Mr. Rubin for writing a grounded historical account.

    The "problem" of the Arabs, as documented by Maurice Samuel, On the Rim of the Wilderness: The Conflict in Palestine (1931), is that Arab fellahin (peasants) are manipulated and kept poverty-stricken by the Arab landed elite. Only Palestinian Jews broke the back of Arab usury, with modern banks, with modern courts, by employing Arabs at modern wages, by buying Palestinian land at exorbitant prices, and by selling Arabs modern machinery. This, of course, was no good to the Elite, who went after the Jews with a vengeance – for freeing the Arab peasants from poverty!

    Jewish kindness, fairness, prosperity and modernity was shown to Arabs of the West Bank upon capture in 1967, whom Israel found living in the 13th century. Quickly the population was brought into the modern era with electricity, water, sewer, roads, and above all, jobs. These Arabs had, for a time, the fastest rising standard of living in the world. Once again that was no good to Arafat et al. They threw it all away with the intifada.

    Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the benign occupation, had in mind Arab freedom – he threw open the bridges to Jordan and threw open access to Israel. That was no good to the PLO – they just had to kill Jews.

    It is clear that this pattern persists today under Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, and of course in every Arab state.

    What has evaporated is Jewish goodwill.

  3. Israel has also been accused of colonialism. Which is just as ridiculous considering that Israel is the exact antithesis of colonialism.

    We are a native people regaining our homeland – that is the essence of Zionism. Islam is the largest colonial power in the world today – from Morocco to the Philippines.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The Native Americans, following left-wing politics knee-jerk, berate Israel for colonialism. This always shocks me, as the correct response, to a student of history, is here is a case, the only case I know, of a native people returning to a portion of their land after 2000 years of exile and multiple genocides. This should inspire and guide Native Americans.

  5. Not all Native Americans – there is a tribe in Canada that told off the Arabs for trying to use them as an example. They said they were far more like Jews than Arabs

  6. Puppet and puppeteer relationships or recent history unmasked.

  7. Puppet and puppeteer relationships or recent history unmasked.

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