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One of my most fun professional memories was when I walked endlessly, circling round and round and round that hall in Algeria in November 1988 with a burly, no-nonsense, and brilliant newspaper correspondent named Youssef Ibrahim, who was then working for the New York Times.
Friendly, funny, sarcastic, and with absolutely no illusions or romanticism about the absurdities of Arab politics and the idiocies of Arab political ideology, Ibrahim’s only shortcoming is that there are not one thousand more exactly like him. If he was the kind of person leading Arab countries and people they would be far more prosperous, peaceful, happier and democratic.
But, alas, the Ibrahims are the rarity, men given too little honor in their own old societies and far too little in the West. The genuine moderates accept no excuses but comprehend precisely why the West has succeeded and the Middle East has not. Often seen as sell-outs, they are the most noble and courageous of people, far more concerned about their own people’s welfare than are the dictators, demagogues, and bloodthirsty academics.
These thoughts are prompted by an article he once wrote, presented below. I include the text because I want you to read every word. It is all completely sensible. Many will find it encouraging. It makes me want to cry.
First, because it all could have been written 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, indeed it is pretty much what he told me as we circled endlessly around the convention center way out on an isolated Algerian beach (there’s Arafat, surrounded by his coterie; there’s that moronic American Jewish Peace Now guy who is explaining to the PLO gunmen thugs why they really really want to make peace with Israel but just don’t know it; here come the sycophantic journalists…)
And it was published in 2006 and in six years and a half years there has been no advance on one single word of its text. Of course, the spread of revolutionary Islamism has revived the unwillingness to listen to Ibrahim, though the fate of Syria–the one Arab country he said still took the conflict seriously–should give pause to radical regimes who think this gambit solves all of their problems.
Second, because nobody in the Arab world listens to Ibrahim or to brilliant scholars like Fouad Ajami, which is their tragedy for preferring the demagogues.
Third, because it was published—of course—not in an Arabic publication (who would dare?) but in an American Jewish one, a group that includes all too many who think the fault is on their own side and don’t get what Youssef is saying.
Fourth, because if I were to have written these truths I would have been denounced with a hundred different insults.
Fifth, because if anything things are worse today than back then. (Can you imagine this essay of his being presented and discussed in a university course on the Middle East?)
And sixth because it’s now 2012 and we still have to be saying things like this! No, it’s worse: in 2012 the Middle East is starting a whole new round of the old madness. The Islamists tell the masses that the only reason their predecessors didn’t win total victory is that they failed to hit their head against the stone wall long and hard enough!
Here’s his open letter:
To my Arab brothers: The War with Israel Is Over — and they won. Now let’s finally move forward.
By Youssef M. Ibrahim
Jewish World Review, July 12, 2006
Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:
The war with Israel is over.
You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.
We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the “eternal struggle” with Israel.
Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine, but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years. Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness.
At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan. It isn’t going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.
You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem.
You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you.
You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation. Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins.
Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations.
Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.
In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.
What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world’s have-nots?
We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.
Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways. Those of us who share borders with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon.
Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq, frankly could not care less about what happens to you.
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine , even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.
Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours, Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods — more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives — while your children played in the sewers of Gaza .
The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?
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