Many wonder what lies behind Arab rage against Israel. Compared to the millions of Muslims slaughtered by other Muslims in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and other countries, Palestinian deaths in Israel are relatively few. Yet the millions massacred and millions more repressed does not evoke Arab outrage as do the events in Israel. Why the double standard?
New York Times essayist Nicholas Kristoff argued a short while ago that this double standard in the Middle East is due to the fact that Arab countries are shame-based societies, and Israeli repression of Arabs is seen not just as brutal, but also as humiliating.
He cites Arabs telling him that, “Israel is a colonial outpost and that as a result while Israeli Arabs may have ballots and free speech, they have no dignity. The Israeli occupation represents a total humiliation of all the Arab regimes. It's a continuous reminder of the weakness of the Arabs as people, of their society and political system, as well as an indication of the impotence and corruption of their regimes."
Arab humiliation seems to have become a mainstay since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab world, it seems, can not get over their lost pride as a people who once ruled and represented the epitome of civilization, and now are relegated to Third World status. Israel and America represent for the Arab world the source of this humiliation – so the argument goes.
Many other speculations are offered to explain Arab rage and frenzy against Israel and the West.
Understanding the underlying causes for Arab sentiments is not academic; it is the only way to get to the bottom of the issues. Understanding their mentality is the true key to help provide us with a meaningful strategy. We can never devise a workable plan as long as we focus on the superficial causes, and do not understand the driving force of our adversary. Does the Arab world just want justice for the Palestinians? Equal rights (rights they do not have under any Arab ruler)? Some land to live peacefully? Or perhaps they want something more that they simply are not telling us?
I submit that the true reason and core root of Arab anger is religious and not political.
The Arab world’s opposition to Israel is not due to any Israeli actions, but rather to the very existence of the Land of Israel and Jewish control over the land. This control is a perpetual thorn in their side, and the root cause for their “shame” and humiliation.
Why? Because Muslims fundamentally believe that Israel’s existence – and Jewish control over Israel – in what they consider to be their ‘conquered land,’ is a desecration of their religious vision.
This is the reason why Muslims have always built mosques on the sacred land of Jews and Christians (e.g. the Temple Mount, Bethlehem) to demonstrate their absolute belief that Muslim control over these lands fulfills and realizes the Divine will.
This religious belief is the true cause for the rage of the Arab/Muslim world against Israel. It is not about human rights, Palestinian sovereignty, Arab dignity, oil, money, harems, or any other issue. No amount of land return, no concessions will satisfy them – other than the elimination of Jewish control in Israel.
As uncomfortable as it may be, we will never be able to resolve the issues until we realize that this is a religious war not a political one.
Many of us would like to conveniently believe that the issues are political ones, because that would make the situation a lot more manageable and the problem a lot simpler. We know how to deal with political challenges. But if this is a religious war, we simply do not have the tools, experience or interest to fight such a war.
Our existing modalities are secular ones. Our political systems and governmental institutions have been built with secular goals in mind, without much consideration to spiritual and religious values, which we have relegated to the private sector. We therefore do not see the world in context of religious and spiritual vision. That’s why we cannot fathom or understand the rage of the Arab world today.
And this is why a Palestinian state is not possible, and for that matter not doable. This is why the disengagement from Gaza is not a solution that will promote peace. A state will never satisfy the Arab world. They will simply see it as a step in the direction of their re-conquest of Israel. They do not want a state for political reasons, but for religious ones. That is the key to the underlying issues. As much as we wish to make the Palestinians of the world our “partners in peace,” we must realize that our secular notions of peace are not part of their agenda at all.
What is needed, hence, is a reform in the educational system of the Palestinians, one that will allow their youth to view the world, and Israel, in a new way. Only then will peace emerge.