The West and Islam - 5 Years After Sept. 11 - 50 Years After Suez

James Adler


Five years after 9/11, the following Boston Globe headline explains for us the path not taken: "The Lessons of Suez: Fifty years ago, two western powers [and Israel] conspired to invade an Arab country -- in defiance of international law and world opinion. Guess which side the United States was on."

1.

The two western colonial powers, Britain and France, along with Israel, invaded Egypt. The American World War II commanding General and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower put America on Egypt's side.

Can anyone doubt what would have happened if the United States had "stayed the course" of justice and fairness and even-handedness?  We would have remained popular, as we used to be back then, in the Arab and Muslim worlds.  Far-off Israel would not have had the financial and diplomatic support to launch and sustain the occupation and settlements on the West Bank, saving it from the same colonialist instincts that made it side with colonial aggression against its Arab neighbors in 1956, and causing the Arabs to suspect it more than they already had -- rightly or wrongly -- of being a colonial power.  Also without Israel having been able to put 450,000 of its settlers onto the Palestinian West Bank, and decades of unwillingness to withdraw them, Israel could have long easily withdrawn to its 1967 borders, and, with America thoroughly trusted by the Arabs as an honest Middle East broker, may have been able to work out a Middle East peace.

Further, even if there were still a conflict in the far-off Middle East on the other side of the world, the United States, having accrued many decades of warm relations with the Muslim and Arab worlds, and not having been involved in any side of any conflict, poor American - Arab (and Iranian) relations would be inconceivable-- and out of the question any relations remotely so bad as even to throw into the realm of the farthest-fetched possibility any way or shape or form of some any 9/11-type occurrence.

But with almost half US foreign aid going to Israel and we in uncritical   support of Israel, whatever it does -- many times more US aid to Israel than goes to all of impoverished Latin America and the entirety of destitute sub-Saharan Africa --   it is easy to see how Islamic fundamentalism gradually developed its foreign focus-- how the foreign world and especially America appeared on its  cognitive map, rather than staying benignly far underneath it. Islamic fundamentalism used to be insular and domestic and concerned with Islamic and Arab countries, as with the Egyptian Brotherhood's attempted assassination of Egyptian's President Gamal Abdel Nasser for his secularism.  But it began gradually to expand and enlarge its focus as a means of regional and religious pride and resistance -- whether against America for  the installation of the Shah of Iran, and hence Ahmadinejad, or the Zionist  project, and hence Hamas and Hezbollah, or as a generalized violence-driven  antipathy to the outside for these Western impositions, Al Qaida.  (And of course, to make clear, in their terrorist assault on the innocent, sheer evil and inexcusable.)

Certainly the Islamic world's many dysfunctionalities, including its internal violence and civil and ethnic strifes and tyrannies, have helped to generate that world's frustrations and fundamentalist energies and  broad appeal.  But since, after all, the US has been a nonjudgmental trading partner with all (--nonaggressive--) nations, and was never a medieval crusader state or early-capitalist colonialist power in the Islamic  world, and having never been itself Islamic, and a far-off land way over on  the other side of the world from it, we were once popular in the Arab and  Islamic world and completely remote from fundamentalist interest. And without the dysfunctionalities and frustrations generated by  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and similar western-imposed problems, the  basic question becomes: What Arabs, or Muslims of any ethnicity, of whatever  degree of frustration, and whatever it is they could be conceivably  frustrated about, could ever have linked these frustrations to a desire to  attack, of all (otherwise) irrelevant and faraway and remote things, the US?

2.

A European ambassador advised President Bush that ''You can't kill the octopus. The way to win is to drain the swamp.'' In other words, drain the motivation to attack us.

The Arab League has a peace plan that would give Israel peace and security but Israel will not accept it.  And if it had ever been serious about the Barak peace plan, it would re-offer it, keep it on the table, as the Arab League has with its peace plan, but Israel also won't.

And the US does nothing for itself -- or Israel -- or the Palestinians -- about this.

And so, back to fifty years ago and Suez:

Five years after 9/11 we need to remember this most important "lesson of Suez"-- if only the United States had "stayed the course" of that period and presidency-- for justice, fairness, even-handedness, and non-interference in Middle East conflicts.  If only we had remained steadfast in the wisdom of our Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower.

Nonetheless, even so, and after decades of our deviation from Dwight Eisenhower's and America's legacy, we may hope it isn't too late for the United States to move beyond the Bush Administration and neoconservatism, to set things right again, and - this time - "to stay the course."

But if our US foreign policy does not return to Eisenhower's good sense, a national foreign policy which is supposed, above all, to provide well-being and security for its own national citizens and its own nation's  children, one has to ask of it: What country in the world's foreign policy  proceeds more blithely on a more foolhardy and senseless and  self-destructive course against its own most vital and basic interests?



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Harvard Square Commentary, September 18, 2006