Thursday, August 17, 2006

On 20th century China and the 21st century Middle East

I’ve been reading a biography of Mao Tse-Tung called “Mao: The Unknown Story” (the book clearly has its strong biases against Mao but is exhaustingly well-researched with huge amounts of primary source material behind it which give its arguments strong credibility). Seemingly far-removed from the Middle East, but I have to say while I knew things had been bad in China in the past century, I never realized just how horrendous things were. Communists, Nationalists, the Emperor’s men, local warlords, Westerners, Japanese and others were just as bad and actually far worse than Zarqawi and his ilk. Beheadings, torture, public executions by stabbing, millions forced to kill their neighbors and friends or families, mob trampling, disembowelment, slicing off genitals, running rusty wires through various painful body parts and dragging people around, etc, etc. Over 70 million died at Mao’s hand in non-war periods alone. Add in the wars, the killings by other communists and all the other parties I just listed, and I can only presume double, triple, or more than that number died in the 19th and 20th centuries in China.

And yet…I don’t see any of the right-wingers who talk about Islam or Arab culture or terrorism being the problem saying that China has a cultural problem. Chinese culture remains Chinese culture (of course it has changed in the past century, but I don’t think anyone would argue China is any less Chinese). China has its problems as we do, yet they’ve managed to move on in a big way on many fronts. So why do all these right-wingers seem to think Arabs are somehow innately different from other human beings? It just supports my argument: none of this is about culture or religion or “terrorism”, it’s about major political, social, and economic problems. Once China started sorting those out, they began moving forward. Westerners and Soviets had to learn to quit trying to impose their will on China and then after some serious pain China began to move forward once it began (de facto at least even if not in rhetoric) to recognize the deadly errors they themselves had also made.

The same can happen for the Middle East. But like China, a major prerequisite will be for Westerners (read the US and Israel) to learn to back off and stop trying to impose their will by force. It didn’t work in China, it won’t work in the Middle East. In China it helped produce a century of revolution, death, and turmoil that the country is only in the last few decades rising beyond. It’s done the same to the Middle East and we can only hope the US and Israel will learn to stop using force so that the Middle East can rise as well. The progressive forces of democracy, entrepreneurialism, and free thought all exist in the Middle East, but they won’t necessarily come from the parties the US and Israel wants them to. True progress requires allowing the region to progress in its own way, learning from its own mistakes, and outsiders acting as friends giving advice and an occasional hand (primarily when asked), not acting as heavy-handed, domineering military and economic forces.

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