Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 26, 2010

It’s Good To Be the King… Except in Jordan

King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan was on The Daily Show last week, and all I can say is “Wow”.  The guy is articulate without being brainy, politically moderate, very real, and seems just plain… I dunno … nice!

Not just your average nice,  but almost Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood nice. And it was not an act–or if it was, this guy’s got the chops of DeNiro himself. Maybe he has a skeleton or two in his closet, sure (or maybe his late father did). But still, it’s refreshing to encounter a monarch/politician who clearly “gets it” and isn’t full of himself.

As we in the States start getting more and more focused on mid-term elections, there are actually some much more important discussions going on this week in and about Palestine. The expiration of Israel’s building ban in the Palestinian territories happens on Sept. 30 (a ban which the Israelis have been ignoring and finding workarounds for anyway, while their government looks the other way). And if a new agreement is not reached, it’s gonna be an awful mess.

Abdullah –a moderate caught between shrill, self-involved extremists –tried to sound hopeful that a new agreement could be reached which both sides can tolerate. But as for me, I’m not so sure.

I know some Americans think this fight has been going on for thousands of years. But if we look at the historical record, the existent and repatriated Jews actually got along pretty well, and lived side-by-side with Arab Palestinians right up through 1947… when the newly-empowered nation of Israel, with the implied backing of the U.S. and Europe (especially France and Britain), militarily changed what had up until then been a level playing field (albeit in a somewhat underdeveloped region).

I know we can’t go back to 1946 again. And I appreciate both groups’ culture and history equally (or at least I try, though who knows what kinds of biases and b.s. I’ve bought into without realizing… most likely pro-Israel biases, so easy to come by in the West). But need we be so crass and irresponsible that, to keep “peace”, we let the bully rule the playground for yet another generation as we look on from the schoolhouse window?

More importantly, Abdullah offered a valuable, level-headed perspective on how the Palestine problem has become the lynchpin for political solutions between the West, Israel and the Muslim Middle East.

Long story short, and maybe this is stating the obvious: Abdullah reminded viewers how Iran and other extremist nations have used the impasse in Palestine to build a case throughout the Muslim world for aggression and unilateralism. Since it’s clear that all “normal” political channels have yielded no good result for the Arab Palestinians, why not just blow the whole thing up? In other words, why follow the rule of law when the Western and Israeli “lawmen” offer all stick and no carrot? “If they won’t give us a seat at the table and offer the same halal meal as everyone else, then we’re starting a foodfight. So there!”

So why are Hezbollah and other militant groups so easily able to sell their rotten products of hate and fear throughout the region? Because the people they are selling their rhetoric to have no access to more legitimate “food” for their nation-building diet. Their rights and dignity are squashed at every turn. Not just in Palestine either, but throughout the majority of the Muslim world, where in most nations, living conditions are only improving at the pace of a snail, and exploitation and poverty are matters of accepted fact for 75% of the citizens.

Rich and/or powerful Muslims don’t have clean hands in this struggle, either. But that element of class struggle makes these countries no different than Honduras, the Congo, or any other nation where religion and the Holocaust and colonial history barely even enter the conversation. And just as class struggle in any nation plays itself out with manipulation and the “blame game”, it’s bound to happen in the Middle East as well. Nobody’s got the guts, it seems, to blame themselves or their corrupt provincial leaders even the least little bit. Too risky, right?

No wonder the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan… “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. (Thanks, Pete.)

Tougher still: even when they are granted opportunities, the disenfranchised groups in these nations, with a history of “acting up” to get attention, find that tactic a hard habit to break. It’s obvious that nation-building is frustrating work, even in a resource-neutral environment. So when any old demagogue can tap into that frustration in order to get elected or build support, we end up with a powderkeg, and coalitions break down quickly. (This happens in the U.S. too, in case you have not noticed… politicians love to play the “Aren’t you angry?!” card.)

I feel so bad for the ordinary citizens and the leaders in this mess, especially in moderate nations like Jordan –or Lebanon, where there is a huge Christian minority and tradition that suffers doubly by being on neither side of the Arab-Israeli struggle.

So what are we saying here? I don’t know. Get down on your knees and pray for your enemies is probably a good place to start, though.

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