When all the bluster and rhetoric is over the implacable verdict of history is announced. The trick is not to wait until the final catastrophic verdict is in before adjusting (and regretting) but to read history as it unfolds and try to look cautiously ahead. These thoughts are occasioned by the fascinating recent events in the Middle East, but before we go there let’s continue with the idea that history has a message for us as it unfolds which we need to pay careful attention to.
I ask myself what attributes are required by a people or a nation to be “successful”. By that I mean to overcome potentially existential challenges, to be relatively stable and prosperous and to provide life opportunities for the vast majority of its citizens. For better or worse I will set out very briefly my thoughts on the main determinants of a successful nation. Interestingly enough, every virtue has its limits and carried to excess, virtues become vices. Thus one attribute balances another.
Firstly, I always put courage at the top. And along with it comes tenacity – the courage to hang on and to persist even when the going gets hard.
To balance that we need adaptability – otherwise courage just becomes obstinacy or stupid recklessness. But even adaptability requires a measure of courage – the willingness to modify, to change tactics or strategy or even, very much more rarely, direction.
While, theoretically, authoritarian systems may demonstrate adaptability but it tends to be limited in nature and dictated by the ideas, psychology and agendas of a single individual or small group. That is why democracies for all their abrasiveness and unpredictability are preferable. Given good communication and flow of information and an informed electorate, genuine democracies with their freedoms and life opportunities and the cumulative wisdom of well-informed crowds (not mobs) almost always out-perform autocracies.
Ethical values based on the virtues of honesty, justice, respect for others and kindness: these are the prime virtues which make all others possible and the world bearable.
Finally a ragbag of attributes which go under the name of commonsense. It is commonsense which tells one that a certain idea is crazy, or too risky, or impracticable. It is commonsense which tells us when nuance and subtlety is required or whether it is better to be assertive and simple. It is commonsense which tells us to look at something more carefully before dismissing it or embracing it. It is commonsense which informs us whether a virtue is being overdone to the point where it becomes a liability. Commonsense is thus the most difficult and complex of the attributes required for success, but possibly the most important
So what is the current unfolding of events in the Middle East telling us?
- The Syrian conflict is rapidly mutating and metastasing into a region-wide conflict between different religious and tribal groupings – see here. This is telling us something very important about the culture and social-political architecture of the Middle East; one that contradicts the illusions and wishful thinking of the Western left. It can leave us in no doubt that Islam is in the throes of a massive transition either towards modernity along the lines of the Western Enlightenment or back to the most extreme elements of its medieval history. It tells us that tribal loyalties and affiliations are still highly significant in the Arab-Muslim street and that the nations cobbled together by the colonial powers and Arab elites are extremely vulnerable. It tells us the political and cultural values required for successful democracy are very weak in the Middle East. And, finally, it impels us to a realistic recognition that military and economic strength as well as all the other attributes listed above will continue to be essential to Israel’s very survival for the foreseeable future.
- The troubles in Turkey (see here and here) are a reminder of just how rapidly things can unravel in seemingly successful autocracies. And how expediency and appeasement can make one look foolish or cowardly of both. And for the record, it is nothing less than poetic justice for Erdogan whose overthrow would bring me and many others (including Turks) no small measure of satisfaction.
- Two articles on the Israeli Arab community are worth reading and considering carefully. One deals with the differences between the broader Israeli-Arab population and their more extreme and radicalised leaders. This points to the worthlessness of simplistic political judgements based upon ideology and stereotyping. The second refers to the self-defeating policies of the Arab elites especially and the paper is well worth reading for its informational content even if one agrees or disagrees with some of the author’s political positions.
- Finally I come to some interesting articles (here, here and here) which expose the truly virulent anti-Israeli and antisemitic views of so-called Western human rights activists in their own words. The interesting downward spiral from the original Facebook page to the extremists who infect such sites is instructive. The question is this – how big is the difference between the polite language of the human rights brigade and the unrestrained paranoid hatred and fantasy of the fringe elements? That is why I thoroughly object to anti-Islamic bigotry while not hesitating to recognise the evil in the Jihadist and Islamist movements which infest Islam at present. See also Richard Landes for his take on the al-Dura affair.
I urge readers to go to the original articles linked to this blog. Your comments and views would be most welcome.