Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2003 / 13 Elul, 5763
A SCIENCE FICTION HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST
By David D. Perlmutter
There is some scientific validity to such speculations. Some cosmological theories propose coexisting alternative universes where all sorts of historical events skew in different directions than in ours. The Sci-Fi Channel program "Sliders" was based on this premise.
Sometimes I muse what the Middle East would be like if a few critical decisions had been made differently.
Let's begin in the actual that is, our universe 1870s. Jews from many lands start migrating to the barren and sparely settled land west of the Jordan River, joining the small population of native Jews, Christians, and Bedouin. In the decades to come through the 1920s Arabs drift in as well the Jews are making the desert bloom, building factories, creating jobs.
But now the timelines split and we diverge into another universe. The leaders of local and surrounding Arab communities begin a great debate what to do about the future? Some say that the Jews should be expelled. They call for Jihad. The Jews and Christians, they say, should only be slaves or subjects, not equals. Is that not what our law and tradition demand and have always done?
Others disagree. The Jews, they note, are creating prosperity in land that has not thrived since they last occupied it. Is not G-d's hand visible in the green fields and bustling shops? The Koran says so, after all. And though the Jews have no weapons and no military tradition, will they be so easy to kill? And what if we lose the war? Our ancestors, after all, stole this land from the Jews and Christians long ago. What will the Jews do to us if they defeat us in a war to "drive them into the sea"? And then, too, why commit our children to war when all can share in prosperity? And do we want to encourage the kind of madmen who would lead such a war?
The moderates in this alternative universe win. During the 1920s and 1930s Arabs and Jews formed many cooperative councils and agreements. No one's land was infringed upon. Everyone prospered. During World War II and after, Jews settled European refugees in the Jewish areas of the land.
After the war a plebiscite was held. The Jews voted for their own country in unification with most of the Arabs. Other Arabs decided to merge with Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt. The moderate and progressive Arab national leaders join in, recognizing the new states. After all, they want to move ahead with modernizing their countries and understand that a perpetual war in the center of the Arab world would end up making all of them miserable, impoverished, and surely led by thieves and madmen.
On September 11, 2001 a great celebration is held in Jerusalem. Its theme: 100 YEARS OF SEMITIC PEACE. The democratically elected President of the Republic of Arabia toasts the guests and says, "We Semites have proven what sensible men and women of sense and temperance can accomplish. The world envies our example."
And in that universe's planet earth all other peoples do admire the great accomplishments of the children of Abraham.
Looking back at 100 years of Arab psychotic violence and radicalism in our universe, we can only sigh in envy.
Unfortunately, I think the case can be made that a "moderate-and-sensible-Palestinian-universe" does not exist. Historians point out that some counterfactuals are impossible because basic psycho-social realities proscribe them. Example: Hitler lost the war in Russia for many reasons but one was that was he never fully exploited the deep anti-Communist sentiment of the many peoples oppressed by the Soviet Union. Instead he treated them like slaves or simply murdered them. But speculating how the war would have gone if the Nazi army had been one of liberation and not destruction is foolish. Hitler would have not invaded the East unless he saw the Slavs and other peoples as subhumans fit only for the slaughter pits or the slave camps. A wise and gentle Hitler would not have been der Fuhrer of the Drang nach Osten.
Likewise, a Palestinian Gandhi or an Arab moderate and sensible foreign policy are impossibilities. Gandhi was a product of Anglo-Hindu culture and millions in India shared his dreams and taught their children to share them; even the elites of India generally agreed that terrorism and eternal war was not in their interests.
But in the Middle East the opposite was and is true. The great historian Vahakn N. Dadrian in his classic text, The History of the Armenian Genocide, noted that one of the main causes of the genocide of Armenians by the Turks was that, in the wake of World War I, the Armenians, formerly known as the most docile subject people of the Ottoman Empire, now wanted basic equal rights. But this was a thing no Muslim could grant a dhimmini: so they were exterminated.
Likewise the elites of the Arab world knew in 1948 and know today that true peace would mean their own overthrow by their less fortunate countrymen because the perennial distraction of the "Jew Enemy" would be removed. Moreover, for many generations, Arab schools, cultures, and parents have been raising children to view hate as the only acceptable emotion and martyrdom as the only virtue of life. How can one make peace with people who dress up their 4-year-olds in dynamite for parades? Most brutally: how can one make peace with that four year old, even presuming his parents allow him to live to adulthood?
On the other hand a few brave Muslims throughout history have pointed toward another possibility, one in which the believers obey the words of the prophet that the people of Moses should "enter the Holy Land which G-d has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.'" [Qur'an 5:20-21] and the holy injunction that "We [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'" [Qur'an 17:104] Yet, in our universe is a fact that almost all the possible Muslim peacemakers of the last century have been marginalized or assassinated.
So perhaps I'm wrong and one day scientists will find a universe where the Caliphs are reasonable men (and women) and the "Arafat Youth" are not bloody-minded maniacs but until I travel there myself, I'll believe that the Middle East that exists here and now is the only one possible.
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JWR contributor David Perlmutter is an associate professor of mass communication at
Louisiana State University and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for
Media & Public Affairs. He is the author of, among others,
Visions of War : Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age. Comment by clicking here.
07/10/03: Beware Palestinian rope-a-dupe tactics © 2003, David Perlmutter
07/10/03: Beware Palestinian rope-a-dupe tactics
© 2003, David Perlmutter