Daniel Pipes: In Mideast, Bet on a Strong Horse
Daniel Pipes, 16 Feb 2010: The violence and cruelty of Arabs often perplexes Westerners. Not only does the leader of Hizbullah proclaim “We love death,” but so too does, for example, a 24-year-old man who last month yelled “We love death more than you love life” as he crashed his car on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in New York City. As two parents in St. Louis honor-killed their teenage daughter with thirteen stabs of a butcher’s knife, the Palestinian father shouted “Die! Die quickly! Die quickly! . . . Quiet, little one! Die, my daughter, die!” – and the local Arab community supported them against murder charges. A prince from Abu Dhabi recently tortured a grain dealer whom he accused of fraud; despite a video of the atrocity appearing on television internationally, the prince was acquitted while his accusers were convicted.
“The Strong Man” Something we should be used to seeing in the affairs of the Middle east as well as the long and storied history of Russia and the Soviet state. However, these ideals where the Muslim/Arab communities come to play are ingrained in their society fully.
The peoples of the Middle east are a tribal people. Your family, tribe, religion, like all places on the earth can mean many things. In this case, these traits of birth can get you beheaded in the wrong area of town or just by the fact that you are not the right kind of Muslim. Of course this is not the case with all the peoples of the area, but, this is the case for many of them.
Where the “Strong Man” comes to play here is the obvious one of virility and strength as well as the ability to carry out one’s will with violence to subjugate those around them. A case in point that is easy to pick out was Saddam Hussein. He had the complex down to a science with the violence, the self aggrandisement, and his control of his people. In short, the reality was he was a mad man of sorts and someone the US thought could control.
We were wrong.
Perhaps it is the rigours of living in the desert that makes these peoples so insular and territorial as well as their religion. After all, water was prized more than many other things and a wadi or a well was essential to survival. For many generations this has been the way of life for these people and even with all of the modernity that oil profits have brought, still cling to those old wasy as if it were a genetic trait asserting itself.
Smith takes as his prooftext Osama bin Laden’s comment in 2001, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” What Smith calls the strong-horse principle contains two banal elements: Seize power and then maintain it. This principle predominates because Arab public life has “no mechanism for peaceful transitions of authority or power sharing, and therefore [it] sees political conﬂict as a ﬁght to the death between strong horses.”
Violence, Smith observes is “central to the politics, society, and culture of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.” It also, more subtly, implies keeping a wary eye on the next strong horse, triangulating, and hedging bets.
As you can see, Osama believes this way too. On the one hand the aphorism holds true from the standpoint of nature. We all as a species crave strength. We want our leaders to be strong and capable. We want our homes to be the same, our lives, etc. We need that comfort of being protected. Just look at the presidency as one of these things. We need a strong decisive president who does not think but acts (ala GWB) but then, by the time we learn that often times “no think” leads to bad decisions, its too late and we wind up in the shit.
Sociologists must be employed by the world to understand the people of varying regions. In the case of the Middle East, too many in our society have no clue as to what’s going on and why. Unfortunately I believe that the last administration had no idea really of the history there nor the mindset. This administration is trying to understand and be placative, but that is not the way to go either. Most of all, the “people” need to understand the playing field and the players to make informed decisions on our state actions and this is not happening.
I guess the ultimate question is asked by the statement made in the article:
More broadly, when the U.S. government flinches, others (e.g., the Iranian leadership) have an opportunity to “force their own order on the region.” Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese leader, has half-seriously suggested that Washington “send car bombs to Damascus” to get its message across and signal its understanding of Arab ways.
On the gross generality term here this may be the best way to get through to those in power, and those squabbling over it. However, we have tried and failed numerous times by trying a “proxy strong horse” in theatre. Saddam being the last of these in recent “history” showing us how bad that can be. Not so historical is the current Pakistani, Afghani, and Iraqi “strong men” who we are fronting to hold the region together. All of who are dogged by allegations of crime and duplicity if not outright despotism.
Can you say Iran?
So the question becomes how do we gain their respect? Because control of the strong man certainly has failed us over and over again. Then again, how do we break this cycle of strong man, Muslim sectarian hate, and tribal behaviour?
I don’t have the answers, but I beg you to ponder the puzzle.