Thursday, June 03, 2004

Remaking the Middle East - I've got the region, you've got the suggestions 

About a week and a half ago I decided to celebrate my eight weeks in the blogsphere and 40,000 visits to my blog with a little competition: Remaking the Middle East. Now, with 80,000 clicks under the belt, it seems the good time to revisit the issue. As I wrote then:

"Let's face it - the British and French imperialists have stuffed up the job after the First World War, and most political developments in the region since then have largely served to make the situation even worse.

"To our numerous enemies we are already neo-conservative neo-imperialist Orientalist crusaders who want to impose their radical vision on the Middle East and remake the region in our own image. So why not actually pretend for a minute we're God (or a god), and have a think about what to do to make the Orient a bit less of a mess than it is now (or better still, to actually make it work for its long-suffering residents)."
Here's some of your input:

A few of you considered the whole idea to be misguided: "Uh.... How about we get the hell out of there and let these people settle their own problems?" wrote one reader. 9C, in turn, advised that we should

"Stop believing that there is a 'solution.' One of the great mistakes made in the West, particularly in intrinsically problem-solving societies like the United States, is to fall into the trap of 'solutionism' - the proposition that getting the participants talking around the table, perhaps facilitated, can result in a deal that all can agree upon."
In a twist on the non-interference idea, some readers suggested that we also stop subsidising both sides to the Middle Eastern conflict, let them fight it out unaided and let the winner take all. Methinks slightly unfair to Israel, but then again, they've done the whole David and Goliath thing once before.

The most ambitious proposal came from Quentin George:

"Remove, piece by piece, all of Israel - buildings, landmarks, people, farms etc, and relocate it to an uninhabited portion of Australia so that Israelis can get on with their lives without having to worry about hundreds of millions of Arabs staring them down."
The added bonus, of course, would be that it would quickly become apparent whether or not the presence of the state of Israel in the midst of Arab lands was merely an excuse for the political and economic failure in the region.

In turn, the most cruel solution came from Gnu Hunter: for him Google offered a tempting solution. The most unrealistic solution involved "Terminator"-style time travel back into the region's rich history - as such it was discounted out of hand. So were suggestions to re-create the old map of the Middle East with kingdoms of Hittites, Phoenicians and Ammonites. There are enough problems in the region as it is.

Rather than resettling the Jews, other readers wanted to do the opposite - remove the Palestinians to, variously, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Jordan. Not sure whether the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Jordanians were going to be consulted about this one. Another reader, Ken, thought that the Palestinians should stay - they should "dissolve the Palestinian authority and demand full rights as citizens of Israel. Then they should focus on out-populating the Jews." That one, I think, is already on the drawing boards - the Palestinian negotiators call it "the right of return."

Speaking of Kuwait (and speaking of Ken), Ken wanted to give it to Iraq, so that Iraq "can have a decent coastline." I think I've heard that one before - Saddam, anyone?

Others, too, went for the task of remaking the Middle East armed with maps, rulers and pencils. Ruemers proposed moving certain boundaries northwards:

"[E]vacuate Lebanon into Syria since for some odd reason Syria seems to actually want to govern the Lebanese people and it would be much easier from within their own country."
The Jewish state then moves up, and the Palestinians get what is now southern Israel. In addition, "the UN will create, maintain and pay for a DMZ between Israel and Palestine and for every bombing inside Israel Palestine will lose a square kilometre of land to Israel and vice versa." Who would have thought to introduce economic incentives into the region? Another reader, Jono, also had Lebanon in his sights, proposing a division of that country into Christian and Muslim parts.

Many readers also thought that partitioning Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines would be a good idea. Even more readers supported giving the Kurds a state of their own.

Of the less political and more economic solutions, Daniel suggested that the United States develops an alternative source of energy and gets the hell out of the Middle East. 9C thought that Israel should wean itself of dependence on Arab labour, as a pre-condition to constructing the security barrier separating Jews and Palestinians. Gary Lambert came back to oil as the source of all evil - or rather its mismanagement as a source of revenue. His solution bears quoting at length:

"A designated percentage of oil revenues (say ½) would be set aside for the general population, divided equally between all adults of a minimum age. The states that come to mind are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Algeria, and Libya. I like the age of 25 or above because it means that the recipient has a higher probability of being married (and in the case of women in that part of the word, to have children) and thus increasing the size of the grants to a somewhat more responsible age group.

"50% of the amount is paid as an annual or semi-annual check. The other 50% is deposited in an individual trust account (like an IRA) and can only be tapped once every 5-10 years. The funds can be invested or merely kept in an interest bearing savings account. The total funds are not as much as many would think in most of those countries - especially Iran, but even if it was $1,000 a year, that is a lot in the Middle East. It would do the following:

"- Equally distribute at least ½ of all oil wealth, which is routinely stolen, squandered, mismanaged by governments and insiders

"- Directly increase the income of all single adults and families

"- The trust accounts would provide a ready pool of investment capital for entrepreneurial activity, and create wealth for families.

"- Periodic availability would ensure the pool of capital described above, promote more thoughtful consumption when larger sums are available for withdrawal - at least some of those periodic withdrawals would be used for private investment in housing, or to start businesses – particularly if pooled among extended families and tribes."
Finally, a philosophical solution from Francis:

"Convene a world conference to explore the theme of 'death to the infidels' in the Koran. Explore its metaphorical dimensions because surely this must be some sort of misunderstood metaphor, much as I think the death and resurrection of Christ is a misunderstood metaphor for enlightenment (death of the ego and rebirth into higher consciousness). While we're at it drop pamphlets all over the middle east explaining that it isn't 'virgins' awaiting them in paradise - its 'raisins' or 'dates'. Just a big mistake in translation, as I read somewhere recently. Maybe they would be less willing to commit suicide for raisins and dates. Finally, the west should announce that they will be collecting all body parts of suicide bombers and bathing them in pigs blood or whatever it takes to keep them from getting to paradise. If the jihadists can't overcome their literal reading of their religious texts then we will have to use their own naivete to defeat them."
Ah, if only it were that easy.

Now you see why so many have failed before. Thanks for trying anyway.


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