Bar-Ilan expert on Arab political discourse to visit
Mordechai Kedar doesn’t come right out and say most Mideast analysts in western countries are completely out of their depth, but that’s pretty much the upshot of his position.
Very few of them speak the indigenous languages of the region, such as Arabic or Farsi, so they can’t read important documents that reveal what people really believe. And when they visit the area, they interact with western-oriented intellectuals and media representatives who share their values. They only see “a very thin layer of local societies” and as a result, they don’t really understand the forces at play. “The West is oblivious about the facts of the Middle East,” he said.
Kedar, a scholar at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and an expert on Arab political discourse, will visit Toronto in late January as part of a month-long North American visit and lecture tour.
Kedar said the Arab world is experiencing massive convulsions as “oppressed masses for decades burst onto the streets to break the fear and chains and take out dictators… The imported ideologies of the West – patriotism, secularism, liberalism – went bankrupt in the Middle East, as they are not indigenous to the local cultures.”
“In the Middle East, the culture is Islamism on one side and tribalism on the other side. Those will shape the Middle East.”
Kedar, a research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said people in the region relate to each other by family ties, language and land, and they maintain fighting militias to promote their own interests. “They don’t mingle with other groups, and when they take over, they use the state to dominate other tribes, which fight for survival.”
He criticized western observers for failing to realize Middle Eastern and Asian societies are fractured on tribal and ethnic lines. Afghanistan, for one, is “a failed state of 11 ethnic groups that don’t share language, mindset, traditions, behavior, nothing. Nobody can expect they’ll cooperate in anything. There is no Afghani people.”
Likewise Iraq, with its Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas, while Yemen and Syria are tribal societies with no overarching national identity, he stated.
His analysis of the fractured nature of Middle Eastern societies applies to the Palestinians as well, he said. Palestinian society is based on clan and tribal ties, but it’s represented on the international stage by “intellectuals with no relevance to Palestinian society.”
Their bid for statehood through the UN “will lead nowhere, as a Palestinian state will be another failed Arab state, as local tribes won’t let it function.”
Palestinian tribes dominate individual West Bank cities “and they don’t trust each other. They will become another Syria or Libya,” he said.
Peace will only come when Palestinians fragment into homogenous city-states, following “the Gulf paradigm,” which he called an “eight-state solution.”
Kedar, who gained international celebrity when a spirited 2008 Arab-language interview on Al-Jazeera about the Jewishness of Jerusalem went viral, said the United States is making “the basic mistake of judging and evaluating societies in the Mideast with western-mindset and western values, which are totally irrelevant in the Middle East. Whatever is sacred in the West is profane in the Middle East.”
Freedom of religion, a cornerstone of western civilization, “is viewed in the Middle East as totally unacceptable.” Muslims who seek to abandon Islam face decapitation, he said.
Other western freedoms, such as behaving as you like or choosing your spouse, are a “totally unacceptable way of thinking” in the Middle East. “The virginity [of young women] is sacred, and if a young lady behaves too liberally, she will be slaughtered by her family for bringing shame to the family,” he said.
As for minority rights, “ask the Copts how Egyptians honour minority rights,” he stated.
Even the concept of peace has a different meaning in the Middle East, he continued. “According to the West, peace is the normal relations between two states that recognize each other’s sovereignty and independence. In Islam, there is no peace between states. Between Islamic states and infidel states, there is no peace. Peace can be only between communities that live under Muslim [hegemony] and behave under sharia law.”
Truces of unlimited duration are the best outcome Israel can expect. However, in the Islamic tradition a truce can be broken when the Islamic country becomes powerful enough to overwhelm its infidel foe. “As long as Israel is invincible, this temporary peace can last. Once Israel is viewed as vulnerable, that peace will be over. Israel can have temporary peace forever as long as it remains invincible.”
Kedar praised the Harper government for standing by Israel and making it appear more powerful. He criticized the United States for “encouraging Islamists who try to topple Israel and [who] see a U.S. president not supporting Israel as fully as presidents in the past… Unfortunately [President Barack] Obama works against peace. He does not understand that.
“In the Middle East, whoever asks for peace is viewed as weak and the weak is chased out of the club. The Mideast club is only for those who are strong,” he said.