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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 20th, 2008 - 01:20:01

Middle East splits between pragmatists and idealists
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 20, 2008, 00:48

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Whether they realise it or not, the question for many in the Middle East is this: Is it better to die on your feet than to walk crawling on your knees? On the political level the dichotomy that exists between regional states and peoples who mostly share the same religion, language and culture, is born of ideological differences.

There are those who believe conforming to new world order diktats may be a bitter pill but it is one they are prepared to swallow in return for peace and prosperity. In their view, submission equates to an entr�e into the so-called international community, which is, of course, a mere euphemism for US-led nations with the power to either elevate or crush.

In so doing, such nations may lose a little sovereignty over their own affairs and they may even have to host foreign military bases, but on the plus side they are guaranteed protection from foes, whether real or conjured. These are the pragmatists.


On the other hand, there are a few countries in the area that insist on holding on to the belief that they are masters of their own destiny. Prominent among these are Syria and Iran, which have joined together on the basis of my enemy's enemy is my friend. In reality secular Syria and the Islamic Republic have little else in common.

Neither is threatening yet both are being punished for their independent stance, just as Saddam's Iraq was to its immeasurable cost under the guise of cooked-up pretexts.

Last Thursday, US President George W. Bush used the 2003 Syrian Accountability Act to expand sanctions against Damascus, citing Syrian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon.

"The Syrian regime continues to pursue such activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region," read Bush's order. Given that Syrian forces quit Lebanon in 2005 and the Bush administration is currently touting a decrease in insurgent activity in Iraq, the accusations appear spurious.

Bush and his new best friend, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, are also drumming up support in the UN for a third round of sanctions against Iran. They maintain Tehran is seeking a nuclear bomb despite evidence to the contrary provided by 16 US intelligence agencies, as well as the nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The agency's head, Mohammad Al Baradei, who is due to issue a report on Iran's programme shortly, says the IAEA has made "good progress" in resolving outstanding issues. But this is the last thing Washington and its friends want to hear. They would prefer something meaty with which to batter Tehran.

The refusal of Syria and Iran to submit to the regional domination of the US and its satellite, Israel, is the reason they are considered renegade regimes in the West. They could end their isolation in a heartbeat were they to make obeisance to Washington by dumping Hamas and Hezbollah -- organisations that have conveniently been labelled "terrorist".

Troubled Lebanon is itself a microcosm of the region, perfectly illustrating divisions between pragmatists and idealists. It is virtually split down the middle between those prepared to ally themselves with the West to gain security and economic stability and others prepared to sacrifice their well being for their principles.

It's a similar story in the Palestinian territories where some people believe recognition of the occupier and acceptance of scraps thrown from its table is the practical way forward. Then there are others who are determined to fight for their land, their freedom and their dignity in perpetuity and against all odds.

Both the pragmatists and the idealists have sound arguments to support their differing viewpoints. The pragmatists see the geopolitical realities, accept they can do little to change them and have taken the line "if you can't beat them, join them." Taking the line of least resistance, their priorities revolve around maintaining a peaceful environment and improving standards of living.

The idealists, however, see the world in terms of black and white. Their lives are shaped by their own conception of right and wrong, as well as their need to fight against injustice even when such beliefs threaten their own existence. The bottom line is this: The region is threatened by such diametrically opposed ideologies. As long as countries and peoples are separated into two camps, pulling in different directions, the area is vulnerable to foreign influences and conflict.

Such fundamental differences in thinking serve to weaken the area as a whole, playing right into the hands of Israel and its master which feed off disunity and discord. As Lebanon braces itself against the possibility of another war with Israel over the assassination of Hezbollah commander Emad Mughnieh, the pragmatists shudder while the idealists shout "bring it on." Unless the two sides can eventually compromise and find some common ground, even if Lebanon were once again to win such a war, its people will sustain the biggest losses. Forget dying on one's feet or walking on one's knees. The only positive way forward is to join hands and walk tall in the same direction.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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