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
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.