(Note: Don't miss the upcoming Pundita essay, "How to blame everyone for your problems except yourself." Pundita gives handy tips for how to shift blame, evade personal responsibility and find endless excuses!)
This post is in response to two readers, one from the Middle East and one from South Asia, who asked that I not publish their letters and who had essentially the same question.
Pundita does not hate the Europeans; I don't have an ax to grind with them. What I have is a deep understanding of the devastating psychological effect of European colonialism on the Europeans and the peoples they ruled, and how this continues to warp thinking on both sides.
Enter the Americans. The American government was traumatized by Anwar Sadat's assassination. After that, they virtually retreated behind enclave walls in the Middle East. This situation only got more entrenched after Lebanon. The American government allowed post-colonial governments to guide how they should interact with the peoples of the Middle East.
Add to this the State Department's 'clientitis' -- the tendency to pander to the European NATO allies and the Gulf Oil Arabs. Add to this American academia, which had such an influence in Washington for decades, was long dominated by European views. What do you get when you put together the walking wounded and the blind? Crummy US policy in the Middle East.
So Pundita has taken the position of a Dutch Aunt. This to wise up readers about situations that are very important to policy but which fly under the radar of American perceptions. I've discussed Sahibism, the Pasha and Enclave mentality, Going Native, the Oriental Stranger syndrome and how tribal and clan thinking affects societies in 'old world' countries.
And in several essays I've conveyed almost a parody of the "American-style" way of dealing with situations. This is to pound home that Americans must learn to rely on their own instincts, their own experience and history rather than the guidance of European gurus. The frank talk to an Iranian expat reader in Still waiting for Pasha is an example of Pundita at her most American style.
To put this another way: Americans have a good recollection of the slavery experience and conquering 'indigenous' peoples in this land because we never stopped talking about it. But none of this is living under the experience of colonial rule.
The earliest settlers from Europe suffered under that experience but they got rid of the colonial masters, and so long ago that we stopped talking about it. It passed from our cultural referents. Thus, few modern Americans who didn't immigrate here from a post-colonial land can understand that experience in their gut, where it needs to be understood.
My position is don't try to understand by listening to the Europeans. The French went on and on about their experience in Algeria to explain why they were against the US invasion of Iraq. Hello, we're not the French.
Americans need to learn to just 'be yourself' in dealings with peoples who lived under Western colonialism and still carry the psychological baggage that went with it. Americans should take cheer from the thought that they can't do any worse than the Europeans did. A big advantage Americans have is that we are free of the complex dependency relationship and guilt that still influence European attitudes toward Africans and Middle Easterners in particular.
And don't allow academics and well-meaning Europeans to terrorize us into thinking we require a scholarly grasp of the situation in the Middle East before we can formulate a correct approach.
How much scholarship does it require, to grasp that you're dealing with a bunch of slicks when they pour mega-billions into nuke weapons programs while their people go hungry?
So how much do you need to know about the history of that part of the world to know what you're dealing with? How much of the Persian language do you need to master in order to call a spade a spade?
We also need to keep in mind that for the first time America is mounting a serious challenge to British and French influence in the region. The French in particular are very jealous, very possessive, of their special role in the Middle East. And they have diverted criticism of their colonial era by encouraging anti-American views. Yet when you look at the mess they made you have to wonder how big a masochistic streak the Middle Easterners have, to keep turning to the French for advice.
To understand look to your own experience. There is the kid who does a great job of mowing your lawn but half the time he doesn't show up. So you end up with the kid who does a lousy job but at least he gets to your house every week like clockwork during the summer.
In the same manner the Americans are considered very successful so we must know something but we're also considered undependable. We swoop in and swoop out, and you just never know how long we'll be around. So don't rock the boat because you can't assume the Americans will be at your back.
On the other hand the French, and the British, are always there. So no matter how crummy their advice has been, no matter how much mess their policies have made, at least you know they'll always answer the phone.
This said, our greatest adversary in the Middle East and other post-colonial lands isn't the Europeans -- or the terror sponsoring regimes. It's the Pasha mentality, which has a cancerous effect on a society.
The Pasha mindset boils down to thinking that you climb the ladder of success by getting others to do everything for you. Many Americans would be amazed if they knew the extent of that mindset in post-colonial countries. It's because servant labor remained so cheap.
I have sat and listened to women whose families are not well off, but whose dinner conversation revolves around the hard day they had ordering the servants around. It's the culture. Living under colonial rule supported and encouraged it; it was reinforcement for the Pasha mindset.
This translates to a very passive attitude that one doesn't find in say, Japan or China, where hard labor is lionized. Their attitude makes for a healthy competitive response when they see a successful society. They say, "I can have that too if I work hard enough."
Whereas in Pasha cultures they say, "These people from a successful society can serve us."
What drove many Americans up a wall after the Iraqi insurgency got underway was TV footage of Iraqis complaining that they couldn't go outside their house because of the violence. I knew Americans who yelled at the TV, "Then get off your butt and fight!"
The irony is that the terrorists have the same complaint. "We work, we slave to blow up Americans and the lazy bums ask us to take out the garbage while we're at it."
It's not laziness. It's the Pasha mindset. It's the real reason the Jewish settlers were looked down on in that part of the world. Only peasants find nothing to sneer at about a life of hard physical labor.
As to where the Middle Easterners got the 'peasant' idea, go ask the French. It's said they resent America's superpower status. What they resent is that a land of peasants became history's most successful nation.
The French and other Westerners who were heavily invested in the colonial enterprise need to get over it. They need to put their sins in context to the sweep of history and the march of civilization. A lot of those old-world tribes would have killed each other off without the intervention of the Western colonizers.
If not for the British there would be no House of Saud; the Turks had already started genocide against that tribe when the British stepped in. All you have to do is read the Old Testament to see that war, genocide and slave-taking were the way of life in oldest parts of the world by the time the Greeks showed up.
My advice to get over it goes double for peoples with the Pasha mindset who lived under Western colonial rule. One of Gadhafi's sons spent time in China. He returned to Libya and told his father, Pop those Chinese know how to work; our people have to change their ways.
That's right. Yet you can't move forward unless you turn your head in the forward direction.