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Friday, October 17, 2003

Did I read this right? "The Poisoned Well"

Op-Ed by Fouad Ajami in today's NY Times
If I read this right, it's the most ludicrous whine I have ever heard. While the Israelis were making the desert bloom with fruits and technologies and universities and symphonies, the poor Arab countries were suffering the repercussions of enormous wealth. Nowhere is it mentioned how they might have dealt more productively with such a curse, or what they might do to heal from it in future.

According to Ajami, who teaches Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University, the great promise of Arab "petromoney" was that it would enable poor, unskilled societies to join "the era of technology and industry." The new wealth would "secure the withdrawal of Israel from the lands it occupied in 1967" (though Ajami doesn't elaborate on how, exactly). "Everywhere in the Arab world there was a palpable sense of excitement, of defeats avenged. Nothing was out of reach." History, or Allah, was bestowing a blessing on Arabia comparable to the rise of Islam in the seventh century; it was to be "piety's vindication."

Over the last three decades, that magnificent blessing somehow morphed into a curse. Rather than "make" the Arab world, petromoney - along with the "hucksters and peddlers" who followed it - "bulldozed" the Arab world. It separated the people into beggars and kings, drove a wedge between traditionalists and the newly Western-assimilated, caused slaughter, ruin, and a population explosion. It gave birth to Osama bin Laden.

Thirty years of Arab history and all Ajami can do with it is to romanticize the "harsh, simple existence" lived in the pre-OPEC Arab world, and then lament the great loss of it.

Blessing, curse, it all comes out of nowhere - or from Divinity - and none of it, not the least of it, has anything to do with what Arabs actually did or do with what came their way. There is no assumption of responsibility - in the past, for the past or looking toward the future. Conspicuously absent are the concepts of fixing, struggling, working, making or building . There is just this incessant whining.

Unfortunately, the Times eats it up.