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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Arab honor, prestige and relevance

Much has been written about the honor/shame psyche that the Arab world has. The seminal work on the topic in the blogosphere was written by Dr. Sanity back in 2005 and has been touchedupon in many places, including on this blog.

One aspect of this mindset that has perhaps been overlooked one specific component of honor: prestige. At first glance it would appear that prestige is almost identical to honor, but they are not quite the same. People who want honor will do everything to avoid shame, while those who crave prestige will want to avoid irrelevance.

Much of recent Arab history is the story of Arab leaders doing everything they can to prove their own importance and to avoid irrelevance. Yasir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Hafiz Assad, as well as Gamal Nasser all strove to get into positions where their decisions would reverberate worldwide, and where they become key to decisions made by superpowers.

In Arafat's case, he used any means possible to remain relevant. Two times in his life he was faced with irrelevance - once during the first intifada when the Palestinian Arab national movement seemed to leave him behind, and secondly when he decided to launch the second intifada and he was shunned by all world leaders. He managed to co-opt the first intifada but never recovered from the second, although he still maintained prestige among his people despite his corruption and counterproductive decisions.

Likewise, Assad and Hussein enjoyed placing themselves in positions where they could wreck any plans by their enemies, usually through terror.

Terror is in fact one of the favored tools of those who fear irrelevance. One well-placed bomb can destroy a peace treaty, and the importance of dealing with those who have such abilities makes them, perversely, powerful.

Israel's current government has recently given incredible gifts of prestige and relevance to two parties who deserve it least: Hamas and Syria. By negotiating with Hamas and Syria, Olmert has elevated their statures immensely. In the space of a month, Hamas has gone from being viewed as an illegal terror organization into the de facto leader of 1.5 million people with defined borders, and Syria has changed from the despised sponsors of terror in Lebanon into someone whose favor is desired.

Similarly, Condoleeza Rice has given similar prestige to Hezbollah, bringing its own grievances against Israel to the forefront and effectively recognizing it as governing Lebanon, even to the point of claiming that Syrian meddling in Lebanon is what the Lebanese people want.

There has been little given back to the West for these gifts. Terrorists and their supporters have been catapulted back into the positions they most desire; for free. None of them are likely to moderate as a result; on the contrary, they have just been hugely rewarded for their years of causing chaos by being elevated on the world stage.

The West needs to understand the psychology of its enemies, of people who daily call for its destruction. Boosting them is exactly the wrong thing to do, as it empowers them and gives them incentive to up the ante in behaving like spoilers.

This month has been a huge setback for those who want to eradicate Arab terror, and reverberations will be felt for years.