The source of all problems in the Arab world: Regimes or people?
Bloggers who cover the Arab world – both Arabs and non-Arabs – are talking about UK reporter Brian Whittaker’s new book, “What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East.” The provocative thesis of his book, writes The Arabist blogger, “is that there is too much focus on how bad the Arab regimes are not enough of Arab societies’ problems: patriarchy, intolerance, misogyny, etc.”
My purpose in writing the book was to present an alternative view of the “Arab problem”. One that would challenge the neocons’ preoccupation with “regime change” and their tendency to equate freedom with free elections (but little else). And one that would also challenge the popular Arab notion that all the region’s problems are the fault of foreign powers.
It is on this latter point that the book steps into what, for many Arabs, is very sensitive territory. Blame foreigners, even the regimes if you like, but the people are – and must remain – blameless.
Rob (formerly of The Arab Shack, now with a new blog) says it boils down to society’s relation to the individual:
…in societies where there is overwhelming pressure to conform and stay inside the box, the individual’s creative capabilities are wasted. When you take away the creative dimension, you get stagnation.
The Angry Arab (As’ad AbuKhalil) accuses him of racism. Whittaker responds,:
There is nothing racist or illegitimate about pointing to the flaws in a society and discussing how they might be addressed, as I do in the book. That is very different from presenting them as an immutable part of the national character, hard-wired into people’s genes.