On this morning’s translated op-ed about the European immigration crisis, our Arabic translator ritamalik left an excellent comment that is worth reproducing in its entirety. It has been edited slightly for punctuation and clarity:
I certainly disagree with you on so many levels, RonaldB. First let me say that I am an Iranian ex-pat, and I want to tell you my perspective on these issues as an outsider to Western culture:
As I have observed you Westerners now for close to twenty years that I have lived amongst you, I have learned that you are a people that think you are responsible for all the things that go on in the world.
You are obsessively solution-oriented people, which means you think for any problem that we have in this world, there must be a solution, and you implement various solutions to international problems that you see around you. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
You also are a highly responsible people, and when even the slightest thing goes wrong, you are very angry and indignant about it and you quickly want to find the one responsible for it and punish him. You quickly look for someone to sue.
Being a guilt-oriented culture (as oppose to shame- and honour- oriented) also you are very quick to take responsibility when you feel (real or imagined) that you did something wrong and quickly start to beat your chests in a public mea culpa and engage in proverbial self-flagellation.
All of the above make you incapable of understanding people from my neck of the woods, and your and our tendencies have made a really toxic combination on the world stage.
Why? Because we in the Middle East are a very irresponsible and fatalistic lot. When things go wrong for us (as they often do) we never fuss too much over why they went wrong. We expect things to go wrong all the time as part of the natural process of things, and when they do we don’t try to find the guilty party to sue him. Analysis and self-reflection and making sure it will never happen again and stuff like that are highly alien activities to us.
Unless of course what went wrong causes us shame and embarrassment, in which case we will do anything possible to deflect blame from ourselves, especially if we have a hunch that it actually was our fault. We will make a lot of noise, give lots of excuses and engage in a lot of blame-shifting. We roll up in a fetal position and pretend that we are actually the prime victims of what went wrong, all the while knowing full well that we have caused the damned thing to go wrong ourselves!
All of that dysfunctional behaviour is highly exacerbated if there is a willing person (or country or culture) who is gladly taking all the blame for our behaviour on himself and has the peculiar tendency to totally disregard our role in what went wrong.
Now this toxic mix applies to the politics and wars in the Middle East and in the Third World in general in this following way:
We in the Middle East have a problem. For example we have a brutal dictator like Saddam. Then you see that we are suffering and people are being tortured in his prison and you wonder how you could help. Then Saddam invades Kuwait. You decide, enough is enough, and attack and free Kuwait, but you decide not to go all the way in and remove Saddam. Then Saddam, angrier than ever, lashes out even more at his own people and kills lots of dissidents and gasses the Kurds.
Now all of this becomes your fault, because you didn’t finish the job and didn’t remove Saddam. Then Saddam continues his bad behaviour and now he is even trying to develop WMDs. This time you say, enough is enough, and you go in and remove him. You offer democracy and financial aid on a platter to the Iraqis. Now in post-Saddam Iraq, Shias and Sunnis start to fight and chaos starts to reign, and no matter how much you try you cannot properly pacify the country.
So now all of this chaos becomes your fault. Everybody says that you should not have intervened and removed Saddam because even though he was brutal, he was keeping everyone in line and preventing Shias and Sunnis from killing each other. So now what do you do? You say OK! Enough is enough, we leave and won’t intervene again because we just made a mess. So you pull out your troops, and now what? The Shia vs. Sunni fight is exacerbated, and even war and chaos spreads to the rest of the region. In Syria you decided not to intervene and now ISIS has taken over. So now you assume that the rise of ISIS was somehow your fault as well. But had you actually intervened and tried to put in a regime that was a bit more manageable than ISIS, you would have been blaming yourself for having installed a puppet regime that would predictably torture everyone and make people miserable and want to leave their country. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t seems to be the destiny of any policy that you pursue in the Third World.
People are still blaming the West for not having intervened in Rwanda in the ’90s when 800,000 people were killed, while simultaneously blaming the West for intervening in Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere.
In all of these blame and regrets one thing is missing: assigning responsibility to the people of the Third World themselves, who are actually the primary causes of the chaos and mayhem in their own countries. As if we are passive objects that if you push the wrong button in us we will inevitably act in a certain way. The West was not at fault for the genocide in Rwanda! The Rwandans were! The West is not at fault for the chaos in the Middle East, we Middle Easterners are! We are the ones who have a bloodlust and long to shed each other’s blood for silly reasons. Your “failure” to stop us from destroying ourselves IS NOT YOUR FAULT!! We are a confusing and hard to deal with lot! Please get that!!
In dealing with us, the people of the Middle East, you have had, and will have one long series of lose-lose options. There are no win-lose options! None! When dealing with irresponsible and bloodthirsty cultures you cannot have good outcomes, no matter how much you wrack your heads and try to come up with a policy that would work and bring peace and prosperity to us. It will not happen! We are the ones who have to change and do some self-reflection and soul-searching in order to maybe… just maybe, learn to be a bit more civilised!
Meanwhile, all that I ask of you is that, whether you decide to intervene or not in our affairs, keep your expectation of the outcome low. Accept no responsibility for the outcome. Put the blame for the negative outcome of whatever policy you pursued where it belongs (on us!) so that we won’t have the chance to save face despite our countries’ being in an embarrassing mess, and feel like victims when we should be soul-searching. And, for the sake of anything that you hold holy and dear, please don’t wreck your nice and orderly and civilised societies and advanced cultures by taking millions of refugees, in order to save us from the mess that has nothing to do with you and came about despite your best efforts, that we have caused with our own hands, and given half the chance, we will cause in your countries as well as soon as we settle down here, or even sooner!