Why we shouldn’t get involved with the Middle East

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase "a friend of my enemy is my friend". It is also a testament how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like "habibi" (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East - what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an "outsider" who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optics are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of Orientalism, a book that discusses the West's patronising representations of "The East") once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood...

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