Written by Gidon Ben-Zvi, Jerusalem-based Freelance Writer
The Middle East is renowned as the birthplace of some the world’s great fables. Who hasn’t been enchanted by ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ or dreamt of adventure on the high seas of the Persian Gulf with Sinbad and his sailors?
The ancient tradition of telling tall tales has proven particularly potent in a part of the world where escape from life’s brutalities is necessary in order to just get through the day. It is thus not surprising that dry, academic, historical truths fall by the way side; they simply serve no purpose where a nation’s bare bone facts are replete with blood drenched tyrants, intolerance, oppression, torture and worse.
In nations founded on cruelty and maintained by fear, the huddled masses turned inward and away in the hopes of even temporary relief from life’s hellish fate.
While the Enlightenment bequeathed unto the world rational thought, religious freedom and the primacy of human dignity, much of the Middle East has, to a large measure, remained mired in the muck of the Dark Ages, trapped inside a mindset of superstition, misogyny and religious intolerance.
And the ramifications are felt until this day. While U.S. history books sparkle with the names of ‘Washington’ ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Jefferson’, countries across the Middle East routinely put ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ at the top of the best seller list. While the words and deeds of such giants as Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko are taught and debated across the West, the Middle East offers up such tin pot dictators as Moammar Kaddafi, Gamal Nasser and many more.
And while Israeli school children are taught about how their ancestors made the harsh desert bloom, kids in the surrounding countries are essentially taught the virtues of hate.
What better way is there for unelected oppressors to maintain their hold on power and treasure then by creating latter-day fables for their long-suffering citizens that can be used as an outlet for pent-up frustrations, dashed hopes and, worst of all, trampled humanity.
Whereas the tales of yore extolled the virtues of honor, modesty and bravery, today’s government-sanctioned fibs of mass distortion merely provide a panacea for all that ails.
It’s true; Bashar Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Benjamin Netanyahu are all heads of state. It’s also true that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill were all heads of state at precisely the same time in the 1930s and 1940s. And? Nothing.
The deadening of distinction between democratically elected leaders and tyrants is, of course, the greatest fable ever told. This outrageous cartoon serves this purpose well. When the virtues of open elections, freedom of expression, independent branches of government and the superiority of civilian rule over the military are eschewed, one is inevitably left with a world view that sees life as “nasty, brutish and short.”
This perpetual state of war has been the trademark of a land once renowned for its philosophers, scientists and engineers, whose contributions to technology and culture both preserved earlier traditions while adding their own innovations.
By denying the existence of a moral hierarchy, we are simply perpetuating the post-colonial paradigm, with“we are just as bad as… or worse than them” serving as leitmotif.