Tuesday, August 18, 2009

West's Wild East 1

"As a naturally lazy fellow I was always watching TV of an evening." Greg Sheridan, Two Bobs' worth of life lessons, The Australian, 18/4/09)

When Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, the "most influential foreign affairs analyst in Australia" (theaustralian.com.au) and foreign editor of The Australian, last found himself winging his way to the Plucky Country, he admitted to "being seduced by a 40-year-old Morris West thriller, The Tower of Babel." "A rattling good read," he described it. (See my 26/7/09 post No Idea) That's right - "seduced." Mark that word. This 1968 potboiler didn't simply materialise in Sheridan's briefcase. No, it was consciously selected for this trip of trips (with DPM Gillard, no less), lovingly dusted off, and reverentially placed there by the man himself.

I've often wondered what kind of intellectual (I use the term loosely) input has gone into the production of the Sheridan we all know and love, and specifically, what it is that makes his opinion(ated) pieces on the Middle East such ranting good reads. So, taking as my cue his reference to Morris West's wild eastern, I managed to track down a copy (hint: St Vinnies), and peg on nose, read the damned thing - cover to cover! Now, at last, I feel I not only know where Australia's "most influential foreign affairs analyst" is coming from when he writes about the Middle East, I feel I have actually located the very point at which the earlier plasticity of the Sheridan brain (I'm being optimistic here) had hardened into the synaptic sclerosis of Zionism. And so, over the coming weeks, I shall regale you, dear reader, with gems from the book that "seduced" our Greg some 40 years ago and continues to seduce him to this very day.

Now where would those bloody Ayrabs be without Israel?

"So far as the Arab world was concerned the State of Israel was like God. If you did not have it, you would have to invent it as a focus of discontent and as a rallying-point for the sorely divided Moslem world. Without the Jew, what other scapegoat could you find for the slum-dwellers in Alexandria and the beggars who scratched their sores in the courtyard of the Noble Sanctuary and the workless men in Damascus and the hundred and ten thousand lost people camped between the desert and the sea near the city of Samson*? Without the Jew, how could you find a common cause for the wealthy Lebanese, the Kuwaitis and the Bedouin tribesmen and the Hashemite King and the Marxist Syrian and the Egyptian Fellah fighting a meaningless war in the Yemen? Arab unity could only express itself in the negative: destroy the Jews! But without the Jews it could hardly express itself at all!" (p 25) [*Yep, without Israel the lives of these victims of Zionist ethnic cleansing in 1948 would have absolutely no meaning! And as for that figure - one hundred and ten thousand - West has it elsewhere as three hundred and ten thousand (p 149) Is this where Sheridan gets his creative accounting from? See my posts When Even the Retraction is Dodgy (4/2/08) and 2 (10/4/08)]

Or, as Sheridan put it in his feature Israel still looks good, warts & all (6/5/09) 40 years later, "It would be wrong to understimate the benefits that anti-Semitism can provide Arab regimes. Israel is the licensed grievance for these societies. By theologising the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and presenting it as a case of Western and specifically Jewish persecution of an Arab minority, Arab regimes, even those allied with the US, can offer an outlet to anger on the street and attempt to channel both Islamist and pan-Arab sentiments in a direction that does not challenge their rule."

Syrians are so bloody hopeless that any Syrian doctor who really cared about the welfare of his people would immediately throw in his lot with the Israelis and join an Israeli spy ring, no?

"The house surgeon hesitated a moment, resentful and stubborn; but the anger in [Dr] Bitar's eyes subdued him instantly... Bitar bent over the bed and bathed the child's forehead with a damp cloth, crooning a tuneless little song of comfort. He had seen hundreds like this one, in rich apartments and stinking hovels, the life draining out of them through leaking and inflamed intestines, their skin dry as silk on the dyers' racks, their muscles knotted by electrolysis, literally dying of thirst because their parched gullets could not absorb a drop of water. Helpless and moribund they were the focus of all his anger - against demagogues and junta men and claptrapping theorists who made politics while their children wilted with trachoma and malarial spleens and intestinal parasites. Finally, with miraculous haste for Damascus, the bottles and the trays were wheeled in and he was able to scrub up and begin the simple, overdue surgery." (p 82)

Dr Bitar is seriously pissed off. If only he hadn't been corrupted by the ways of the West!

"He felt suddenly old - too old for the angers that consumed him every day; too old for the hopeless battle against poverty and ignorance and disease; too tired for plots and counterplots against a regime which he hated, because his studies abroad had given him a taste for unattainable liberty and a faith in the free commerce of men and ideas. In his secret heart he knew that the battle was futile and the plots were barren. Only time and education would cure ignorance. There was no cure for death. And liberty was a state towards which man grew slowly, or reacted dangerously from the tyranny of the collective. But he could not abandon the fight, because to do so was to abandon himself... " (pp 83-84)

To be continued...

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