The Middle East is the global West’s favorite foreign policy puzzle. Endless commentators and journalists alike aim to fit narratives that the Middle East is weak, and that imperialist nations such as the United States have a duty to save the Arab World from itself. Fueling the political agenda, numerous politicians have honed in on efforts to “bring peace” to the Middle East, with the latest attempt being President Trump’s treaty. A treaty that has been lauded by liberals and conservatives alike, between imperialist UAE and colonial Israel. This American infatuation with Middle Eastern politics is not lost on Arabs like myself and each take is more nauseating than the next. Whether reflecting on 2011 during the Arab uprisings or focusing on current politics surrounding each nation and its relation to known adversaries like Israel, I am continuously dismayed by each twisted belief stated by the media and political elite. There is a false assumption that the Middle East can not govern or save itself and is solely dependent on Western interference for its survival-interventions that have arguably caused the majority of the issues in the Middle East. It’s the white savior complex on steroids, and unfortunately this mindset and its detrimental effects have wreaked havoc in the region while affecting the mainstream American perception of the Arab World and its inhabitants. With orientalist roots and an education system geared toward the erasure of settler colonialism both abroad and in North America, Western perception of the Middle East has been manipulated to ensure that the Middle East never truly has peace.
In almost every impression, the Middle East is painted with a broad brush. Absolutely stupefying to have to state, it’s critical that I clarify that though nations in the Middle East are meshed together geographically, this does not mean that each country faces the same issues. The Gulf region — an area encompassing nations like UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — has in no way suffered similarly to other countries in the Arab world, as they, alongside the West, continue to exploit the rest of the Middle East for monetary and political gain. Nations like Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, and Lebanon — though all impoverished — face varying crises, whether they be civil wars, famines, occupation or American-backed corrupt governments. Another affronting assumption is that the Arab general public agrees with the governments of their countries, an idea that is blatantly false. The Middle East does not have a single democracy, and the general public does not have a fair say in their politics. Using Israel as an example yet again, it is often claimed that citizens of Saudia Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are in agreement with their governments who recognize the Zionist state. Such claims have been proven false as studies suggest the majority of civilians are angered by their countries’ support of a nation they deem colonial. The Middle East, like every other region has nuance, but due to the failures of Western education systems and targeted political destruction, it is painted as having the same issues, when in actuality, issues strongly differ depending on the country.
In regard to our education system, the way the West frames issues in the Middle East is alarming. Time and time again, marginalized groups have rightfully complained that the American education system, including higher education, has a dominant Eurocentric narrative. We often hear about issues like slavery, colonialism, imperialism and other forms of explotiation through the lens of Western perspectives. The system, rarely, if ever, mentions the Middle East or its history, and if it does, it only discusses its failures. Rarely discussed when analyzing the roots of a troubled Middle East are the flawed borders in the Arab world created by a drunk Churchill and his allies, or Britain's role in cultivating Israeli settler colonialism. With a purposeful framework, our history classes and political agendas have presented a seemingly frail Middle East; one that can only ever appear anti-Semitic, fraught with Islamic terrorism, war torn and unable to solve its own problems.
Courses at the University of Michigan are surely not immune from this horrific framing. As a student studying political science, I have heard awfully misguided opinions on the Middle East — opinions that lack a true understanding of the region. For instance, I have heard horrifying notions that the Iraq War was valid, a war that decimated a region and slaughtered the lives of hundreds of thousands. I have had to listen to long lectures about 9/11 and that the attack justifies the Afghanistan war — a war that the U.S. is losing and has led to the callous murders of civilians and alienation of a region. Mentioned in a variety of contexts, 9/11 is also spoken of in courses unrelated to politics and history as classes, like my basic French course, continue to emphasize narratives that victimize the West as the West continues to oppress the Middle East. Even though 9/11 was a tragic attack, multiple tales of terrorism were spun that solely depicted harm to white populations while conveniently leaving out that most victims of “radical Islamic” terrorism are Muslims and Middle Easterners themselves. I have listened to the justification of American forces in the Middle East and the nullification of Palestine and sentiments that Palestine is a terrorist state and Israel is the only “democracy in the Middle East,” purposefully excluding Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands. Every single issue that relates to the Arab world gets its one-sided analysis, often leaving those affected daily by these topics lost and aching to respond.
What makes a vicious cycle even worse is the prohibitions that keep me from using my voice or speaking from experience, so to defend these ignorant narratives in the classroom, for if I do, I am overwhelmed by scrutiny from my peers. If I condemn American imperialism in the Middle East or emphasize the corrupted justifications for the Iraq and Afghanistan War, will it seem as if I am vindictive, my anger fueled by universal feelings of dread within the region? When I state that I believe Zionism is a threat to Arab sovereignty and the Palestinian people, will they assume I state that solely because I am Arab or because I have come to this reasoning through solid evidence? Everyone but fellow Arabs and I are able to speak without seeming as though we are predisposed. It is impossible to truly separate myself from my identity, nor do I want my identity as an Arab American Muslim to be disjointed from who I am. But unfortunately, these classes are consumed by people who would rather assume I am motivated by biases, because they refuse to accept this marginalization as colonial strategy. Frankly, I am partially biased. It is impossible not to be when I have seen friends deported, cried with them over deaths overseas and felt deep pangs of fear whenever an attack occurs in the Middle East, fearing for my family and my friends’ families safety. Despite being emotionally fueled, these biases are backed by substantial data, and I, alongside allies, have history and human rights as foundations for our beliefs. As I, and others like me, are labeled “biased” while everyone else is allowed a valid opinion, any possibility of peace in the Middle East dims as the Western voice is elevated.
All of these factors breed the current toxic landscape of the Middle East. Intervention by political forces have exacerbated severe flaws in the Arab region and are the origins of the destruction that the U.S. and the West claim they yearn to pacify. The American political system supports Israeli annexation, makes financial gains from Saudi’s war with Yemen, and has continued to exacerbate wars in the region to appease the military industrial complex. It certainly did not have to be that way. With only Westerners having the ability to comment on Middle Eastern politics, American intervention in the region and a twisted education system geared to demean Arab History and prop up imperialism, there is a mainstream belief that the West is the only one that can save the Middle East. In actuality, the notion of a white savior complex has been ironically bred out of white destruction of the region. How can the Middle East depend on Western touch for the revival of a heart the West stabbed to decimate? If the West truly wanted peace in the Middle East, they would leave the Arab world alone to fight for their own liberation. But they don't, and that’s why the Middle East will never truly have peace with Western intervention — not because Arabs do not want it, but because the West itself has an active stake in depriving it.