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'wrong-way' corrigans,

  1. 'Wrong-Way' Corrigans,
    By Barry Rubin
    Mar. 3, 2003



    In July 1938, Douglas Corrigan, an experienced pilot, took off from New York bound for California. Twenty-nine hours later he landed in Ireland, claiming his compass had failed.

    Celebrated as "Wrong-Way"Corrigan he became a hero and was given a huge parade when he arrived back in New York.

    But Corrigan was no fool. Denied permission to cross the wide Atlantic in his rickety little plane, he went out and did just the opposite of what he proclaimed he would do.

    There were, therefore, two Corrigans: the legendary one who headed in the wrong direction, and the clever one who lied about his intentions so he could go ahead and do what he wanted.

    What a perfect metaphor for contemporary Arab politics!

    There are the Wrong-Way Corrigans Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein, for example, along with hosts of Arab ideologues who propose and implement policies leading to disaster. Then there are the foxy Corrigans, like most Arab leaders, who demagogically proclaim their militancy and extremism and then follow cautious policies designed to keep themselves in power.

    Three decades ago Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who during his career played both Corrigan roles, sent a trusted aide to evaluate Libya's new leader, Mu'ammar Gaddafi. The assistant returned to Cairo and told Nasser the dictator was a disaster for Egypt.

    Why? asked Nasser. Is he against us?

    No, much worse, answered the aide, he is for us but he really believes all the things we say!

    Since then Middle East history has amply proven the catastrophe brought on by extremism, a rush to violence, and demagoguery.

    At this moment there could be two peaceful, prosperous countries called Iraq and Palestine. Instead, the great majority of voices heard on these issues in the region simply repeat the endless calls to arms, the rhapsodies to murderers of both the mass and suicide varieties, the slander of enemies, and calls for still more bloodshed.

    Meanwhile, of course, most Arab leaders are either accepting of or eager for Saddam's downfall. They cheer the Palestinians while doing nothing to help them, certainly not giving them the advice that would help them most: end violence, compromise, and make peace.

    At least, though, by combining demagoguery and caution these leaders are acting out the Middle East version of rational self-interest. They pretend to set out for California, while deliberately steering a steady course for Ireland.

    Unfortunately, however, there are many others who prove George Orwell's dictum that there are some ideas so stupid only an intellectual would believe them.

    CONSIDER A recent article in Al-Ahram Weekly by Joseph Massad, even more tragic in that Massad is not some scribbler living in fear of being fired or jailed by his local Middle East dictator but a professor at Columbia University in New York City.

    Al-Ahram asks: "Why have the Palestinians lost so much international support, and what can be done to regain it?"

    Massad answers by attributing the problem not to intransigence or terror, but to excessive moderation. In the past, he argues, "much of the world supported the dismantling of Israel as a racist settler colony."Now, however, "the only Palestinian right most of the world still seems to support is the right of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians (but not Jerusalemites) to self-determination, and the end of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza (but not East Jerusalem)."

    Why has this decline in support albeit somewhat exaggerated and wrong on the Jerusalem issue taken place? Because in the past "the PLO expressed a clear vision."Israel was portrayed as totally evil, and the solution was to destroy it (in Massad's words, with "a secular democratic state where Arabs and Jews would have equal rights").

    The problem, Massad explains, was that "the PLO began to waver in its vision and mission and embarked on a path that recognized Israel's right to be a racist Jewish state"and negotiated with it. As a result, "the international friends of the Palestinian people have been thrown into a state of utter uncertainty."

    Indeed, "the transformation of the views of Third World friends and allies, and of movements and individuals around the world, was brought about more by PLO concessions and transformations than by any other factor."

    By making the conflict into a dispute over land instead of a conflict to destroy Israel, Massad argues, the Palestinians lost support. Of course, this argument neglects the fact that the Palestinians scored no material achievement during the decades they took a hard line.

    Moreover, few of their friends outside the Arab world supported that doctrine, either in Europe, the Third World, or even the Soviet bloc. What they wanted was to persuade the PLO to make just the kind of deal concluded at Oslo for a two-state solution. And even their "allies"in the Arab world did little to advance the PLO toward its maximal goal. Other events the USSR's collapse, the Cold War's end, American power, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and more also pulled the rug out from under the PLO's old game.

    All of this eludes Prof. Massad, and he is scarcely alone in his passionate advocacy of the very policies that put the Palestinians, and Arabs in general, into such a mess and keep them digging deeper into the swamp they insist on seeing as a great fortress.

    Massad concludes: "I believe that Palestinians (and we are in the majority) who understood Oslo as a mechanism to liquidate the Palestinian national struggle against Zionist colonialism and racism can indeed make such demands on our allies,"who now "support an end to the occupation through negotiations,"rather than endorse Palestinian armed struggle and the demand that all refugees come to live in Israel.

    These people, Massad warns in a rather threatening manner, "must be called to account for following in the footsteps of Arafat."

    Corrigan, at least, made a good landing. But the kind of reasoning that, at least publicly, dominates most Arabs' intellectual discussion keeps them circling in the sky forever.

    The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center. His latest books are The Tragedy of the Middle East and Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East.

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