The Ikhras awards committee is pleased to announce the Muntadhar Zaidi Ikhras Shoe-of-the-Month Award for August, 2014 goes to the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel Hisham Melhem. Melhem earned the award for an article he wrote for the Al-Arabiya website on the rise of ISIS. Blaming the rise of ISIS on Arab societal ills and political culture has become very fashionable among those working in the Arab oil and gas media and catering almost exclusively to a western audience, but rather than offering any insight into the rise of ISIS they are easily recognized as transparent attempts to leverage the recent attention garnered by the dramatic rise of the ruthless terrorist group to advance a political agenda.
We can all agree that self-criticism is healthy and necessary, but we need to also be mindful of the difference between constructive self-criticism and unhealthy self-flagellation which serves no purpose other than revealing the personal or political pathology of the person engaging in it. We must also draw a clear distinction between self-criticism intended to address the political or social ills of any given society and racist clichés and bigoted narratives of individuals trying to ingratiate themselves with an elite group from a different society perceived to be superior by the individual ostensibly engaging in the constructive and healthy form of self-criticism.
In the case of Hisham Melhem’s call for Arab self-criticism there is both a personal and political pathology at play. Melhem has regularly exhibited all the symptoms of an inferiority complex. For him the Westerner is a person of reason, intellect, and culture, committed to the ideals of human rights, liberal democracy and tolerance. He is grounded in reality and engages in a process of rational decision-making as he deliberately makes his political choices and formulates his policies. On the other hand, the Arab is a highly suspicious person prone to “conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia, and xenophobia.” The Arab is always in denial about his own reality or unwilling to take full responsibility for it. Arab society and culture is inherently intolerant and the political choices pursued are not the product of a deliberate and rational decision-making process. There’s nothing particularly new or unprecedented in Melhem’s routine shtick which he’s been performing for years both in Arabic and English on Arab satellite and US cable news channels. The only thing from Raphael Patai’s “The Arab Mind” Melhem leaves out is sex, honor, and shame.
There is also a political dimension to Melhem’s attack on the “Arab body politic.” As one of the more prominent right-wing, Lebanese journalists disproportionately featured in the Arab oil and gas media, Melhem’s journalism and political commentary is always in line with the policies of Western governments and their Arab client-regimes, especially the hydrocarbon Sheikhs of the GCC. Being the Washington correspondent for the Saudi/Wahhabi regime’s (un) official propaganda news channel brings with it many perks, but also comes with well-defined restrictions and limitations. In fairness to Melhem, who claims to have been a “progressive and leftist” in his college years, the political views he expresses are often quite genuine. His relentless and passionate attacks on Arab (and Iranian) resistance in any form to US-Israeli hegemony and wars in the Middle East are matched only by his zealous advocacy on behalf of America’s client regimes in the region.
Melhem’s piece also betrays a self-conscious awareness of his thinly veiled racist rant and fallacious arguments. Let’s look at a couple of the more impudent attempts to preempt the obvious criticisms. Living in the US since the early 1970s Melhem is fully aware of the mainstream popularity and persistence of outlandish conspiracy theories that prevail in the US, and which undermine his entire premise about the crazy Arabs and their crazy conspiracy theories. Infatuated with a US that has a long and rich history of conspiracy theories and obviously cognizant of its implications for his hollow assertion about Arabs, Melhem needs to explain how the superior society engages in the same type of conspiratorial thinking as the inferior Arabs. To reconcile this glaring contradiction Melhem comes up with a simple solution. “Of course, conspiracy theories also exist in open and democratic societies”, he writes, “but they are usually confined to fringe groups.” So although all societies produce conspiracy theories, it’s only in the Arab world that conspiracy theories find acceptance or resonance among the vast mainstream. This manipulative sleight-of-hand is a rather easy way of explaining away the contradiction especially with a bigoted and/or ignorant target audience. Problem solved. (It should be pointed out conspiracy theories are real and take place all the time, but for the purposes of this discussion we’re focused on outlandish conspiracy theories in both the US and the Arab world that have no basis in fact or reality and consigned to the margins of both societies.)
Al-Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief and apologist for empire also needs to find a way to absolve the US and its client regimes in the Arab world from their own well-known and documented role in facilitating the rise of ISIS so he can pin the blame on the more convenient and ambiguous “Arab body politic.”
Melhem condescendingly argues Arabs want to shift blame to other “external, sinister forces” rather than engage in much needed introspection, but why would any legitimate self-reflection or introspection preclude recognizing the role of external powers which at least since the end of World War I has been a significant, if not the predominant, factor in the political developments of the region. Discussion of what led to the rise of ISIS would not be complete without taking into consideration the direct support of foreign powers and their local clients. The two are not mutually exclusive as the latter are often mere conduits for the power and influence of the former. Let’s stick to the most recent past.
The current spectacular, but also exaggerated, rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is directly linked to the US invasion of Iraq and the FUKUS-GCC proxy campaign of military subversion waged against Syria for over three years. Does legitimate self-criticism require us to ignore the US invasion and dismantling of the Iraqi state as a factor in the rise of ISIS? Are we to ignore the presence of CIA & other western intelligence operatives on the Syrian border with Turkey and Jordan training and facilitating the entry of foreign fighters from across the region into Syria. The vast majority of armed gangs in Syria supported by the US the last three years ended up as foot soldiers for the new “Caliphate” declared by Abu-Omar Al-Baghdadi on the ruins of the modern Iraqi state the US invaded, occupied and dismantled. Is this all simply a fiction, a product of the conspiratorial and suspicious Arab mind?
Masquerading as that rare enlightened liberal Arab living among the White Man and taking on the autocratic regimes of his region of origin, Melhem seems to have reserved most of his venom for Arab governments that did not fall within the US orbit and exercised independent decision making. With an astonishing level of hypocrisy, and in complete disregard for the facts, Melhem also seeks to absolve the main backers of ISIS in the Arab world, the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar:
“It is true that Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have provided arms and funds to Syrian opposition groups including an array of Islamist organizations in addition to Turkey. Particularly, the large sums of money given by wealthy individuals from the Gulf as aid which may have reached [emphasis ikhras] the extremists including al-Nusra Front and ISIS early on does not mean that the Gulf states have created ISIS, since these states have already designated ISIS as a terrorist organization.”
Melhem disingenuously draws the reader’s attention to “wealthy individuals from the Gulf” to deflect attention from official regime policies knowing full well there is hardly any distinction between the public and private sector in these tribal-ruled states. ISIS funding comes directly from GCC regimes, most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. Furthermore, as anyone familiar with the totalitarian nature of the GCC Sheikhdoms would readily admit, the massive amounts of private funding of these groups cannot take place without official approval and oversight. Perhaps, even more importantly, the ideology and inspiration of these theocratic fascists is found in the Saudi-Wahhabi political and clerical establishment that rules over most of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the only disagreement between ISIS and the Saudi-Wahhabi regime is the former’s refusal to recognize the political authority of the House of Saud. In addition, the religious edicts justifying the ghoulish behavior of ISIS in Syria and Iraq are issued from government-sanctioned clerics; sometimes live on-air on Aljazeera and Alarabiya. So while Melhem calls on that vague “Arab body politic” to take full responsibility for the rise of ISIS he simultaneously attempts to absolve the only Arabs directly culpable in facilitating the rise of this cancer of their role and responsibility.
Orientalist clichés and bigoted narratives are far different than constructive self-criticism and introspection. Rather than encouraging constructive self-criticism, Melhem’s tendentious political commentary, if it can be called that, begins with a culturally deterministic conclusion that leaves no room for any legitimate self-criticism. There’s no genuine intent here to address the social and political ills of Arab society, but rather a cynical attempt to attribute them to the rejection by the vast majority of that society of the perspective, ideology and political agenda of the proponent. With that in mind, and on behalf of all the crazy, delusional, paranoid, and xenophobic Arabs ikhras is pleased to award Hisham Melhem with the Muntadhar Zaidi August, 2014 Shoe-Of-The-Month.
Every month Ikhras awards the Muntadhar Zaidi “Shoe of the month” to the House Arab or Muslim individual or organization whose behavior that month best exemplifies the behavior of what Malcolm X described, in the language of his own time, as the “house negro” (see video). The award is named in honor of the brave Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Zaidi who threw his shoes at the war criminal George W. Bush at a time House Arabs and Muslims were dining with him at the White House and inviting him to their mosques. Arab dictators and puppets of the empire are also qualified to enter the shoe of the month competition based on their own subservience to U.S.-led global imperialism. Contest guidelines include the “James Zogby Rule” which prohibits any one individual or organization from winning the award more than 3 times a year.