OPINION

Tragic ‘misunderstandings’

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis has announced that she is to tour the Middle East, beginning in Cyprus before visiting Lebanon and Israel. Bakoyannis also intends to meet with officials from the Palestinian Authority. The purpose of her visit is to be briefed – and to present certain ideas – before Greece assumes the chair of the United Nations Security Council on September 1. Bakoyannis’s decision is the right one, given the importance of acquiring firsthand knowledge of the situation in a region that is a top priority for the Security Council. Of course, information gathering is not the sole purpose of the visit. If information was enough, then the US would have persuaded us of the infallibility of its decisions, whereas the opposite is true. The challenge lies in putting this unlimited information into some order. To do that, one needs to be firmly convinced of the dynamics at work in the specific circumstances. In February 1960, for example, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, in a speech to the South African Parliament, referred to «the winds of change» that were blowing throughout Africa and emphasized that «whether we like it or not, this strengthening of national consciousness is a political event.» Macmillan’s statement was seen as undermining the foundations of the British Empire. Yet after World War II, Britain had become a second-class world power and its influence had been undermined, at least in the colonies. Macmillan was simply being realistic. Due to an accumulation of mistakes by the West, the Middle East and the entire Islamic world has been pushed into a new kind of nationalist, religious radicalism which cannot be dealt with in practical terms. Empires no longer exist in the same way, but there is a tendency to impose a model of a global view, «democratization,» for example, in countries where there is no middle class on which to base the introduction of regulations for a free market. This inability to understand other viewpoints and behaviors is not new to the West. Early last century, the British offered the king of Saudi Arabia a Rolls Royce in which the back seat had been converted into a throne. The king accepted the gift but never used it as it was inconceivable for an Arab monarch to sit behind such a lowly individual as a driver. In comparison, today’s «misunderstandings» are enormous, since they are aimed at the complete denial of the cultural traditions of millions of people. It is political and religious leaders who now incarnate the new Islamic nationalism. This is the «new wind» blowing from the Mediterranean to Indonesia and Western leaders are not prepared to recognize this reality. So the problem for the Security Council is not the formal settlement of the crisis in Lebanon. The substance of the problem is the inability of powerful Western nations to realize the consequences of the monster emerging in the Islamic world. Some people from those nations believed it was a good idea to have financial transactions with the Islamic world, which is fair enough on its own but not coupled with the notion of also changing people’s view of Islamic society. It’s doubtful that Bakoyannis, and Greece in general, will be able to contribute toward dispelling this «misunderstanding.»