Friday, February 19, 2010

Daniel Pipes praises Lee Smith's new book on the Muslim world:
Smith takes as his prooftext Osama bin Laden’s comment in 2001, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” What Smith calls the strong-horse principle contains two banal elements: Seize power and then maintain it. . . .

Smith argues that the strong-horse principle, not Western imperialism or Zionism, “has determined the fundamental character of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.” The Islamic religion itself both fits into the ancient pattern of strong-horse assertiveness and actively promulgates it. Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was a strongman as well as a religious figure. . . .

Smith’s prism offers insights into modern Middle East history. He presents Pan-Arab nationalism as an effort to transform the mini-horses of the national states into a single super-horse and Islamism as an effort to make Muslims powerful again. . . . In a strong-horse environment, militias appeal more than do elections. Lacking a strong horse, Arab liberals make little headway. The United States being the most powerful non-Arab and non-Muslim state makes anti-Americanism both inevitable and endemic.

Which brings us to the policies of non-Arab actors: Unless they are forceful and show true staying power, Smith stresses, they lose. Being nice — say, withdrawing unilaterally from southern Lebanon and Gaza — leads to inevitable failure. . . .

Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese leader, has half-seriously suggested that Washington “send car bombs to Damascus” to get its message across and signal its understanding of Arab ways.

Smith’s simple and near-universal principle provides a tool to comprehend the Arabs’ cult of death, honor killings, terrorist attacks, despotism, warfare, and much else. He acknowledges that the strong-horse principle may strike Westerners as ineffably crude, but he correctly insists on its being a cold reality that outsiders must recognize, take into account, and respond to.