Many of my English readers, especially those from USA and UK, would be surprised to know how anti US, anti UK, anti Israel and pro Arab the continental European press is. Because very few people in the world read press in translation or are both bilingual and interested in knowing what others think, this strong dislike for the policies of the US, the UK and Israel has mostly gone unnoticed in the anglo saxon world.

Living in Madrid and running a foundation like Safe Democracy, I have had a hard time dealing with commentators who have lost perspective as of the causes of the wars in the Muslim world. It is difficult for me to read newspapers like El Pais who frequently attribute all evil in the region to the bad policy choices of the US, the UK and Israel to the point in which the average Spaniard now thinks of Israel as a nation who invaded not just the Palestinian territories (a view which I share) but Israel itself (a view that is simply wrong). While I do believe that these three nations have made tragic policy mistakes in the region, and many times have done more harm than good I am also convinced that the problem of radical Islam has little to do with US, UK and Israel. Radical islamists hate fellow Muslims more than they hate Christians, Jews and anyone else in the planet. Most likely, even without any intervention from USA, UK or Israel the Muslim world would have been a part of the world suffering from horrendous wars similar to those that were found in the Christian world a century before. A proof of this is that during the last 20 years many more Muslims have been killed by Muslims than Muslims by Infidels. This is evident right now in the three Arab Civil Wars: the civil war between Al Fatah and Hamas, between the Lebanese and Palestinians and the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. These conflicts have caught the Continental European progressives by surprise as it is becoming more and more apparent that it is hard to blame USA, UK and Israel for the virulent Muslim vs Muslim character of these three wars.

The Middle East is a very complex region. It is a geographical area that includes the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, to which other areas such as Islamic Africa and other muslim countries which borders reach China, Russia and India are commongly added. This area is today divided in 21 different countries. But the Middle East has also many other divisions that are stronger than political ones. Even though most of them are muslim, 400 million people speaking 25 languages and dialects and divided in more than 40 ethnic groups and religions coexist in the region. Economically speaking, poverty reaches half of the population. 44 million people do not have access to running water, 96 million have no access to proper hygiene and unemployment rates are the higher in the world. As a result, war is but one of the big problems that affect people in the Middle East.

The result of this very complex set of similarities, realities and differences is -among other things- a group of conflicts that seem to have no end, that are difficult to understand to the western world with severe and deep consequences to the whole region (and the world) not only from a decent life and human development point of view, but from a survival one. The fact is that conflict in the Arab world has generated an enormous and incredibly high amount of victims. Even conflicts such as the Israel-Palestine and the US invasion to Iraq seem to represent minor ones if compared to the amount of deaths and all kind of misfortunes product of differences and conflicts within muslims.

According to data provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 400 Palestinians where killed in the last 14 months after civil war between Al Fatah and Hamas erupted. 119 Palestinians where killed by their countrymen during the first quarter of 2007, contrasting with the 34 who were killed in riots with the Israeli troops.

“The Washington Post” reported in 2005 that rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites ended with more than 1300 killings in 7 days, and officials also estimate killings in this conflict arose to 7.728 during the first half of 2007.

Only in Algeria “not official” civil war between the army and radical islamic groups caused 150.000 deaths between 1992 and 2003. One million people were killed in the Iraq-Iran war that took place between 1980 and 1988. And in Afghanistan, civil war started in 1973 and constant conflicts ended up with thousands of deaths per year and more than 2.5 million refugees.

Sudan is also a country ripped off by constant civil wars since it gained independence from the UK in 1956. These conflicts, which originally had ethnic origins, have now turned into religious conflicts between Arab muslims from the north and christian africans from the south, generating such a degree of violence that made Sudan face an enormous crisis. In 2003 some 4.5 million Sudanese were homeless (living in extreme poverty as refugees), more than 2.5 million killed and thousands are starving. And even tough a peace treaty has been signed, there are still conflicts, specially in the Darfour province, where one of the most tragic humanitarian crisis is taking place.

Also consequences of the Kurd nationalism and its fight against Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria is also tragic. Only 35.000 people were killed in this conflict in Turkey since the Kurdistan Workers Party started the fight for a free Kurdistan in 1984. And in 15 years more than 400.000 Kurds were killed in Iraq.

Conflict in northern Lebanon between Lebanese armed forces and Fatah al-Islam is the worst internal conflict in Lebanon since the civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990 and in which 7% of the population died (around 200.000 people). Since this conflict started in May 2007, more than 130 people died and between 3000 and 8000 Palestinian civilians trapped in the refugee camp of Nahr al Bared because of the combats taking place between the Lebanese army and member of the islamic armed group.

I know that misfortune, tragedy and stupidity of war is not only measured in the loss of human lives. It is sometimes necessary to provide casualty numbers so we can see the real dimension of these conflicts. The Arab world is bleeding today because of genocides, civil wars, terrorism, , religion conflicts, lack of justice, ambition, corruption and poverty of their societies. The left wing European press in my view does well in reporting the terrible mistakes made by the United States especially the Iraqi invasion and by Israel who in my view grossly overreacted to the Hezbollah threat and destabilized Lebanon much further. But having said this I think that it is impossible to explain for example why is it that if the Americans are so hated in Iraq than the Iraqis don´t unite against the invaders. Iraq is to me one further proof that the Muslim World is going through a period in this century similar to what the Christian world through during the first half of the 20th century and that no matter what Europe and USA do conflict will persist until the Muslims themselves sort their issues out and realize a simple truth, that peace is better than war.

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ouriel on June 19, 2007  · 

“Israel as a nation of who invaded not just the Palestinian territories (a view which I share) ”

Can you be more specific about this? Since you are reminding history, can i remind that jews were living in Israel way before the creation of the Israeli state that was voted by the United Nation. This international decision started off a war with neighbour arab countries and palestine residents that Israel won.

How do you define invasion?

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Demian on June 19, 2007  · 

Martin, you seem to forget -or at least do not mention- the effects of (European, of course) colonialism in the region. You say that “no matter what Europe (…) does conflict will persist until the Muslims themselves sort their issues out”. It is not that much what European governments do or do not do now, but what they did when they controlled most of those areas and how they left it once they were gone.
It’s a common problem to all/most former colonies (e.g. borders drawn with a ruler on an African map without taking into consideration ethnic groups, etc) and perhaps we could even draw a parallelism to the situation in Irak (i.e. the British Mandate of Mesopotamia as well as the way the ‘postwar’ situation has been dealt with) in the sense that whenever the West has meddled with regional conflicts not much good has come out of that, however good the West’s intentions were. It does not but contribute to stir those ancient rivalries.

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Eric N on June 19, 2007  · 

The fact of the matter is that there is really no such thing as international wars or politics. It is always local. There is always a local power struggle that causes people to find external enemies. When you think about it, Europe (France, England, Germany and Russia) have done the most damage to the Middle East through colonization, artificial borders, and economic policies. Yet, the US and Israel are the enemy. But, even if the US left the area and Israel ceased to exist, the underlying and historic conflicts between the Sunnis, Shiites and the various ethnicities and kingdoms would continue. (Notice that the region claims to support the Palestinains but then treats them like the plague).

So, yes, we are definitely faced with a regional civil war with groups, not fighting the West, but fighting for local domination. Unfortunately, the US has hightened the regional tension by tipping the balance in favor of the Shiites, against its own interests and those of its local allies (mainly the Lebanese and the Saudis).

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Pawel Zimolag on June 19, 2007  · 

I’m glad somebody with interest and in position to influence things realise all of this…I’m tired of people here, in Poland, who perhaps are ideologically/politically very close to me (on the left side of the spectrum…European meaning of course), but present almost hatred towards Israel and unconditionall sympathy towards Palestinians (oh, and towards nuclear plants).

Martin, I’m curious about what, in your opinion, are the causes of one-sided reporting of this issues in EU media. Honestly I’m not sure…

PS. And it seems there’s something more in there than simply “Arab world”. Iran isn’t Arab after all.
What they definatelly DO share is religion…which isn’t exactly on the “peacufull” side…

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Alexandra Lowen on June 19, 2007  · 

I have been reading your posts for sometime. I think you are a blanket apologist in general when it comes to issues of the Middle East.

Fact is the Greater Muslim world is suffering from CENTURIES of Western Colonization…and now today the West refuses to back TRUE secular freedom movements when they most need it (aka the Pashtuns, Balochies, Kurds, etc). Do you know why?

Let me tell you why, it is because of oil. Even Israel, in the West’s eyes, is nothign more than a tool to control oil.

Now if this all seems so unbeleviable to you, and if now, finally, the enraged Muslim masses….of all different persuations have had their indigenous noble leaders crushed so many times that they are now taking on Islam in the most warped of form…against themselves and outsiders…..well G_d Bless em………u would do no different than them.

If you want to help the Greater Muslim world….do three things…1.) stop supporting the oil economy and support true answers to our energy problems ( not the industry distraction of green energy, and 2.) back secular movements where they exist with their indigenous leaders….start with the Kurds, Balochies and Pashtuns, and 3.) declare all Abrahmic fundamentalists for what they are – mad men.

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Martin Varsavsky on June 19, 2007  · 

Ouriel. I am Jewish and want Israel to live in peace. But Palestine as defined at Oslo is not Israel and Israel is an invader there.

Eric N on June 20, 2007  · 


I would generally agree that the Middle East (I use this term because its history is much longer than that of the Muslim world) has been negatively affected by European colonialism, fabricated borders, and intrigue (Iran is a great example of this). But, there is also the problem of neo-colonialism (the post colonialism regimes that took the Europeans’ place), and way before the Europeans there was a long, long history of competing kingdoms and infighting. Here is a great link that shows the length of such history!

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Tom Mandel on June 22, 2007  · 

Very useful essay, Martin. And, in a way, the main point is that the ideological positions of the European left provide no path towards resolving any of the issues in the Middle East. We have a wicked problem in the world, and we badly need innovative thinking to take any steps towards solving them.

Thanks for your thought and attention to important human issues.

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Martín Alejandro Carmona Selva on September 11, 2007  · 

“Tocayo”, I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you this time!

I’ve read A LOT about middle East, and, I can assure you that UK -in the very beginning circa 1900- and then Israel and USA are the root causes for the problems there.

For example, today there’s been an attack into Israel with Qassan Missiles from Gaza and the Israeli army said “We pulled out of the Gaza Strip two years ago, we took down all of the settlements, we pulled out all our military personnel, we ended the military occupation and these extremists who are shooting rockets really have no positive agenda. It’s just nihilism.”.

Yes, they pulled of, but they keep all their connections with the outside world closed, they bomb they almost daily -I’m sure the outrage of this attack will kill dozens of innocent Palestinians-, so they attack. I know this is not right, but they feel they have no other choice. I mean for every Israeli that dies, 100 Palestinians do. So, they must just sit there and watch how Israel kills their children and loved ones, how they destroy their schools and hospitals? I don’t think so.

I’m against violence and I know that violence will only bring more violence, so, while I don’t justify them, I do understand them.

It’s easy for us to talk, we live in the rich west -I’m also an Argie living in Spain-, we don’t have to explain anybody why we want to leave the country and we have everything we need.

But they are losing their water -Rivers are, coincidentally , staying inside Israel with the new wall-, their lost everything.

So, why UK is responsible? Well, to start with in the beginning of last century it gave lands that didn’t belong to them to the first Jew settlers. So, after the Holocaust, the world decided that Jews must have their land, and they give them some, again, in a place that doesn’t belonged to them -the west-: Palestina. So, why don’t they gave that land in Germany? or USA or UK? Were the Palestinian responsible for the Holocaust? I guess not.

Nowadays, USA gives away an awful lot of money to Israel year after year in order to keep its military power and to keep the region OK for USA interests. -OIL-.

So, the three of them are the cause of the problems in middle east.

(I know I wrote too much perhaps, and I could write a book about that, but, just one more fact and one question and I’ll finish this. FACT: Israel hadn’t comply with ANY of the 73 resolutions -sanctions- that UN imposed to them. QUESTION: why doesn’t the west found a place for Gypsies? They were also victims of the Nazi regime….)

[If you want, feel free to contact me by mail, I think there’s a lot about this subject…]

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