The LA Times carried an article yesterday that touched on an interesting theme relating to the importance of the history of the Middle East, and the importance of history in general. In essence, that theme is the weight of un-integrated history.
As students in my current European history course (registration is always open!) are well aware, the complex and dreary chain of wars that Europeans waged on each other throughout their history provides important insight into the cultural malaise on that continent. Whence that wry English wit? Whence the French distaste for a happy ending? Whence the German “Weltschmerz” (“world weariness”)? These are all symptoms of un-integrated history, expressed in the “sense of life” of a culture.
The emotional burden that people carry when they fail to integrate the past of their nation is just one of the costs of not learning from history, and really just a symptom of a more tragic reality. When history goes unlearned, as George Santayana was wont to say, the same mistake keep getting repeated. And worse yet, this iterative process of failure compounds the context of historical-psychological baggage that people carry with them.
Witness the Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans in the latest round of “peace talks.” It’s been forty years since the UN Resolution 242, which proposed “land for peace.” Everybody says they want peace, but no one seriously believes they will find it now, or in the near future. The so-called “road map” put forward by President Bush sets out conditions for peace that are not being met by the Palestinians, and that no one can foresee being met.
The weight of un-integrated history which everyone carrying but evading is the basic fact that the Palestinians (and their Muslim and Arab sponsor states) are morally bankrupt and have done nothing to come even remotely close to earning them statehood. The history of these people is a shocking litany of self-destructive religious fanaticism, racism, and violence. And yet they are treated as genuine partners in the “peace process.”
Until the historical record of the Middle East is set straight, predicting the outcome of the latest round of peace talks is depressingly straightforward. Whatever commitments are stated will not be met, whatever hopeful sentiments are expressed will be repudiated in action; and there will be no peace.