The borders of “the west”: cultures are different.
Border of the west are impossible to establish, unless you believe the world is flat as Thomas Friedman does.
They existed however during the cold war when countries attached to “the west” and countries attached to “communist” blocs were easy to identify. “The west” Cold War borders were necessary to replace “the west” colonial border suffering from decolonisation, independence and the emergence of the “third world” doctrine. This history of established borders has created a void since the end of the cold war, a void that had once again dire necessity to be filled. The ideology has to impose “west / non-west” borders on the most critical part of the globe: the middle-east. And this new border would help to reshape “the west” into the ideology we know.
What is the difference between a kebab and a gyros ?
It may seem a stupid question but the Gyros is west : it is Greek food and Greece is part of the west as it has invented democracy and, because the west claims domination over the concept it has integrated Greece as a “western” country.
Although the recent economic crisis in Greece and the debate over Greece leaving European Union gives us a good insight on “the west” ideology: capitalism sake will take precedence over historical claim on democracy in “the west” ideology.
This barrier has absolutely no ground : historically great part of the middle east was conquered and administrated successfully by Greek Alexander (a town name Alexandria in the very heart of non-western Egypt), the Romans, the Byzantine empire, the crusaders… Great part of « the west » then were conquered and administrated by “easterners” : Greece and Balkan region by ottoman empire, Spain by muslim states. Then again the east was conquered and administrated by « the west » : France in Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria, British in Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, India and Egypt. Not only the concept of “west” is geographically completely irrelevant but also is the concept of west as sharing the same cultural roots or common historical development.
After the cold war the border became “cultural”. Thanks to Huntington (see next chapter) the “cultural” barrier has been established as between “the west” and “the muslims”.
Israel became the Symbol of this ideological use of artificial barrier. Although Israel has claim over “eastern” cultural traditions such as Humous and Shawarma, it claims to be the western vanguard of democracy in a region that would be hostile to it. After the creation of Israeli State, zionist ideology claimed the creation of a new Jew man, the Sabra: born and raised in Israel. A new Jew that would be the perfect achievement of Zionist ideology. This ideology was openly insulting the “old Jew”, the one born outside Israel and specifically the one who was seeking integration in his birth country rather than emigration to Palestine. After Eichmann’s trial, Israeli society discovered the horrors of the Shoah and decided to stop blaming the old Jews victims of the Shoah for having seek integration but rather to integrate the memory of Shoah, a purely european (western) history, as part of it’s national heritage.
It is at this point that the « west » as a border came back to zionist ideology which was initially seeking to establish a new country and a new Jewish race with it. The notion of West came back as a heritage, Israel being now the land given to Jews to repair the wrongdoings of the west toward them. Integrating the history of the Shoah forced Israel to define itself as part of “the west”. Now Israel uses « the west » as a ideological pilar to protect its democratic structure and to redefine the strategical alliance with the US as an ideological one. Democracy in Israel is obviously doomed because no democracy can survive apartheid but it is artificially maintained by the claim that Israel is part of “the west” and so its democracy would be a natural inheritance from its western roots. The artificial barrier also helped zionsim to avoid its full nazi development. By helping zionism to give up the idea of creating a new superior Jewish man, “the west” helped zionism to avoid the dangerous path of nazism and instead come back to a more common racist ideology, establishing racial and religious difference between the Jews (west) and the arabs (muslim non-west).
“The west” ideology in turn can benefit greatly from its association with Israel. Israel came to be the perfect way to integrate fully and positively the complete othering of the Jews. Israel is the Jewish ghetto of “the west”, a colonial gift to a people that racist christian white and antisemitic “west” never accepted and an amnesty for these crimes. The ghetto can then become part of “the west” while its people will forever remain foreign inhabitants: “Israel alliance with west” coupled with “Jews are Israelis” helps “the west” to deal with the perfect and positive othering of the Jews: Jews are not west. Antisemitism has gained a positive side: othering the Jew by providing him a ghetto and this ghetto applying the negative side of antisemitism to the Arabs.
As Said puts it, the Arab is now more and more receiving the negative antisemitic clichés while the Israeli Jew can receive the positive ones. Jews and Arabs together in the same place but a clear “the west” divide between them embodied by a concrete wall and barbed wire, between the good semite (the Jew) and the bad semite (the Arab): Israel is the perfect way for “the west” to get rid of the Jews while integrating them and all that without touching to deeply rooted antisemitic tradition.
This achievement was essential for “the west” survival as the west historically has to deal with the exclusion of the Jews. As Hall puts it:
It is also important to remember that, as well as treating nonEuropean cultures as different and inferior, the West had its own internal “others.” Jews, in particular, though close to western religious traditions, were frequently excluded and ostracized.
and, throughout the West, western women were represented as inferior to western men.
After the negative solution for exclusion of the Jews (genocide) has failed, “the west” could now expiate its crimes by supporting the positive solution: Israel.
“Israel as west” thus allowed “the west” to get easily rid of two huge stains. The Jews are no longer excluded because they now have a ghetto integrated into “the west”. But by fixing the border between “the west” and “the arabs”, “the west” was also able to get rid of the other problem: exclusion of the women. The woman are no longer excluded because one can point out how badly they are treated outside “the west” border: in Muslim world. All the extensive comments about how bad is the status of women in Muslim non western society helps “the west” to present itself as an ideology respecting women’s rights.
This is probably why the post revolutionary comment of Mona el Tahawy (“why do they hate us“) has generated such reactions: it was seen as the come back of the old critics of women condition in muslim society that carries all the “muslim/west” differentiation. Because this differentiation is essential to the “muslims = non western = not made for democracy” argument that is directly against the revolution, el Tahawy article was understood as carrying anti revolutionary idea. And somehow it did because el Tahawy also felt victim of “the west” cultural hegemonic system even if the goal of the article is to use revolution to get over “the west / the arab” difference about women’s rights.