Says bob, sarcastically, regarding the Scorpion and the Frog:
As long as anthropomorthized animals deliver the message, I guess it’s OK.
The first time I ever ran across the parable, it was in a book about the Middle East by Gerhard Konzelmann, who was at the time probably the leading German observer of the region. This was many years ago, and in another language, so my recollection may have improved it in a way that just so happens to suit my theme, but I remember it appearing near the end of the book, not too long after the transcript (intercepted?) of a climactic conference call between the leaders of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt during the ’67 war. In context, it was clear that each leader was pursuing a separate agenda, partly aimed at subverting the others, and so the exchanges were doubly ironic: In addition to revealing their war leadership to be comically disorganized and undependable, the leaders were all clearly unwilling to be anything other than disorganized and undependable. No one would help the others, each had excuses, and each very likely understood what the other was doing, but none could say so openly, because each was doing the same thing himself while maintaining the fiction of a grand and sacred united effort.
One question is what “it” refers to in Don Miguel’s statement that “it’s in their nature.” I think it refers to a tendency toward betrayal, or, more precisely, self-destructive self-preference – not, as in Don Miguel’s arguably bigoted overextension, aggressiveness or bellicosity.
The other question concerns “nature.” The usage suggests an unchanging biological characteristic, what once would have been called a “racial characteristic.” So, not to put too fine a point on it, Don Miguel was writing like a racist, as, unfortunately, do many others who adopt a self-consciously “realist” position on the Arabs, or Muslims, or the M.E. Most – even many expert and academic observers – verge on or go all the way into “Orientalism” because they lack a less objectifying language. Many sooner or later can often be found reverting to a crude anti-intellectualism that, if they had started out with it, could have saved them the bother of reading or thinking: They could have just said, “The Arabs are like that, don’t you realize it? You dont’ know what Israel has to deal with,” and so on.
My personal view is that obviously the parable should not and cannot sustainably be assigned to an Arab “race,” but that this fractiousness clearly does reflect a real state of Arab culture and society. All human groups are subject to the same impulses, but other societies may enjoy and exploit the objective benefits of generations or centuries of the institutionalization of more efficient, generally more self-correcting (but far from perfect) political processes: That’s what being more “developed” means in its cultural-political dimension. The result does not make them morally superior in an ideal sense though it may at time make them able to both to discover and to implement a morally superior insight more widely and practically.
That’s no small thing. If you believe in human progress, it may arguably be the most important thing. Unfortunately, this higher level of development also makes those societies more able to implement policies reflecting moral astigmatisms up to and include complete blindness more systematically and efficiently as well: We pile up corpses and destroy whole societies, but we are very skilled at forgetting or looking away or otherwise externalizing what we do. Even if we recall that at some level and in some ways we’re also barbarians, we almost immediately repress the insight as useless if not counterproductive: It’s in our nature to prefer ourselves and our own victories.
To return to the parable, its implication – as for Konzelmann – refers more to why “the Arabs” have tended in the modern era to come out on the wrong side of conflicts, than about why they should be inordinately feared. That view doesn’t serve the purposes of panic-mongering ideologues, however. So the discourse eventually shifts to other crude passions, often under a smokescreen of self-righteous anti-intellectualism. The Islamophobe, like anti-semites and other racists, converts fear into spite: “Get real, that’s how ‘they are.’ (If we can’t hate them because they’re truly a threat, let’s hate them because we find this, that, or the other practice repulsive.)” Thus, the obsessive focus on whatever latest Sharia-inspired infamy: There’s no rational and ideal justification for highlighting the murder of a beauty contestant in the Ukraine over the murder of a prostitute in Anytown, USA, or maybe the slow or fast self-destruction of a Hollywood star, as more representative of a sick society, but that will never prevent the Islamophobe from doing so: It’s just too gratifying to stand in judgment over the cultural other, and not just to highlight but self-glorifyingly affirm the cultural difference. Even if we’re not morally superior overall, we are ourselves, and that’s always superior enough.
No, Colin, as usual you miss the point, like the fate of many your immortal namesakes’s foes, in the last act. I was speaking to those regimes that Israel is supposed to trust it’s safety, the lives of it’s citizens too