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Middle East and Africa

Anatomy of a Defeat

Israeli armoured unit in 1967 Six-Day War [Fritz Cohen / Flickr]

In his famous Self-Criticism after the Defeat, the Syrian philosopher Sādiq al-‘Azm outlines a merciless diagnosis of the ills that have ordained the failure of the progressive Arab regimes, thereby condemning the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East to a profound and still unresolved crisis

This article was published in Oasis 31. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2021-12-09 14:57:05

Read the introduction to this classic How a Revolution Fails


In his celebrated Self-Criticism after the Defeat, published after the Six-Day War, Syrian philosopher Sadik al-Azm expounds, without mincing his words, the reasons that led to the failure of the Arab progressive regimes and plunged the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East into a profound and still unresolved crisis.


[On Conspiracy Theories]


Of the terrible errors that the Arabs have fallen into as far as their cause is concerned, the first is the extreme underestimation of the capacity of the enemy. The second […] is the exaggeration of its power and influence, to the extent of ascribing it overwhelming mythical powers that make it the mistress of capitalism, socialism, and the course of history at the same time. Naturally, exaggerating the power, strength, and influence of the enemy in this fantastic manner is one of the ways to rationalize our failure and shift responsibility for the defeat on factors outside of our power, especially since these factors belong to forces that we want to believe are of such greatness and magnitude that they render impotent even the courage of the most courageous. […]


The diffusion of this kind of thinking among the Arabs to explain their defeat by Zionism and its colonialist allies indicates that the Arab mind (or better, the Arab imagination) still leans strongly towards the adopting of the simplest and most naïve explanations for the course of historical events. The simplest way to understand a complicated phenomenon like the foreign policy of a country like the United States is to ascribe it to some individuals or a group of individuals (the Elders of Zion, for example) whom we can hold entirely responsible and on whom we can heap blame, inferring that if they disappeared from existence, then the course of events would alter entirely. In other words, we always search for an explanation for events that returns in the end to a “willpower” behind them or to projected “intentions and goals” of individuals who organize the course of events according to their whims and in complete secrecy. According to this logic, the course of history for the period of a century, for example, tracks exactly the goals, intentions, and will of, for instance, the Elders of Zion, secluded in secret. The Arab mind is not yet familiar with the explanation of events according to modern scientific methods that do not rely on final causes and do not seek the source of events in concealed wills and personalized powers, but rely instead on objective economic considerations, for example, or social forces either in an automatic manner or interacting among themselves in a dialectical way, among others. […]

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