The Economist's description of Gaza three months after Israel's invasion makes difficult reading. The slogans of "collective punishment" and the "world's largest prison" seem accurate.
Numerous families are living rough due to their homes being destroyed. Diets are limited due to continued blockades of all but essential foods and medicines. The Israeli press reported recently that pumpkins were not allowed in because they were not on the list of essential foods.
The Economist is not widely recognized as a Zionist newspaper, but this article is fair in putting most of the onus on Hamas. Its inflexible ideology brought the destruction, and has provided little opportunity for finding a way out of the blockade. An inability to reach an accord to produce a unified Palestinian leadership not in the hands of those defined as terrorists by numerous governments has created a situation where most of the aid promised has not been delivered. There has been no movement about freeing the Israeli prisoner, if he is still alive, or even allowing contact with international humanitarian organizations for close to three years.
The Economist quotes Gazans who curse Hamas for their fate while sitting amidst the rubble, and complaining about overcrowded tents.
The article avoids suggesting that Gaza is the future of Islamic extremism, but it might be worth thinking in that direction.
Other trouble spots are not much better. Afghanistan may support continued war with its poppies, but not an attractive life style for the population. Likewise areas of Pakistan occupied by the Taliban, and the villages of Somalia that send little boats to capture big ships. Iran is much less than a paradise despite oil revenues that support angry Muslims in several places, moving to the edge of nuclear power as well as long- and medium-range missiles. There is double digit unemployment and inflation, and insufficient refining capacity to produce enough gasoline for its own consumption.
Those who accept the Bush and Obama spins may view Iraq as a coalition success and the emergence--almost--of a stable indigenous government. Skeptics cite more than 1,000 civilian deaths due mostly to sectarian violence so far in 2009, and perhaps 100,000 civilian deaths since 2003. http://www.iraqbodycount.org/
Judgments about Lebanon depend on what you read. Hizbollah and Iranian sources are upbeat. A USAID website carries pictures of a bridge that Americans are rebuilding. Others describe recovery from 2006 as far from complete. They emphasize the lack of stability in a country always on the verge of ethnic conflict and religious euphoria, and tied in one way or another to Iran or Syria, neither of which are political or economic garden spots.
North Korea is not a Muslim country, but provides a model along with a number Muslim countries for the consequences of being enthusiastic outliers.
With great efforts at self-justification based on ideology and/or theology, and outsized investments in weapons of aggression, these countries are not ideal for the rest of us, but they have been manageable. The rogues are contained, at an expense far less than total war, and it is their own residents who suffer the most from fanaticism.
For those of us with modest aspirations and little expectation of heaven on earth, the glass is half full.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science