Across the Bay

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Arab(ist) Mind

In what can easily be the lamest apologetic in history, Ghassan Tueni of the Lebanese An-Nahar wrote an idiotic, dishonest, and thoroughly racist op-ed that embodies what it is to be an Arab Nationalist on the one hand and a Christian dhimmi on the other.

The title of the op-ed is "Deir Yasin repeated... in the Iraqi Churches" which leads one to think that he is about to rip the forced migration of the Iraqi Christians due to violence perpetrated against them by Iraqi Muslims, both Sunnis and Shiites.

Unfortunately, but to no one's surprise, the piece has absolutely nothing to do with the "Iraq" part, and everything to do with the "Deir Yassin" part. I.e., in an amazing psychopathic way, Tueni follows in line with all the pathologies that constitute Arab Nationalism, incapable of even voicing outrage at the killing of Christians in Iraq. Instead, he opts to travel the usual road of Israel-bashing. Needless to say, there is not a single word in there (just like on Cole's site) about the Darfur massacres and the Jihad against Sudanese Christians in southern Sudan (speaking of which, the Sudanese Foreign Minister in the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers, followed Tueni's path and blamed Israel for the fighting in western Darfur.)

Instead of addressing the problem of the Iraqi Christians, Tueni goes off on how Israel is forcing the emigration of Palestinian Christians. Proof? Israel "concocted" the building of a mosque right next to the church of the Nativity, despite "Abu Ammar's" (Arafat) objection to the project! Sic!

So, in Tueni's, and indeed the Arabist, twisted logic, any Islamic harassment of Christians is Israel's fault, nay part of Israel's "conspiracy" to "cleanse" Palestine of any Christian presence! For Israel, according to Tueni, "begs for (so as not to say creates)" Jihadist terrorist attacks" to take advantage and push the Palestinian Christians out!

Tueni doesn't stop there of course. He goes on to imagine a conspiracy theory that rivals the Protocols. You see, in Tueni's mind, the "cleansing" of the Palestinian Christians goes hand in hand with a "plot" to bring in more European Jews to Israel, just like they brought in Ethiopian Jews, in order to "confirm the 'ethnic identity' of the Jews of the world and to enshrine them in their historical homeland 'Eretz Israel'" (quotation marks are in the original).

Wait there's more. This is not a natural Jewish emigration, it's one that's "made up." I.e., the attacks against Jews are all fake! Tueni flatly says that the attacks in France are all made up. And it's been a long-held opinion that all the attacks and pogroms against Middle Eastern jews were the work of "Zionists." Tueni therefore anticipates such "made up" attacks to come in Germany, Poland, Russia, the US, Australia, and Argentina! So folks, if you hear of an anti-semitic attack in your neck of the woods, never mind, it's just them Zionists making it up! Simply beautiful!

But how can it be complete without a reference to "Zionist Christians" and the Apocalypse (Juan Cole would be proud)!? Tueni obliges and throws in how this "hellish plan" is also run by those American Zionist Christians (i.e. evangelicals).

But back to the issue of ME Christians. How does Tueni tie it all together? Israel's plan to "create" an ethnic homeland for the Lebanese Christians in south Lebanon was part of the plan to draw the wrath (sic!) of the Muslim world. For a "sparkling" Christian nation that satisfies "idiots among the Christians" (sic!) would have "provoked the wrath of the surrounding Muslim world" (sic) causing it to "pounce" on it and thus destroying Lebanon, and consequently the rest of the "Arab Christians"! And all this is Israel's creation! Simply marvelous! So the Lebanese are nothing but brainless fools, and the Muslims are little more than animals ready to pounce on any non-Muslim entity in their midst, and both are diabolically manipulated by Israel! This is a truly stunning use of language and modality, fit only for a thoroughly sick mind. A field day for a grad student in psychology!

Notice in there the use of that trope often used by Edward Said (Tueni and Said are twin products of the same world) of how the Palestinians or the Arabs "play out the role written for them." This reminds me of the words of reader Matt Frost in a comment on this blog: "This summarizes, in a single phrase, the pernicious status quo approach to the Middle East -- the tendency to treat the Arab-Islamic population as but a bundle of fantasies, neuroses, and repressed desires to be analyzed and then accommodated."

The irony is delicious considering that these people call the Orientalists racists who dehumanize Arabs!

This is a highly-educated, well-respected journalist writing in the ME equivalent of the NYT. How can a mind be so warped, as to perversely twist things around even when actually naming the culprits!? This by the way, is not an opinion confined to Tueni. The ME is overflowing with this kind of garbage, and thanks to the likes of Juan Cole, it's overflowing in the US too, as we'll see shortly.

Tueni said that the Jihadists in Iraq who are killing Christians are not only "actualizing the Israeli plan" but that "they are signing, with the blood of Christians, the death warrant of Arabism."

What does this bunch of horse manure mean? Why bring in Arabism in that context? It's because Arabism is the center of this pathology. It's replaying that tired Arab nationalist myth that Arabism protects Christians by providing a secular Arab identity. The flip side of course is that only Arab nationalism is a legitimate narrative in the region. Everything else is a fitna in the heart of the umma. (Both terms by the way are thoroughly Islamic, not that the stupid Christian Arab nationalists ever noticed!) That's why it's no coincidence that in every case of Arab/Muslim - "ethnic minority" tension, Israel and the West/US is brought in. Why? In the case of Israel, it's because it is the only other nationalism that managed to carve for itself a niche in the dominant Arab surrounding. That's why any other ethnic movement is seen as another potential Israel, and thus is painted with the same brush. As for the West, it's related to other complexes. First, Islamically, it's tied to the crusades. Secondly, in the case of Arab nationalism, it's tied to European colonialism and the myth that colonialism was/is preventing the Arab nation from 1) realizing that it's a nation and 2) from achieving its destiny (and no, Leni Riefenstahl didn't write that script despite the resonance!). It's a myth because it was precisely the Europeans who 1) fostered Arab nationalism and inspired it in the first place, and 2) actively favored Arab nationalists over other ethnic/national movements in several parts of the ME, as in Sudan for instance.

This move, that lent credence to the historic lie that the region is exclusively "Arab", is at the heart of the problem. It not only led Edward Said, in his critique of reductionism, to reduce the entire Middle East to mean "the Arab world," it also led to an incredibly hostile and condescending attitude towards all non-Arab ethnicities and identities in the region, not only by the Arab nationalist regimes, but by sympathetic Western scholars, among whom Cole is but an example (see e.g. William Dalrymple and his incredibly condescending book "From the Holy Mountain." Note also the moronic Patrick Seale. The list is quite long.) But this explains why Cole shows such noticeable disdain towards the Kurds, and why he is yet to mention Darfur on his site, and explains why he wrote the following a few days ago, after the church bombings in Iraq:

"Even medieval Islamic law recognized the right of Christians, Jews and other monotheists to practice their religion and enjoy rights to their lives and property. This relative tolerance has often been enhanced in the twentieth century by the rise of nationalism, wherein Arab Christians sometimes are privileged as symbols of national authenticity, because Christianity predated Islam in the nation's history."

So for Cole, the laws of dhimma are to be appreciated more! Those are laws that regulated what clothes non-Muslims were allowed to wear, as well as on which side of the road they were allowed to walk. Laws that prevented Christians from building new churches or renovating old ones (cf. that same problem with Copts in Egypt today). Laws that are discriminatory in the worst sense (see Bat Ye'or's books for more). Cole simply lied through his teeth, as he most often does. More importantly, Cole showed yet another uncritical adoption of Arabist/Islamic positions as truth simply because they were dominant myths!

Martin Kramer called Cole for his dishonest historical embellishment (see the entries "Cole Turkey" and "Clio Abuse") and made sure to mention the 1933 massacre discussed in the Daily Star piece below, as well as the pogroms against Jews in Iraq (also, make sure to read the article Kramer links to on the history of the Assyrians in Iraq).

Unlike the racist Tueni or the useless Cole, Joshua Landis paid more attention to the plight of Iraqi Christians. Landis then touched on the situation in Syria:

"The Syrian Baath never passed laws mandating the use of Arab names for Christians and has treated its Christians better than any other Arab country; nevertheless, many Syrians find the Christian use of European names obnoxious. Some even understand it to be a rejection of their Arab identity. In an article on religious education in Syria, I quoted one Muslim woman who complained bitterly about the recent fashion among Syrian Christians to name their children non-Arab names. Referring to the names of Christian children, she said: "They are all western: Joan, Andrew, Charles, Lara, George, Joel. None of these names are Arab. They used to name their kids Khalil, `Abdullah, Hasiiba, etc. This is an indication that they don't feel Arab. What is the meaning of these names? They have no meaning in Arabic."

But this is Syria after all, and in the spirit of the "Damascus Spring," every semblance of liberty has limits and counter measures, as this piece in the Daily Star makes clear:

"Syrian security authorities have banned an Assyrian party in northern Syria from marking the 71st anniversary of an Iraqi government crackdown on Chaldean-Assyrians in northern Iraq, the organization said Sunday.

The Assyrian Democratic Organization issued a statement saying it was to mark the "Assyrian Martyr Day" on Saturday, which it describes as "one of the most important nationalist days marked by the Chaldean-Assyrian-Syriac people in homeland and diaspora."

In 1933, the Iraqi government massacred around 5,000 Chaldean-Assyrians in Simele, a town in northern Iraq. Chaldean-Assyrians mark the massacre annually on Aug. 7.

The ban follows last month's move by Syria to prevent the same organization from marking its 47th anniversary in Qamishli, 655 kilometers (409 miles) northeast of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

It also came two months after authorities told Kurdish party leaders to stop political activities.

But let's examine the "enhancement" that Cole claimed for the Christians of the ME:

"Syria's Assyrian population is estimated at more than 500,000. While they enjoy freedom of worship, some Assyrians seek minority status to promote their language, Syriac, which only Assyrian churches now teach.

Since the secular Baath Party took power, Assyrians in Syria have been referred to as Arab Christians. Like Syria's Kurds, the Syrian constitution does not recognize Assyrians as a minority.

Herein lies the most important point, that I think goes a long way in explaining much of what I've discussed in this post: There is no acknowledgement of the Christians in the Arab nationalist ME save as "Arab" Christians. This is the dominant discourse in the ME, even in the Christian-Muslim dialogue endeavors. If you identify as an "Arab" Christian, then and only then will "tolerance" (Cole's "enhancement") apply to you. If you uphold a different identity, i.e. one with a non-Arab narrative, you're a threat of the Israeli and Kurdish category. This attitude by the way is now being extended to Jews (see that third rate "academic" Joseph Masaad). If Jews Arabize, they might be tolerated. In other words, this is a new formulation of dhimmitude. In that regard, such an attitude toward Christians raises questions on Landis' view of the Syrian scene. While the Syrian Baath may not have been as aggressive as its Iraqi counterpart in its Arabization policies, but the fact that Assyrians are still defined as "Arab Christians" exemplifies that dominant attitude I pointed to.

This is in many ways the basic problem of Lebanon's war: the Arabization of Lebanon's (Maronite) Christians, and the Arabization of their narrative. This also explains the sustained ridicule of all non-Arab narratives that have been put forth by ME Christians, not just by the Arab nationalists, but by Western Arabists as well.

That's why to me, it's blasphemous for Tueni to invoke Charles Malek (Greek Orthodox who swam against the current of his Church, as Ajami wrote) and Michel Chiha (Iraqi Christian) to support his racist insanity. Chiha wrote a book on the singularity of Lebanon's identity, drawing in Braudelian fashion on the symbolism of the Moutain and the Mediterranean, two themes that are essential for the (Christian) Lebanonists and Phoenicianists. Chiha was the proponent of Lebanon as the "refuge of minorities." Malek was an unabashed ally of the United States and an enemy of Arab nationalism. Furthermore, despite being Greek Orthodox, he was a supporter of the Maronite narrative of Lebanon, and was a founding member of the Lebanese Front, whose charter remains the most inclusive, liberal and progressive in the entire ME. Let me once again highlight this important fact: Neither Malek nor Chiha were Maronites, yet they both did not choose Arab nationalism. The reason should be obvious: Arab nationalism produced Tueni, Chiha and Malek produced the only pluralist liberal experiment in the Arabic-speaking world. (I should add here that Chiha spoke Syriac, just like many Maronites, whose heritage is Syriac, did at the time. I'll come back to the issue of Syriac, and Syriac-Arabic contact in a later post.)

After all this, excuse me if I don't give two shits about those who chastize the US for trying to introduce liberal humanism to the region, accusing it of "cultural imperialism" or "creating the East in its own image." I'll take that endeavor, which allows people like me to have their own identities and narratives, and acknowldges them, over Tueni and Cole and their Arabism that eliminates my identity and my narrative, imposing instead its own racist image, any day, without even flinching. That's why Tueni should have asked himself why all ME Christians end up in the US or the West. But who wants to look the beast in the eye?