Across the Bay

Sunday, August 29, 2004

FreundLee Reminder

Here's an addendum to my "Arab Renaissance...Again!?" post.

Charles Paul Freund (see below, "Headless in the ME") recently ran an entry on the new Egyptian liberal party on Reason's Hit and Run. In the comments section, Lee Smith wrote this important reminder:

"I wanted to note that the Wafd's tradition is not a great one to emulate insofar as its leading light, until he died, was Saad Zaghloul, who was in many ways the model for Nasser, though not pan-Arabism. Egypt's liberal phase is probably best represented by the Liberal Constitutionalist party, which was not quite as corrupt and demagogic as the Wafd, largely because they were not as powerful. The moving legacy of the great Egyptian liberals is almost exclusively in the cultural field and represented by guys like Taha Hussein and Ahmed Lutfi al-Sayyid--both of whom attacked Saad as a tyrant in the making. Egypt has had plenty of Wafd-inspired politics the last 80 plus years--popular demagogues who went against the rule of law whenever it was convenient, from Nasser to Hassan al-Banna and any of the more contemporary amirs of Gama'a Islameya and Gama'at al-Jihad, and I am hoping the Ghad doesn't have this in mind.

Incidentally, regarding someone else's question about the Muslim Brotherhood: yes they have been brutally repressed by the Mubarak government and of course they want liberal reforms, especially a revocation of the emergency law and human rights. It's worth noting however that, as someone else pointed out regarding the Islamists throwing acid in women's faces, the MB has never been interested in any one else's human rights or freedom of assembly. They have some members of parliament which they got by collaborating with the current Wafd party, but it is very unlikely that any self-respecting liberal movement would ever cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood. American liberals may think these guys are "legitimate resistance" movements who just want freedom for their own people, but Arab liberals know better. This is why Arab liberals are not talking about democracy--i.e., free elections--but rather liberalism, rule of law, individual liberities, etc.
"

The last part ("American liberals... Arab liberals know better.") would serve as a very good counterpoint to the passage by Raymond Hinnebusch quoted by Patrick Seale (see post below):

"To many Arabs and Muslims, the struggle with imperialism, far from being mere history, continues, as imperialism reinvents itself in new forms. The Middle East has become the one world region where anti-imperialist nationalism, obsolete elsewhere, remains alive and where an indigenous ideology, Islam, provides a world view still resistant to West-centric globalization." (Emphasis added.)

This has been a serious problem to the advancement of liberalism in the ME. This, in my view, is the real "Orientalism" (here used in the Saidian sense, not its academic sense), this "Nativism" of the Third-Worldists. Edward Said also fell prey to this deadly trap by essentially espousing Arab nationalism and indirectly defending Islamists. See Christopher Hitchens' latest review of Said:

"In that volume [Covering Islam], published just after the Khomeini revolution in Iran, he undertook to explain something -- Western ignorance of Muslim views -- that certainly needed explication. But he ended up inviting us to take some of those Muslim grievances at their own face value. I remember asking him then how he -- a secular Anglican with a love of political pluralism and of literary diversity -- could hope to find any home, for himself or his principles, in an Islamic republic. He looked at me as if I had mentioned the wrong problem or tried to change the subject."

Malcom Kerr had also critiqued this weakness, that was never convincingly addressed by Said, way back in '80, in his review of Orientalism:

"But can it really be so easily denied out of hand that the Islamic religion has always exerted a pervasive influence on the culture and society of its adherents? Does Said realize how insistently Islamic doctrine in its many variants has traditionally proclaimed the applicability of religious standards to all aspects of human life, and the inseparability of man's secular and spiritual destinies? What does he suppose the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Muslim Brotherhood are all about?

In part, Said's implicit retort is that the Western world all too easily relies on the clerics of the East to define what the East is all about, since it suits Western imperial interests to do so. Khomeini is thus a boon to the Orientalist, who is confirmed in his insistence that the Orient is incorrigibly in the grip of traditional religious fanaticism, and a boon also to the establishment in the West within whose network of influence the Orientalist inescapably if unwittingly falls.
"

Unfortunately, as Smith pointed out, the liberals in the ME have no friends on either side! The ME environment is hostile against them, and the Western academe is more interested in what it perceives to be more "native" (exotic) and "authentic" voices (e.g., see what Voll wrote on Turabi in Lee Smith's piece on Darfur) thus uncritically accepting the propaganda of the anti-Western purists, that those liberals are nothing but boring misguided consumers of Western ideas.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Arab Renaissance... Again?!

From Martin Kramer's Sandbox comes this piece (in Arabic) by Syrian thinker Hashem Saleh on, to steal Bernard Lewis' infamous title, "what went wrong?" with Arabo-Islamic civilization after its renowned golden age.

Martin Kramer rightly notes that what's depressing about this piece is that those same kind of debates and questions were being circulated at the turn of the last century! It's a point I've made several times on this blog, noting that the Arabs are basically running in circles repeating and arguing with dead arguments.

But to be fair to Saleh, his position is one that I'm sympathetic to, because it's anti-Islamist and anti-Arabist. His position, if we want to pursue Kramer's analogy with the late 19th c. - early 20th c. thinkers, is most similar to Taha Hussein's, as opposed to an Abduh or Afghani, let alone the useless Rida or his likes. For instance, notice whom Saleh quotes approvingly: "Orientalists" Kramer and Lewis!

Furthermore, the solution that Saleh proposes is pretty much what Taha Hussein tried to do -- with the available set of ideas and methods of his time, themselves now in need of serious updating and critique -- and that is applying historical criticism (what Hussein called "rational" or "scientific" criticism, based on Descartes. See his classic On Pre-Islamic Poetry). Saleh writes:

"As long as we refuse to apply the methodology of historical criticism to the heritage of the past, as did the Europeans from the time of Spinoza and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, then I don't know how we will be able to get out of the mess that we're currently in."

Saleh also departs from Arab nationalists and Islamists (but not so much from Abduh, as he was, I believe, influenced by the Reformation's break with the Catholic tradition in order to break away from established interpretation of scripture) in calling for a clean break with the past, and its opiating grip on the Arabo-Islamic imagination. Instead, through historical criticism he calls for it to be seen, in von Rankean terms, "as it really was," not as they fantasize it to be. It's a noble call, but the over-optimistic Saleh fails to realize that some in that Western scholarship he (rightly) holds so dear are in fact more interested in perpetuating this fantastic delusional look at the Arabo-Islamic past, and are calling to legitimize this fantasy, in Third-Worldist terms, as "the way Muslims view their own history." I.e., that we should swallow whole the legends or what Wansbrough called Islamic "salvation history" as reality. That would be the equivalent of uncritically accepting Christian hagiography or Jewish Haggadah as "truth" in positivist terms! If you think I'm making this up, check out the two articles by Muhammad Abdel Rauf and Fazlur Rahman in Richard Martin (ed.), Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies (2nd edit. Oxford, 2001). Let me quote a bit from Abdel Rauf's miserable article:

"Could the inimitable noble text of the Holy Qur'an be simply a trading of words and ideas from the Bible? Even Muhammad's enemies, who refused to acknowledge God but who were endowed with a sense of stylistic appreciation, recognized the Qur'an was not the product of a human mind.
...
Muslims of all generations have believed that the entire text of the Holy Qur'an was revealed by God to the Prophet and transmitted to his contemporaries, the vast majority of whom entrusted it to memory tout à fait within the lifetime of the Prophet. It was also written down during his lifetime according to his wishes. Being the Word of God to man recited in prescribed diction and sounds, the Holy Qur'an is inimitable and not subject to the limiting dimensions of space and time.
...
[S]erious attempts are still being made to advance accusations, often based on linguistic errors and inappropritate assumptions, claiming that some parts of the text of the Holy Qur'an were added or altered as a result of a putative process of editing.
...
Why have certain orientalists wasted so many precious years of their lives trying to reorder the text of the Qur'an chronologically under the assumption that a human hand played a role in the formation of the text? Such programs of research are not merely an offense to the consciences of millions of Muslims, but are also misleading and thus unworthy to be considered as scholarship.
...
These works [i.e. the genre of asbab al-nuzul, "the occasions of revelation"] present a 'history' of revelation that stands to conformity with the life of the Prophet, not a destructio of the tradition.
pp. 186-87 (Emphasis added.)

I will contrast this attitude with a recent interview with a more serious Islamic scholar, Mohammed Arkoun, in an upcoming post.

But back to Saleh for a second. Despite Kramer's valid remark, the revival of an approach that was silenced by the insanity of Arab nationalism and Islamism, is a refreshing sign of the emergence of alternatives. The fact that the nostalgia is for a tradition of Western liberalism is a very good sign. It's not restricted to Saleh either. A recent article in the Daily Star reported the formation of a new liberal party in Egypt called Hizb al-Ghad, the Party of Tomorrow (whose secretary general is a Coptic, Harvard educated, woman), which claims as its inspiration that liberal era before the complete dominance of Arab nationalism and Islamism and the silencing of alternatives:

""The prevailing feeling in the country is that change is inevitable. It is out of frustration that a powerful wave of nostalgia in Egypt has emerged for the liberal period of the country's politics (from 1920 to the 1952 revolution)."

Makram-Ebeid and many members of the new party are children of Egypt's Wafd Party, a liberal party that emerged in the 1930s and eventually led the way to Egypt's independence. Leading members during Al-Wafd's heyday included such famous nationalists as Saad Zaghloul, Lufti Sayed, Taha Hussein, Qassim Amin and Mohamad Hussein Heikal. The Wafd, credited for defining Egypt's "liberal age," was weakened by the 1952 revolution of Free Officers, which ultimately brought Gamal Abdul Nasser to power and socialism to Egypt.
"

The challenge to the narrative of Arab nationalism was also voiced by liberal Egyptian playwright Ali Salem, who resurrected the early Egyptian narrative of "Mediterraneanism" which was also championed by Taha Hussein. Needless to say, a similar narrative was and remains strong in Lebanon. I will be writing on this latter point in a shortly upcoming post on identity narratives, that will hopefully pick up a discussion with Joshua Landis. Stay tuned!

So in conclusion, while all this might be quite fruitless as such voices are usually silenced or overpowered, it's always refreshing to hear voices critique the dominant myths that have brought misery and retardation to the region.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Headless in the ME

Reason magazine's Charles Paul Freund wrote a truly terrific piece for the Daily Star based on Mohammed Barrada's "The Story of the Severed Head."

Freund is a smart analyst of Arabic literature and pop culture, and has written several pieces on the subject in Reason and the DS. This one however is by far the most penetrating:

"The oppressive fantasies of Arab nationalism whose collapse Barrada was addressing when he wrote his story a quarter-century ago have again led their adherents into crisis. But where previous pan-Arabist crises took the outward shape of political and military problems, the current situation - whether measured by the reaction to events in Darfur, or to the chaos in Gaza, or to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, or indeed to the spate of beheadings and bombings in Iraq - is at its heart a moral crisis."

Freund puts his finger on the problem in a devastating critique, similar to Makiya's masterful Cruelty and Silence. It's worth quoting at length without commentary:

"Listen to Barrada's severed head as it hovers in mid-air and begins to address its astounded listeners. "O wretched, miserable, desperate, idle, deprived, scared, oppressed people! You, escapees from reality to words, you seekers of solace in fantasies while truth stares you in the eye. You lull yourselves with the legends of Antara and Abu Zeyd and dream of the lands of Waq al-Waq. You dream of buxom maidens who feed you their breast burning with desire and who promise you pleasures that conceal hunger, oppression and frustration."

Unfortunately, this striking speech could have been written yesterday. For too many Arab intellectuals, Saddam Hussein remains an admirable Antar. One Egyptian lawyer who has come forward to help represent Saddam at his upcoming trial has said on Iraqi television that to defend Saddam is to defend the honor and dignity of the Arabs, as if it were not possible to criticize the US occupation of Iraq while rejoicing in the overthrow of a butcher.

For too many pan-Arabist politicians, the possibility of foreign intervention in Sudan is a greater problem than the currently overwhelming humanitarian disaster in that nation - never mind the issue of whether Arab militias are actually fomenting genocide. Indeed, as Julie Flint wrote on this page, an audience recently offered Khartoum's ambassador in Beirut loud applause when he stated that allegations against Sudan were part of a worldwide conspiracy against all Arabs. Indeed, for too many Islamists throughout the world, martyrdom has become its own nihilist reward.

The seemingly permanent timeliness of Barrada's message, as delivered by the unhappily far-sighted invention of the severed head, suggests the circularity of Arab nationalist (and now also Islamist) politics. Its unwillingness to come to grips with its own failures only leads to greater failures. Yet each new crisis can be blamed on powerful actors intent on the destruction of Arab heroes and the victimization of all Arabs. That in turn validates anew the insecurities and frustrations that maintain Arab nationalism as a political force.

What happens when someone - or something - attempts to break this cycle? In Barrada's tale, the people react to the head's attempt to make them "call things by their name and embrace realities" in this way: They hurl abuse at the head. They speculate as to whether the head is a tool of a foreign power. They answer, "We don't have to put up with someone who insults us and reviles us."

The final judgment of the head is delivered at its state trial: Return the head to the corpse, orders a ghostly judge who has risen from the past, "and cut off the tongue."
"

Friday, August 20, 2004

Kerry and the ME

Here are a few pieces on Kerry and his supposed position on the ME. One is by Matt Welch, who actually goes beyond Kerry to touch on the Democrats more generally. On Kerry's pathetic position, Welch writes:

"There is indeed considerable merit to the notion that a nation at war should be focusing on 2004 instead of 1968, but if Kerry's convention performance was any guide, his go-to selling point for taking the reigns of the "war on terror" is the fact that he was piloting swift-boats up the Mekong back when Osama bin Laden was busy trying to grow his first beard.

Those of us anxious to hear some actual specifics about what a Kerry foreign policy would be for, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia, were instead treated to a smorgasbord of what Democrats these days are against: alienating allies, manipulating intelligence, cutting benefits for military veterans and going to war against Saddam Hussein's regime in the precise way that President George W. Bush went to war against Saddam Hussein's regime.
"

Another piece is by Amir Taheri on Kerry and the Arab opinion. The best line in that piece belongs to Iraqi columnist Adnan Hussein, quoted by Taheri:

"The Arabs have never known what is good for them ... This is why they hate Bush. But what is Bush saying? He is telling them that their regimes are corrupt and bankrupt and that they have no future without democracy."

Michael Young also gave his two cents in two pieces: the first in the Daily Star and the second in Reason.

The DS piece tries to make sense of Kerry's ambiguous statements on Iraq, showing that he'll say just about anything to get into office! The Reason piece critiques Kerry's statements on the ME in his acceptance speech:

"It was remarkable that in his acceptance speech, Kerry mentioned not once what he intended for the Iraqis. Absent, too, was any mention of democracy in the Middle East. Why should a U.S. presidential candidate even bother with this? Because, as 9/11 showed, it has implications for American security. Kerry has largely avoided linking terrorism to political realities in the Middle East. That would mean addressing the neoconservative critique that only by democratizing the region and removing autocratic regimes whose stifling policies have helped generate Islamist violence can the U.S. guarantee its own long-term security."

The piece concludes:

"As in Vietnam, a Kerry administration might soon conclude that a pullout short of success might, in fact, not be that damaging to U.S. interests.

Kerry is deluding himself if he thinks the solution in Iraq is bringing in allied soldiers so the U.S. can shrink its presence. No one, whether in Europe or the Arab world, wants to be cannon fodder for John Kerry. Worse, as they contemplate Kerry's absence of ambition in Iraq, as they try to decipher his contradictory statements on U.S. military policy there, as they ponder that his staying power in Iraq may be limited, and as they search for something substantive on the Middle East in his acceptance speech, the allies must be thinking that this is the guy who may turn Baghdad into Saigon, circa April 30, 1975.
"

Unfortunately, the US public still hasn't internalized the need for democratization in the ME and its crucial importance forUS security, as Young noted. In a post on Reason's Hit and Run, Young quotes a disturbing poll:

"Low on the list of foreign policy priorities was Bush’s goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East, which appears to have little traction; it was listed by one in four Americans, unchanged since October 2001."

This brings up a point I once raised, and one that Lee Smith recently touched on in a piece in Slate>:

"The Bush administration gambled that it could invade Iraq without revealing its real reasons for doing so and without losing the support of the people who will ultimately decide whether venturing American lives and money was worth it. After all, we know we are at war, not just because the president told us, but because our enemies have done so in word and deed. So, there are two ways to look at our current predicament: 1) the government lied to get us into the Iraq war, and the inevitable result is a series of mistakes and miscalculations; or 2) Iraq is just a campaign in a war we were already fighting, and both lying and confusion are essential parts of all wars. However, the press seems to be confused because it's not really sure we're at war.
...
The press isn't thinking hard about these matters because it's not convinced that this war might affect them personally.
" (Emphasis added.)

This supports Welch's reporting of the negative reactions at the DNC to statements that actually dealt with the ongoing war (on al-Qaeda, not in Iraq!). It seems that the public does not get it, and I'm not sure whether they would have even if Bush had not brought up the WMDs (which was viewed as the only thing that might "affect people personally" in the short term) and had relied exclusively on the democracy argument. What a pity for all involved.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

When Silence is Golden

Just one day after Tueni's op-ed (see post below), Rami Khouri refuses to be outdone and decides to write a piece on the Darfur genocide. Khouri puts on his "truth is hell" face, and digs in. Let's take a look, shall we?

Let's start with the first paragraph and work our way down:

"The relative silence of the Arab world has been one of the striking dimensions of the tragic events in the Darfur region of western Sudan in the past 18 months. Up to 50,000 people may have died and over a million have been made refugees there, as a result of attacks by Arab militias. The international consensus was reflected in the recent UN Security Council resolution giving the Sudanese government one month to disarm the militias and restore security. Human rights groups and governments in the West have described events in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing" and even "genocide," while the Sudanese government rejects these accusations and claims that no more than 5,000 people have died in the region."

Khouri's ambiguity on whether these "tragic events" should be called "genocide" or "ethnic cleansing" is apalling, considering that when the Israelis went into Jenin, and this is just an example, all the Arab commentators didn't hesitate for one second to call it "massacre" and "genocide." As for "ethnic cleansing," simply read Tueni's piece I refered to. According to Arab statistics, namely the tales of Saeb Erekat (and the epic reports of biased journalists like Fisk and Reeves), the number of the dead in Jenin was "in the hundreds" (the fact that this is a lie is irrelevant for my purpose here). Same applies to Sabra and Shatila. The official estimation is somewhere between 800-1000 (Fisk of course triples that). Does anyone in the ME not label Sabra and Shatila a "massacre" or worse (and this is not to deny that label, bear with me)? What do the Palestinians call the flight of 700,000 refugees in 1948? An-Nakba, "the disaster."

Fine, why then is Rami Khouri hesitant to use these labels, putting them in quotation marks, and playing "objective reporter", when he himself provides the number of 50,000 dead and over a million refugees (leaving aside his newfound "objective caution" in using the modal "may" before each statistic!)?

"Based on documentation by credible international human rights groups and the UN itself, the world finally moved to stop the human suffering in Darfur when the United States and the UN took the lead to act in June. Throughout the past 18 months, as the tragedy has unfolded in Darfur, the Arab world has been conspicuously absent from the debate. While a few voices in the region have spoken out for decisive diplomacy to restore security and calm in Darfur, many other voices in the media and among government officials have taken a much more relaxed stance, even accusing the US of meddling in the region to secure future oil interests."

Indeed. Who exactly "in the region" wrote against the Sudanese genocide? The only voices were Ammar Abdul Hamid, on his brilliant site Tharwa Project, and to a lesser extent Hazem Saghieh, in London's Al-Hayat. Plus, there were the following pieces by Kamel Labidi in The Scotsman and Abdel Rahman al-Rashed in London's ash-Sharq al-Awsat. The real crusader was Julie Flint, a non-Arab last time I checked, who wrote two scathing pieces on the Sudanese genocide and the Arab indifference and outright denial. Granted, the Daily Star published her and Abdul Hamid, but that's hardly enough to take credit for. The closest the Daily Star got was in this editorial, where they described the situation as "on the verge of genocide."

Khouri is right in noticing that the number of voices denying the killings and supporting the Sudanese dictatorship far outnumbers that of the critics. The Arab media of course was more than happy to be the mouth piece for official denials and polemics of Sudanese officials (see my post "Arabism at its most Ugly") who called the international outcry everything from "war against Islam" to "conspiracy to secure oil". The particular case Khouri mentioned about the US seeking oil, appeared in that beacon of integrity (and home to Edward Said's delusional conspiracy theories in his latter days) the Egyptian semi-official Al-Ahram, and can be read here.

Like Labidi, Khouri takes the easy way out blaming Arab governments:

"The Arab silence on this issue probably is not specific to Darfur or Sudan, but rather reflects a wider malaise that has long plagued our region: Arab governments tend to stay out of each other's way when any one of them is accused of wrongdoing, and most Arab citizens have been numbed into helplessness in the face of public atrocities or criminal activity in their societies."

This is way too convenient, and falls in line with the usual blame shifting that's rampant in the ME. The claim that the Arab citizen has been "numbed into helplesness" actually doesn't stand to scrutiny. 1- They are clearly not numbed by the incessant airing of violent pictures from Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and Khouri himself brings those up at every chance as an excuse for everything. 2- It's clear from Flint's piece that the Arab intellectual elite was way too happy to indulge the Sudanese government's propaganda and to integrate that into the all-consuming pathological narrative of Arab anti-Westernism.

Nowhere does Rami Khouri actually touch on what's wrong with the Arab peoples, societies, and cultures. What's wrong with their intellectual circles, and their journalists, not just their politicians. It's one step from blaming the regimes, to concocting conspiracy theories about who's sponsoring them, and turning this around against the West, conveniently removing any blame from the Arabs. But this is more than just government policy. We're not just talking about government action, we're talking about popular reaction to those policies, and coverage and criticism of government actions. If the Arab citizen and the Arab journalist are simply "numbed to helplessness" by their governments' brutal actions, then why not simply close shop and go home Mr. Khouri? And then you dare complain that the West has had it with your pathologies and is seeking to take matters into its own hands instead of waiting on you useless "intellectuals"? If indeed the Arab citizen is "numbed" and "helpless" and if the governments are in total control not having to worry about local criticism, how can you say with a straight face that reforms can only come from the "inside"? If you're numbed, and your fellow intellectuals are stoned, and the governments are corrupt murderers, then how are we ever to take what you say seriously?

Khouri has the audacity to continue:

"Most ordinary Arab citizens do not speak out against the atrocities in Sudan because their modern history has taught them that they have neither the right nor the ability to impact on the policies of their own government, let alone other Arab governments. The Arab citizenry collectively has been numbed into a sad state of helplessness and docility in the face of government policies. We watch Darfur today like we watched atrocities in decades past - as pained but powerless spectators."

This is simply a lie! When Arabs wanted to take action to prevent the Iraq war (which ironically came to remove one of these murderous regimes Arabs are helpless against), they took to the streets all over the world. They drew the attention of Hollywood actors and all kinds of activists, including Jeanine "what about the refugees" Garafolo (who apparently has a specific preference for one kind of refugee over another) and other such stooges. Where is that action now? I'll tell you what it is. If it's perpetrated by one of their own, Khouri shuts up. If it's America, then he voices outrage.

But the more disgusting part is the section on "impacting government policy." The Arabs cannot impact government policy, so they sit idly by or cheer on (like the hypocrite Khouri did with Saddam Hussein). Let me quote a friend of mine's reaction to this line: "Since when is journalism contingent on government action? And if in fact it is do Arab governments act on other issues the Arabs speak out on?" If that were the case, then Mr. Khouri should have hung his gloves long ago! Such dishonest, hypocritical, and cowardly nonsense.

Finally, comes the moment of truth:

"Darfur troubles us all, but moves few to action in the Arab world. Darfur is very far away for most Arab citizens, and pains closer to home are more urgent - whether the pain of inequity, corruption and economic stress in one's own country, the impact of Israeli occupation policies in Palestine and neighboring states, or the American war machine in Iraq. We grieve in our hearts for the suffering of Sudanese nationals in Darfur, but as individual Arab citizens we can do little to change facts in faraway lands - because we can do equally little to change realities in our own neighborhoods in Beirut, Amman, Rabat, Damascus, Riyadh or Cairo." (Emphasis added.)

What miserable, self-centered (even racist), hypocritical drivel! What this amounts to is the following: "if it's Arab blood spilled by 'foreigners', then we care. If it's the blood of 'foreigners' -- so as not to say °abīd -- spilled by Arabs, with Arab indifference, eh, what can I tell you. Sue the regimes." Arabs in Khouri's mind are the universe's only and consummate victims. They should be the center of everyone's attention. Meanwhile he couldn't give a damn about the lives of hundreds of thousands being killed and raped by Arab rulers with the citizenry's full knowledge and compliance, if not complicity! Abdel Rahman al-Rashed actually nailed it:

"They are not the victims of Israeli or American aggression; therefore, they are not an issue for concern. This is how an approach of indifference towards others outside the circle of conflict with foreigners, and of permitting their murder, is spread as you read and write about the Darfur crisis and consider it an artificial issue, or one unworthy of world protest.

...

As for Arab intellectuals who see nothing in the world but the Palestinian and the Iraqi causes, and who consider any blood not spilled in conflicts with foreigners to be cheap and its spilling justifiable – they are intellectual accomplices in the crime.
" (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, this is the same excuse and propaganda that the Sudanese Foreign Minister used (see my "Trifecta from Hell" post below)!

"How come the Security Council ... and those with a humanitarian agenda are so active when it comes to such a situation, when they turn a blind eye to the miserable situation in the Palestinian territories."

This shows that there is in fact no disconnect in this instance between the official and popular stance as Khouri claims. The official propaganda would not work if it didn't have a ready audience. The words of the Sudanese official could have easily been penned by Khouri himself!

But who can slow Khouri down?

"The more troubling consequence is that small groups of bombers and terrorists have exploited this state of Arab helplessness, seeking public support for their militancy. Thus large numbers of ordinary, decent Arab citizens instinctively reject the atrocities against fellow Arabs in Darfur, but do not speak out or act to stop them; and equally large numbers of Arabs - majorities in troubled lands, the polls tell us - similarly do not speak out when Arab terrorists bomb Arab, American or other targets.

A troubled Arab citizenry's silent acquiescence in violence and passivity in the face of homegrown atrocity, is today the single most important, widespread symptom of the malaise that plagues this region. It would be a terrible mistake to misdiagnose the Arab silence on Darfur as reflecting some Arab, Islamic or Middle Eastern cultural acceptance of violence. This is, rather, a troubling sign of Arab mass dehumanization and political pacification at the public level, which are largely our own fault due to our acceptance of poor governance and distorted Arab power structures over a period of decades.
"

This is a nothing more than a sleazy attempt at self-exoneration. No Mr. Khouri, you're wrong. This most definitely says something about the current prevailing Arab and Islamic culture. It's what I called a "passive-aggressive" culture. The myth of a hijacked majority doesn't hold water. This culture, with its rulers and citizens, is a product of a dark and deadly set of ideologies. Ideologies that are far more widespread than Khouri cares to admit. One is called Arab Nationalism, the other is called Islamism. These are by far the most dominant ideologies of the region, subscribed to, in one way or another, by millions of people and intellectuals. In an earlier post, I mentioned Kanan Makiya's line in Cruelty and Silence on never washing Arab laundry where a Westerner can see it. Makiya labeled it an "ever so destructive dictum of Arab cultural nationalism." Makiya therefore correctly identified the problem as a cultural-ideological failure. That's precisely what we're witnessing today. But these intellectuals are really following the logical path of Arab nationalism! That's the inevitable result of that ideology! That's the cradle in which it was born and that's the only place it could lead to.

The minority is not who Khouri thinks it is. The besieged minority are the progressive liberals, in a culture dominated by intolerant, murderous and racist ideologies.

Spare me the alligator tears, Mr. Khouri. In this case, Arab silence is preferable.

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?

The Dukes of Hazard

Michael Young commented on the recent political soap opera involving Ahmad Chalabi in Iraq.

A judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Chalabi and his nephew Salim, who heads the tribunal trying Saddam Hussein.

Young places the episode in the context of an Allawi-Chalabi struggle for power:

"In pushing for the elimination of the Baath’s leading centers of power – the army, the security services and the party apparatus – Chalabi was also trying to isolate former Baathists like the current prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who can still call upon the party’s unofficial networks. Allawi has, needless to say, won the first round."

I caught Chalabi's phone interview with Rita Cosby, and he brushed Bremer (thus possibly the American involvement) aside focusing rather on the judge and his "Baathist sympathies" such as his attack on the Saddam tribunal etc. So Chalabi is framing this in Baathist vs. Anti-Baathist terms, which lends some credence to Young's analysis.

Despite humiliating Chalabi, victory may come at a price for Allawi, if he goes overboard:

"I’m not yet ready to read into this a defeat for Chalabi’s American neocon allies, if only because Allawi may soon begin alarming people as he takes on more power. Being tough may work in Washington now, but at some stage people will wonder whether Allawi really represents the new Arab liberalism the Bush administration claimed to be spreading when it invaded Iraq."

This is not to say that Allawi is a new Saddam, as Young reminds us:

"Does this mean Allawi can be a new Saddam? At this stage that seems absurd – he does not control the powerful Kurdish militias, and has no real influence over the Shiite militias, even pro-government ones like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). But he is building an army, and dissolution of the militias is a top priority of the interim government."

But this brings us to the resumption of action against Sadr, which Young reads as a plain attempt by Allawi to solidify power:

"Finally, the ongoing U.S. attack in Najaf is, plainly, an Allawi gamble to firmly establish his power. Four of the leading Shiite clerics in Najaf are out of the city – Ayatollah Sistani, most prominently, in London as a guest of the Khoei Foundation, whose late head, Abdel Majid al-Khoei, was allegedly killed by Muqtada al-Sadr – in what the regional media is calling a strange coincidence. The implication is that the four clerics left town to allow the U.S. and Iraqi forces to crush Muqtada’s Mahdi Army."

But what about Iran? Will it stand idly by as Allawi pressures all its allies? Young explains:

"If Allawi can pull this off successfully, he would have eliminated two adversaries from among his Shiite brethren in one swoop. This will set off alarm bells especially at the SCIRI and at Al-Daawa, who have ties with Iran. Indeed, with the Mahdi Army eliminated, all other armed groups will be under great pressure to disarm. Ties with Iran will, I suspect, figure prominently in this move. And what American neocon could possibly disagree?"

I remind you that Iran is the only neighboring country that's yet to invite Allawi for a visit (the rationale is that they deal only with an elected government). And, as Young notes, Iraqi officials have been incessantly jabbing at Iran, and that doesn't only include the Defense Minister that Young quotes, but also President al-Yawer as well as Hoshyar Zebari. Also, for good measure, even the Iraqi chargé d'affaires in Tehran has been making statements about arresting Iranians charged with espionage in Iraq. Indeed, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior had announced on Saturday that it had arrested four Iranian intelligence operatives suspected of espionage and sabotage.

At the same time over in Iran, Rafsanjani threatened the US that the "angry faithful" will not tolerate its actions in Najaf and will lauch a campaign of suicide bombings. I wonder if this is the usual machismo, or that Young is right, and the Iranians see this last move by Allawi as a direct assault on their foothold in Iraq.

Meanwhile, over in Cole Country, Juan Cole couldn't resist taking a swipe at Chalabi whom he loathes:

"The Chalabis are corrupt con men whose lies helped embroil the US in the Iraq quagmire, and the charges are not implausible. But Ahmad Chalabi is also a powerful rival to his distant cousin, Iyad Allawi. Allawi favors rehabilitating the ex-Baathists. Chalabi favors purging them. Allawi deeply distrusts Iran. Chalabi has a strong Iranian connection. Allawi wants to crack down on the militias of the religious Shiite parties. Chalabi has increasingly allied himself with the religious Shiite leadership, despite being a secularist himself."

The odd thing is that Cole started the post by contesting the validity of the charges against Ahmad Chalabi:

"He was charged with counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars (why not counterfeit new dinars if you were going to counterfeit?) and money-laundering."

The paradox continues as Cole goes on to describe Chalabi's cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic political skills:

"Although Chalabi himself was never popular on the Iraqi street, he has proven himself as a skilfull political broker and might well have found a way to get into parliament and become influential in the forthcoming elections. He manages to have good relations with the Kurds, Sistani, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim all at once. On the other hand, the Sunni Arabs blame him for his attempts to exclude ex-Baathists from civil and political society."

This is so funny to read when you keep in mind the venom Cole was unleashing against Chalabi earlier on this year. Now Chalabi is the voice of reason with the clerics in the south (perhaps that's why Cole is soft on him all of a sudden as Allawi has become the bad guy "in alliance with the Americans".) But who takes Cole seriously anyway?

So in the end, what's Cole's insight? That the "timing is suspicious". Deep...