Arab Spring

A barren tree, once full of life
Stands leafless, brown ice in gloom
A barren tree, once full of strife
Stands not a spark, not a flower in bloom
A barren tree, once full of promise
Stands in sorrow, a promise but for tomorrow
As for today, not a leaf dares there stay

Friday, July 29, 2005

Terrorism of Different Forms

As an Arab and a Muslim I would like to address the issue of terrorism. I think Muslim and Arab Americans have a role of communicating the frustrations of Arabs and Muslims around the world. Lest no one should accuse American Arabs and Muslims of complicity or silence, we must make our voices heard. Terrorism does not exist in a vacuum. Terrorism exists in a context, not unlike crime in the urban American centers. Both directly correlate with sociopolitical injustice. Both are reprehensible and will not resolve anything but both have causes and are effects. I condemn all terrorist attacks, just as I condemn any heinous criminal act, be it murder or grand larceny. However, all the condemnations in the world will not stop terrorism nor will a great clampdown annihilate terrorism for, by its very nature, it seeps through the cracks of our most strenuous security efforts. The world is a large place that is not conducive to American military rule to ensure no country is a haven for terrorism while the distance between places is significantly shortened by modern technology. Just as Arabs and Muslims everywhere have to fight intolerance and bigotry, have to resist fanaticism and vocally oppose radicalism, the West has to take a long look at its policies and actions around the World. Why is there no Palestinian State fifty years after the establishment of the state of Israel? Why are there Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza 38 years after the UN Security Council demanded that Israel leave the occupied territories? Why is the Israeli government building settlements in the West Bank this summer, while it is negotiating with the Palestinians to leave Gaza in two weeks as part of a road map agreement to establish a Palestine state? Why has the United States provided Israel with 3 billion dollars in grants and much more in loan guarantees every year for the last fifty years while Israel has not responded to United Nations resolutions or US demands? Why did the United States invade Iraq in 2003? To find the nonexistant weapons of mass destruction that all American intelligence said did not exist, to appease Israel, was it for democracy or oil. No one knows. Why did the United States try to democratize Iraq when all its best friends in the Middle East are just as autocratic and repressive as Saddam Hussein? Why not exert pressure on President Mubark of Egypt, Abdullah of Jordan, our beloved Saudi Royal family, the Sharon government itself or our many other oppressive allies? Why does Mubark of Egypt get 2 billion dollars a year, more American aid than any other regime after Israel? Why did Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland sign up for this illegal enterprise despite worldwide protest and large majorities at home opposed to the war? Until we, Americans and Europeans, answer these questions and address them earnestly, we are not fighting terrorism, we are merely lighting candlelight vigils and asking why Muslims are so awful. It is true that there will always be terrorism, just as there will always be fanaticism, bigotry, racism but if we get at the causes we can reduce it much more effectively. It is true that some fundamentalists are against our way of life. Some want to regress to the early days of Islam and to its "purest" form but they are an extremely small minoritywhose view are widely shunned. The only reason they can recruit so many people from such a wide pool of citizens from Bali to London to New York is precisely because of the above questions. Let me make it clear here, this is not a war of civilizations; Arabo-Islamic civilization is not incompatible with Western civilization. There is however great anger and disappointment at Western actions in the Middle East from Baghdad to Marrakesh and the fanatics shrewdly use this despair to carry out their own agenda. The United States and by extension many other Western nations have zero credibility with Arabs and not just because the West ignored the plight of the Palestinians for the last fifty years, not just because the Palestinians were sacrificed to atone for Western murderous indulgence in Western Europe, but also because the United States unabashedly financed the Israeli army and its harsh tactics, supported dictators and ignored calls for democracy. Fighting terrorism is a two way street: Arabs andMuslims have their share of the work, but Americans and Europeans cannot, simply, look on with horror. We all have our work cut out for us, indeed. As Voltaire stated, we all should tend to our own garden.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

One State, 10 Million Individuals

Along time ago, a history professor made a remark that has remained with me since. She stated matter-of-factly that the crusades were a much bigger deal in Western history than in Arab history. It is true that the Arab rulers of lands that stretched from Spain to Northern India thought that it was a small battle in Arab and Muslim history; however, they also understood what it foreshadowed for the Middle East. It is here why the crusades remained etched in the Arab and Muslim psyche, the Middle East has been claimed by many through history, almost every major empire engulfing a large chunk of it, and doubtless to be claimed again by many. Israelis often lament if only “Arabs were Finns, there would be peace.” The problem is that the Middle East is geographically and literally in the middle of the old world, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. The Middle East is not a remote corner of the world and the crusades made that very clear. The crusades have gained an especially important role in Arab history, after the establishment of the state of Israel. The parallels are uncanny and frightening to Arabs, particularly Palestinians, who see history repeating itself. To begin with, both the crusades and Zionism came from Europe. They both were religious movements that sought to lay a historical and exclusive claim to the land of Palestine. Though they were conjured up about a thousand years apart, their ideologies were surprisingly similar and characteristically European. For homogenous Europe it was logical that each group of people has its own tract of land in the world, while it was an understood concept in 1055 AD, the time of the crusades, this idea of a people tied to a land was solidified with the Nationalist movements of the 18th century, including Zionism. There the French lived in France and Germans were “organically tied to the land of their forefathers”. So when the Jews looked to find a home, they naturally looked to the land of their forefathers. There is no equivalent to one people in one land in the Middle East. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Persians, Arabs, Assyrians, Druze, Turks, for example, all lived in Palestine from the end of the crusades until the establishment of Israel. Palestine was not an exception, from North Africa to the Levant to Mesopotamia, hundreds of different ethnicities and religious ideologies lived in relative peace. The heterogeneity was facilitated by trade routes from China to Italy and France, by trade between the Sahel (Africa’s east coast) and the Arabian Peninsula, and the fact that the Middle East is the ideological cradle of many of the World’s religions. Both the crusades and the Zionist establishment of Israel were violent militaristic enterprises that resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of native Palestinians. It is of note that when the crusaders, as when the zionists, came to Palestine, it had large populations of Christians and Jews, nor was it a policy at either point in history for Jews and Christians not to be permitted to immigrate. The two movements did not only seek to allow their followers to move to Palestine but to supplant the existing population, in essence, to take a homogenous population of Europe and move it to a new homogenous Palestine. This is precisely why, most Arabs and Palestinians don’t think that a two-state solution will work, it is still not a local solution: what about Arab Israelis who already comprise a fourth of the Israeli population, what about the three hundred thousand West Bank Jewish settlers, who are probably nontransferable if the shaky Gaza withdrawal of 8000 settlers is any indication. The problem is that both the crusades and Zionism tried to recreate the Middle East in the image of Europe. Needless to say both enterprises failed miserably, after all Finland is Finland and the Middle East is just that.