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

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.


At 2:46 PM, Blogger Rock.the.Casbah said...

I completly agree with you about the Crusades.

But remember, Europe was not really homogenous either - look at the states linguistically, regiously, and even ethnically. The idea of the homogenous European state was also constructed.


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