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

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Arab Silent Majority

The term “silent majority” has been increasingly used to describe the Arab public vis-à-vis its stance to Islamic terrorism. It is true that public outrage against suicide bombings, like the protests seen in Jordan last week after the November 9, 2005 bombings, have been limited and criticism of terrorists is seemingly only voiced by the direct victims. It is interesting to note, however, that the Arab public is asked to speak up about terrorism while its silence is requested on everything else. It is a matter of perspective. While the United States sees terrorism as the root of instability and conflict in the Middle East, Arabs are more inclined to see it as a consequence, a consequence of deeply muzzled societies, including those nations that are America’s closest allies like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; of a pervasive culture of mukhabarat (secret police) that ensures silence on issues important to the public like free speech and human rights; of dysfunctional and corrupt governments that hold rigged elections; of American and European support, financial and intelligence, lent to these same governments; of American foreign policy that is heavily biased towards Israel because of domestic concerns; of the illegal invasion of Iraq and the subsequent unraveling of the nation. In every major catastrophe in the Arab world for the last half century, the Israeli-Arab conflicts, the Lebanese civil war, the Iraq-Iran war, and the two Gulf wars, the United States and its regional proxies have directly been involved, usually to their narrow interests, and to the detriment of the region at large. The fact that the “silent Arab majority” is silent is no surprise at all because we cannot add fuel to the fire and then ask why it is not being condemned. The United States and Europe must change their policies regarding the despots and theocrats in the region no matter how much they acquiesce to our need and no matter how frightened we are of what comes next. The United States and Europe should finally start isolating dictators in the Middle East like they did with Eastern European dictators in the 1970s and 80s. If we are to make the world freer for democracy we should not support dictators when it suits our interest because as we see today only too vividly, our interests will be served best by a democratic and vibrant Middle East.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Did Arabs Create the State of Israel?

For decades the Arab intellectuals and public viewed the establishment of the state of Israel as European compensation for centuries of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. This view is strengthened by the avid support of Europe to the establishment of Israel, as a home of the Jewish people, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust. To many Arabs, the “Jewish question” was simply exported to the Arab world where it became the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Israeli-Arab one. This line of thinking, however, ignores the fact that almost half of Israel’s citizens in 1948 were Sephardic Jews from Arab countries. The large number of Jews who chose to leave other Arab countries and move to Israel raises an important question: Were Jews mistreated in Arab countries before the creation of Israel? Would Jews have moved, in such large numbers, to Israel if they were not ill treated? Would Jews have immigrated to Israel from Arab countries had Arab leaders made it clear that their fight was against Zionism and not Judaism? These questions are impossible to answer but they maybe helpful to explore. To be sure, no ill treatment of Jews in the Arab world resembled the German Holocaust, the pogroms of the Soviet Union, the Spanish Inquisition, or even the Dreyfus Affair in France. Nonetheless, minority rights in the Arab world were surely not protected adequately, especially because most Arab countries were colonized by the same anti-Semitic European powers. There are, surely, other factors, namely, that Zionism is a religious-nationalist movement and that most Jews would have moved out of conviction no matter where they lived. The large number of American Jews that moved to Israel weakens the argument that Jews moved to Israel as a result of ill-treatment. Another important factor is that countries like Morocco and Yemen could not compete with a Western funded and protected enterprise in Palestine.

The question, however, remains important because it sheds light on the state of the independent Arab countries today. Given the state of Copts in Egypt and Sudan, the Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Syria and Palestine, and the Chaldeans in Iraq, would anyone be surprised if they decided to establish their own Christian Arab state in the Middle East? The question sounds absurd but it raises more important questions about the rule of law and the state of minority rights in Arab countries. Arabs should not be surprised that the Iraqi Kurds are so noncommittal about a strong unified Iraq. The last time Iraq was unified and strong under a string of dictators, the Kurds were exterminated by chemical weapons. Where was the Arab outrage against such an abominable act? The very threat to Iraq’s unity, in fact, came from the silent Arab majority that chose not to see the onslaught. Who will it be tomorrow? Syria’s Kurds, many of whom are denied citizenship, have no basic rights such as naming their children with Kurdish names or teaching Kurdish in schools. Or will it be the Shiites of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who are treated as apostates by the Sunni establishment? Or maybe, the next state will be established by the non-Arabs of Sudan or the Western Saharans of Morocco? In order for the Arab world to prosper, it must provide for all its citizens, ensure legal protection and equal rights to all minorities. This is not just the case for Arab world, as we see today in the French riots. It is also a lesson for Israel itself, as it treats its Israeli Arab minority and occupied Palestinians with fear and contempt.

Ode to the Land of Sand

I dread the day I dare, realize how much I care about this sand, this feeling I won’t bear. This land I will forsake I swear, if only I could escape its grip on my collapsing chest, I sigh heavily, breathing is for the living. Hardly can I exhale, fresh air is not for sale, in this land, poison I inhale. Long dead, it has been, in slumber, from blunder to a yet more grave blunder, taking us under, floating no longer, drowning waving arms, hoping our skin may grow gills and that we shall forever leave this world and live down under. But leave this, our world, is not a choice, torn asunder, we have been and yet condemned to live and rejoice. Parts and pieces float about, some sink in, some scream out, yet we have not a voice, we sing, we speak, we shout in dissonance, our chorus scattered, our dream is shattered, our land is battered. War after war, nothing left of us anymore, closing for us door after door. Not a day, not a minute should we wait, how long can we act as bait. Why don’t we rise and tempt fate, maybe this time, it will open its gate. Its vision for our future, what a validation of our culture, but be wary of division for narrow is the gate, lest we gather and assemble, only then may we resemble, a people with a blank slate, a modern nation state.

Yet we toil for naught, and inwardly broil, how can we stop this onslaught, we have lost connection with our soil. Make no mistake about it, this is a disconnect. Nothing binds this weary quilt, threads torn at every turn between each generation, religion, and sect. Parallel worlds do not intersect. How to sew the quilt and not dissect, how to build relation on intellect. Is it but an illusion to relive and respect a civilization once finely built, how to overcome the byproduct of failure, this feeling of guilt, how to believe that the course of the river in our favor will tilt. Introspect, and so we closely self-inspect, ours is a stormy past in retrospect, but truly what did the world, God and the elements expect. We were torn asunder. How we are today is no wonder. They nibbled on our bellies, the vultures, decried and dismissed our cultures. We were stuck in the National Museum of Art, a world in which we had no part. We walked from wing to the next in confusion, all the galleries were trompe l’oeil, all an illusion. We thought the art was beautiful, we welcomed the incoming civilization, yearning for emancipation, to their needs we were dutiful, yet when we reached to grab the basket of fruit, the canvas was torn asunder. Not for us, we learned later, although it was plentiful, this basket of fruit, the apple was our first blunder. Even the fly on the basket handle was just art, this game, this trick ripped the heart. How could the basket of liberty thusly allude, why did the art choose to exclude, why did we flinch and self-seclude, this ugly ending no one had dared conclude. Surrounded by the museum we shirked everything new, turned ourselves inwardly in a way we never knew. Reached violently for the insides and destroyed what we grew. From shame and guilt, the fruits of fine failure, we tear, rip and devour our heart. But how beautiful was the art. Like the horses of McBeth, we ate our own flesh, part after part, we forgot who were at the start, there was no exit from this hell nowhere to depart. Like the underworld of Hades, beauty was meant to tantalize, tempt us into hope and dazzle our eyes. Our freedom seemingly so close was but lies, that the painting was two dimensional took us long to realize. Like Jean d’Arc we burned, for a hundred times, for a hundred years we burned, the world stood around, their eyes turned, no one made a sound, our hearts yearned, charred bones are what we earned. Again and again and again, we burned, how many times must one be spurned until a lesson is learned. Like the Arabian Hind who in the heat of battle ate her cousin’s heart, we cooked ourselves into fried, grilled and flambé, shish kabob, panseared and soufflé, invited all the animals, of course, present were the cannibals. An orgy of consumption, for which there will be no redemption. Everyone was out for his own, no longer a family or a people was the assumption, all turned cannibals with no exemption.

And now that we are wary, and our days which run into one another are dreary, and our prospects for a better world, for a prosperous future, for a happier life are scary, we have turned contrary. Deaf, blind and dumb, insensitive and unrealistic we have become, all silence for most and barely a word for some, sound waves do not reach our ears and to visible photons we do not succumb, a sculpture, a dead horse, we are numb. Simply riding the wave, que sera sera to the grave, words of the wise and the brave, nonexistent we huddled in our cave. Then, the world shook, the tours fell, each clutched his book, a church rang her bell, we were forced to look, a mosque warned of fiery hell. Welcome to the Age of Madness, we joined hands in sadness, worse has begun, the unimaginable has become, and we began to crave, not much to lose before, but now there is much to save. Yes we protest, this New World Order we contest, we will put our courage to the test, our days of slumber are laid to rest. O’ Rise thee who will sway thy fate lest, your internal disease forever quench thy quest, pray change our way on our behest, unabashedly join the world reformation with zeal and zest. While the vultures externally hungrily devoured, as it were, we were plagued by an internal virus as we cowered. And now to heal the inside, we must brush off the vultures aside, and recruit all the seekers of peace by our side, all the mongers amongst us we must deride, our true face we must not hide, frank and free only by true justice we will abide. In that true day of madness our fear has died, how long will the world be blind, how many mothers in devastation and humiliation have cried, how long will the world insist on keeping the International Grind: Fresh human for very little per pound, how does that sound, a good deal I tell you and the package is well bound, nothing will stain you or dirty the ground! How long will the world send a whole people to the grind row after row, in one hundred years, first the Armenians, then the Jews, the Rwandans, the Gays to Kosovo. Now our turn in Palestine, we need a power nothing less than divine. Each reach within and we will find, a way to stop this ever rolling grind. O Palestine, heart of the Arab lands, be kind, our whole world is in a bind. Intifada is the answer, defeats the colonizing forces and the endogenous cancer. Intifada and in protest so we purge, kings and dictators move aside as we surge, nothing can stand against this urge, to clean, vomit, cleanse, throw up the contents of the stomachs, we purge, clean them out of their dens, show mercy and let them keep their newly polished benz, and so we’ll be free. The Arab world will be ours from sea to shining sea, ours, the inhabitants of the land, the sole keepers of this grainy sand, as far as the eye can see, everyone will be free to be, a him, a her or a he-she.

How long must I lament hungrily the beautiful specter, this enticing scent, how long will it last this perpetual lent, what has God by this protracted fast meant, how long, how long can body, mind and spirit last until all are spent. How did it come about that in our own home we pay rent, how long, how long will we to distant lands be sent, how long how long how long had we watched as the ages came by and went. What does another day matter if it’s a hundred years we’ve slept, we will sleep once more and group it to all the other years we have kept, but fake sleep it is, no rest but a gathering of all the nights we have wept, like Patrick Henry, liberty or death, we must accept. Slumber is neither death nor at liberation has it made us more adept. Rise, rise, rise or forever cry alone at night, die all or many but still dream of light, darkness may consume for now but some day we will regain our sight, hold up the colorful flags and throw away the white.