I finished writing the first edition of my book Le Proche-Orient éclaté in June 1982 when I was living in Ras Beirut. The building I lived in near UNESCO often shook from the barrage of deadly Israeli missiles showering this part of Beirut. At that time, I realized that the Israeli invasion of the capital of Lebanon, the landmark of literature and culture for all Arab peoples, was announcing the beginning of the disunion of Arab communities, the dissolution of their political infrastructures, and the retreat of their representatives who stood there watching the tragedy unfold. Perhaps they were merely paying more attention to the World Cup football game that was then taking place. The Algerian team’s victory over Germany excited the hearts of everyone to such an extent that fireworks were relentlessly set off in the neighborhood of the city where I resided. When I first heard the fireworks detonate, I had thought at that moment—in all naivety—that the Lebanese and Palestinian armed forces had managed to repel the Israeli army from the western side of Beirut.
Since then, and over the successive publications of the different editions of Le Proche-Orient éclaté, I have become a historian of the Arab peoples, with a particular focus on the dynamics of weakness, failure, and destruction among Arab communities themselves, or amongst the Arab regimes on a wider scope. The gap separating Arab nations has deepened over the years owing to opposing policies of rival Arab leaders and representatives, which demolished not only the people’s sense of unity but also their path to prosperity. They crippled the ability of the Arab communities to open up to the huge economic, scientific, and technological changes that were unfolding globally. My pain was endless as I watched Lebanon’s progressive disunion in the early 1970s and the alliances formed between the majority of the leaders from different sects with regional and international forces as a means of serving rival foreign interests. This, in turn, conveyed, through the ferocity manifested in the clashes of party leaders, a diversity of conflicts and strategic partnerships among foreign powers. Some of these were materialistic in nature, and mainly involved control over the oil and gas resources located in multiple Arab countries. Other conflicts are rooted in Europe’s troubled history and its colonial tendency to invade the Mediterranean Basin. This is mainly exemplified by the tremendous support provided to the Zionist entity in the region—Israel—and ensuring the conditions of its subsistence in the future—in contrast to the Crusaders who, on the other hand, were extinguished by the Arabs. Hence, from the point of view of Palestine’s invaders, retaliation can only be achieved by shredding the Arab region into smaller and weaker communities. We are nowadays in the midst of disunion, destruction, civil war, and the systematic military and ideological involvement of Western nations.
How did Arab nations come to be in a position of such drastic failure in reaching cooperation and close union in order to repel foreign imperialist ambitions? This is without mentioning the failure to build regional alliances and ensure their inner cohesion, and the unsuccessful attempt to access valuable scientific and technological information that may open the doors to decent job opportunities which would have increased the general productivity in the region and further social justice in the midst of a global economic wave that is gradually replacing old traditional social structures. It is because of this drastic failure that we are today witnessing horrid conditions in many Arab communities. That being the case, before coming up with appropriate solutions to the present plight of Arab nations, we must carefully examine the empirical conditions that led us to this stage in our developmental path. Below are listed ten key factors that I consider to be the primary stages in the course of the Arab countries’ failures, destruction, and disunion.
What do we mean by the “dynamics of failure”? It implies a series of collective actions and behaviors performed by individuals, groups, or political representatives that leads to the transformation of a positive event or fact into a negative one. The successful Lebanese resistance against the Israeli military attack in summer 2006 may portray such a case, especially in the southern parts of Lebanon as well as the southern suburbs of Beirut. One of the main resistance leaderships among all Arab countries took the responsibility for all the material and human damage inflicted on Lebanon. As for the dynamics of self-destruction, it is understood to be a complementary or peak stage of the dynamics of failure and is mainly characterized by what many Arab nations are experiencing nowadays in the context of deadly wars and Western, Arab, and Islamic military campaigns in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Iraq. As we will see below, these circumstances are understood to be the product of a global ideological meltdown that ignited in the last few decades. It began during the deadly military turmoil that occurred in the 1975–90 era in Lebanon and resulted from a clash of completely antagonist ideological and political orientations.
The objective of the historical review presented below is to highlight key stages that account for the emergence of conflicts amongst the Arab regimes and their respective ideological state apparatuses. The tendency to create and spread turmoil among the Arabs had already appeared before the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, particularly with reference to the conflicting positions regarding it which raises many important questions that call for attention:
Do Arabs have an innate tendency to create turmoil?
Are we living in times of darkness as in the likes of the sectarian wars that took place in Al-Andalus?
Why did the Arabs begin to fade from history starting from the tenth century in the Arab Mashreq?
What may account for the dynamics of self-destruction?
What are the different stages that were triggered in such a way that one negative event led to another?
What is the real cause of the Arab military’s defeat?
These are challenging questions that must be addressed in order to clarify the present situation we have been in since the beginning of this twenty-first century.
FIRST STAGE: DISPUTE OVER THE POSITION ON THE OTTOMAN SULTANATE IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY
There were heavily divided opinions within the Arab intellectual elite. Some called for religious reform and cooperation with the Ottoman Sultanate on the grounds that the religious bond may strengthen ties amongst the Arab peoples in order to repel colonial powers that sought to take over the Sultanate and share its territories at the beginning of the twentieth century. Others considered the Ottoman Sultanate itself to be the reason for the Arabs and Muslims defeat. They deemed it necessary that they part from it so as to restore the Arabs’ glory, and sought to establish cooperative ties with the leading European countries in civil and economic development, despite their inflictions on the Ottoman Sultanate and the ruthlessness of their colonial dominance over western North Africa and Egypt. This division continued to persist even after the downfall of the Ottoman Sultanate, and mainly involved the Islamists who, on the one hand, raised the Islamic flag to be a key reference for a unified Arab people and, therefore, emphasized the necessity to reestablish a caliphate-based system and reject any symbols or values associated with Western civilization, and, on the other, those who were eager to interact with the West to the measure of accessing valuable scientific, technological, social, and political information that may contribute to the formation of a strong Arab Union, which in turn would inadvertently assist in repelling colonial ambitions. Many Arabists considered Egypt to be a pioneer of Arab civilization given the importance of its demographics, as well as the historical relevance of its numerous struggles against foreign colonial powers.
Among notable figures who were at the forefront of the pro-Caliphate system were Gamal Eldine Al Afghani and princes Shakib and Adel Erslan, who judged it necessary to remain loyal to the Sultanate in order to ward off foreign imperialism. Early Arab nationalists, however, stood against this position. Notable figures within their circles include political writer Abdel Rahman Al Kawakibi, who blamed the Turkish regime for the stagnation and decline of Arab communities.
On another note, the middle position regarding the existence of an Ottoman Empire was embodied by the Ottoman Party for Administrative Decentralization, a party founded by a number of Arab and Syrian figures.
Arab historians remain divided up to now with respect to what triggered and awakened a sense of Arab unity. While some understand it to be the result of a hijacked revolution by the British colonial empire, such that the Arabs’ “turned” against the Sultanate through the Hashemite project and the “revolution” of Sharif Hussein against Ottomans was strongly damaged by colonization. Others believe it to be a logical sequel to the Arab uprising that was sparked in the early nineteenth century during which Mohamad Ali of Egypt sent Rifaat Rafa’a Al-Tahtawi to Paris.
SECOND STAGE: BALKANIZATION OF THE ARAB MASHRIQ AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SEPARATE REGIONAL ENTITIES
The “balkanization” of the Arab Mashriq is the outcome of a weak Arab military that was unable to prevent the implementation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) between France and Britain in dividing the Ottoman territories of the Mashriq. The partition of Mashriq territories gave rise to the emergence of a new ruling elite whose interests were mainly regional, and not nationalistic, in nature. This is one of the main reasons why the Zionist settlement in Palestine was never acknowledged as a major issue, when in truth many Arab states conducted secret meetings and negotiations with Zionist leaders, as well as Europeans officials, after independence.
Furthermore, there was an inclination for Arab nations to establish a policy axis either among each other or between themselves and other major regional powers since independence. It is worth emphasizing that the weakness of the Arab military continued to worsen, as exemplified in the Battle of Maysalun (1920), and it consistently continued to debilitate in the face of the expansion of Palestinian settlements. Iraq ended up being occupied by the United States in 2003 after a series of unsuccessful wars waged against the Zionist enemy that occupied the capital of Lebanon in 1982.
In contrast to the fragmented and weakened Arab world, both the Turks and the Persians were able to maintain their national unity, military power, regional and international authority, and dealt with powerful Western nations on equal terms.
It is also worth mentioning that the Syrian separation from the United Arab Republic—founded in 1958 under the pressure of the Syrian people and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s popularity as an influential Arab leader—was for the purpose of consolidating Syrian regional interests. The union was short-lived as it was soon followed by a profound split between the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athist regimes. This split in 1961 was a serious blow to Arab ideologies embodied in the Nasserist, Ba’athist, and the pan-Arab lines of thought after World War II.
The execution of Antoine Sa’ada, after his expulsion from Syria on the orders of Hosni al-Zayyim, by the Lebanese government that arrested him, accused him, and condemned him for conspiring against the state was also a serious blow for the Syrian nationalist ideology. Yet, it did not jeopardize the role of Arabic culture in the deep relations between the Christian and Islamic religions.
One of the key outcomes of growing regionalism is the establishment of an axis in Arab policy and interstate conflicts among Arab nations that are closely linked to Cold War dynamics. This was not the only issue, as the Arab media also came to legitimize a distinction in news media between “moderate states” and “radical states”: the former taking Western interests into consideration, the latter being close to the Soviet Union. This raises the question of whether it is possible to find a middle ground position with regards the Zionist settlements and the Palestinian people’s rights. In other words, are truth and law subjective to one’s own perspective?
THIRD STAGE: OIL IN THE BALANCE BETWEEN CIVILIZED AND SAHARAN COMMUNITIES
The conflict grew worse between moderates and radicals after the Arab Peninsula’s communities became rapidly rich. All the cultural, civil, economic, and financial scales went out of balance among Arab communities when oil prices began to rise sharply in 1973, leading to the accumulation of huge private wealth in the oil-exporting Arab emirates, especially in sparsely populated Saudi Arabia where there were no major urban centers before the discovery of oil. These countries have been accumulating huge private capital since the 1960s, and most of the fiscal surplus was used to expand their influence in the Arab region and other Islamic countries. Most of these regimes stood against Arab nationalism and its modern approach to the cultural bond and language among Arabs. Rather, regimes in the Emirates, in contrast to Arab nationalists, held on to the religious bond with Arab and non-Arab Islamic communities. Saudi Arabia had also established a “Union of Islamic Nations” that strongly stood against Arab nationalists’ aspirations and their written works and productions in any way, shape, or form. Hence, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank were founded under the leadership of Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s—the OIC is an organization whose influence competed with that of the Arab League and the Non-aligned Movement whose main narrative did not revolve around religion. The League of the Arab States and the Non-aligned Movement revolved, in fact, around the idea of empowering nations from imperialist forces, the elimination of Western colonialism, the struggle for development, and the promotion of international economic justice.
The purpose of establishing The League of the Arab States (LAS) and the Islamic Development Bank was to set the foundations for an agenda of re-Islamization of Arab communities as a means of warding off the spread of socialism in the region. This, in turn, explains why the West expressed its support for the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement, condemned their imprisonment and granted them political asylum, all the while remaining indifferent to the imprisonment and torture of thousands of communists, even at the occurrence of mass massacres of hundreds of thousands of them, as were the cases in both Indonesia and Sudan.
FOURTH STAGE: SIGNING OF THE CAMP DAVID ACCORDS, 1978–79
The fourth stage represents Egypt’s initiative to sign a peace treaty with Israel on an uneven and unequal basis. The Unites States guaranteed its implementation to be to the benefit of Zionist interests. This led to the suspension of Egypt from the Arab League and diverted it from the Zionist conflict, which subsequently led to the subjugation of Egypt to American foreign policy. The accords also neutralized the influence of Egypt in the region, which enabled the destabilization of Lebanon by Israel, whose levels of abuse and torture in this small and fragile state reached such unprecedented levels that by 1978 the southern part of Lebanon was completely occupied by Israeli forces. The Israeli army then settled in Beirut in 1982 and sought to bring Lebanon to its side against the Arab world through the agreement of May 17, 1983. The agreement was not implemented for several reasons that cannot be all mentioned here, the main one being that the majority of Lebanese people refused to comply with it. Violence and turmoil prevailed in Lebanon until the late 1990s, and did not cease until Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Syria entered the Arab–Western military alliance against the Iraqi regime, forcing Iraq to retreat from Kuwait. As soon as the situation in Lebanon improved, Algeria entered a period of internal turmoil (1992–2000) owing to the emergence of armed movements advocating violence and claiming Islam as their ideology in confronting the Algerian regime.
FIFTH STAGE: PARADOXICAL WESTERN POSITIONS ON THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION IN 1979
The cracks in the crumbling Arab body had deepened. They resulted from the rival positions within the Arab population with respect to the revolution that took place in Iran in 1979. The Iranian Revolution paved the way for the establishment of a religious Islamic regime after a handful of religious officials took over the revolution’s course, helped the return of Imam Khomeini from exile in Paris, and established the rule of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.
It is also worth mentioning here that the Iranian Revolution has become hostile to the United States and supportive of the Palestinian cause. Thus, the Arab ruling elite’s views towards Iran were divided. A great portion of the intellectual politicized elite and secular Arab nationalists gradually took on Islamic positions as more efficient means of challenging Western policies in the region. As a result, the Arab world has become subject to a religious and sectarian divide involving an “Islamic Revival” on the Saudi–Wahhabi track with a United Nations character, on the one hand, and a Iranian religious revolution with a Shiite character that fights against Western dominance over the Middle East and against Zionism, on the other. This is in addition to the expansion of Zionist influence in the region whether directly or through its strategic relations with the Western colonial policies practiced in the Arab region.
This situation led Iraq to wage a war on Iran in 1980 and to act as a proxy on behalf of Western countries and the Emirates of the Arab Peninsula, which only brought disaster to the Arab world as the most powerful Arab army became paralyzed in its ability to lead a war against the Zionist entity. These grave developments had a serious impact on one of the most powerful economies of the Arab world. The general Iraqi population suffered heavily under the economic sanctions imposed upon them, especially the most vulnerable and poorest social layers of the population after the regime had made the same mistake of invading Kuwait in 1990 in seeking to recover its regional and international influence. Once again, the Arabs were divided on this serious event, which also hindered the efforts of the Arab League in coming up with adequate solutions to resolve this difficult issue. As the intellectual political turmoil and the rivalry increased among the Arab elite, the Iraqi opposition progressively became sectarian rather than a secular democratic-based opposition. In the meantime, Iranian and American influence was expanding exponentially in a polarized manner.
SIXTH STAGE: THE AFGHAN WAR AND ESTABLISHMENT OF AL-QAEDA
This stage constitutes a fundamental factor in the production of further rivalry and destruction among the Arab peoples. Tens of thousands of young Arab men were trained and taught the Wahhabi ideology in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, then sent to battle in Afghanistan under the false impression of practicing jihad. This occurred at the beginning the 1980s, at a time when the Soviet presence was strongly felt in the country. The communist presence in Afghanistan was intended to safeguard the Soviet Union’s geopolitical influence across its borders, despite the fact that the Afghan people had not had any kind of commercial, cultural, or human bond with the Soviets for centuries. The invasion of Afghanistan was only meant to serve the interests of the Western bloc against the Soviet one. All the while, the Palestinian cause, which is supposedly one of the first Arab national jihad missions, was gradually losing its relevance for Arab regimes.
The outcome of this serious development was the creation of Al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden—an organization well known for its acts of terror and takfir within the Arab region. The assassination of Farag Fouda in Egypt, the declaration of Nasr Hamad Abu Zayd as an apostate (demands to separate him from his wife), and the attempt to assassinate Najib Mahfouz are some among the many activities carried out by extremists.
SEVENTH STAGE: SIGNING OF THE OSLO ACCORDS AND THE PALESTINIAN–ISRAELI “PATH TO PEACE”
This stage is characterized by a phase of further weakening of the general Arab population as well as an intensification of rebellions and sectarian divides. The triggering event was the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Zionist entity. A closer look at the key agreements reveals that the accord was more of a restriction on the possibility of freeing the occupied lands. The downfall of the “Path to Peace” was followed by a path of continuous settlement-building owing to the lack of seriousness from the Zionist side in the practical negotiations of the agreement, despite the successive concessions made on the side of the Palestinian leadership. During this same period, the cases of sectarian divides had increased throughout the Arab region. As soon as the fifteen-year war (1975–90) that tore Lebanon apart ended, the Algerian conflict involving the army and the National Liberation Front began. The National Liberation Front was an Islamic party on the verge of winning the elections in 1992. The Algerian regime, however, took the initiative to cancel the results of the first electoral round and block the electoral process. The conflict lasted until 2000 and weakened Algeria to such an extent that it spawned the decline of its avant-garde role in Arab world and international affairs, as well as its capacity for self-reliance and self-healing.
EIGHTH STAGE: THE RULE OF THE NEW CONSERVATIVES IN THE UNITED STATES AND THE EVENTS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
Once again, the Arab world entered another tragic phase in its developmental course—one that occurred in New York and Washington where terrorist attacks were carried out under the leadership of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, an organization that came about in times of training young men to be sent to fight in Afghanistan, as previously discussed. This was the strategy that unsurprisingly led to the spread of Al-Qaeda in numerous countries across Asia and the Middle East following the “liberation” of Afghanistan. The rule in the United States of the new conservatives enticed many Arab journalists and intellectuals to become supportive of the American agenda in the region, and endorse the myths concerning the American will to achieve democracy in the Arab region, which was in fact a mere expression of imperialist interests to adjust the “Arab states” and divide them in such a way that it may benefit the Zionist entity’s interests. Using the pretext of seeking to establish democracy, the United States was able to ensure its hegemony over the Middle East. Each American intervention was legitimized by means of new legislative aspects in order to maintain its systematic penetration and domination over the region with the assistance of some of its Arab allies, even though some of them directly or indirectly supported the political development of Islam.
It is remarkable to see how both the Western and the Arab media made bin Laden a legendary figure seen on television almost every day following September 2001, and if not him, then the news would cover one of his associates. As a result of these changes, political Islam grew more rapidly and strongly across the region. Meanwhile, the foolish American policy of invading Afghanistan and Iraq served as a major catalyst for the proliferation of Islamism. The vast majority of Arab media networks had also been instrumental in the proliferation of political Islam. Moreover, the imposition of Sharia law in all parts of Sudan, including the south where the great majority of civilians are of Christian and pagan faiths, led to deadly levels of violence between the north and divisions that were spread in Darfur and Somalia where different colors of political Islam prevailed, some of which were extremely violent.
NINTH STAGE: DIVERTING THE ARAB REVOLTS IN 2011 AND THE WESTERN MILITARY CAMPAIGNS AGAINST LIBYA AND SYRIA
This stage recalls some recent events that once again had a major impact on sectarian divisions among Arabs mainly caused by the diversion of the civil and secular Arab revolts. Some turned from civil and secular aspirations to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood on the argument that their governance would signify the implementation of a model similar to the Turkish one—generally considered to be a success story in liberal terms; others became deadly civil wars in Libya and Syria in which many Arab and non-Arab military interventions took place. Many Islamist militias played a pivotal role in them. The ominous phenomenon of terrorism had reached an unprecedented high across Iraq, on a scale never seen anywhere before. This was then followed by the era of Daesh rule and its relentless mission to establish an Islamic Caliphate, thereby potentially fulfilling a number “predictions” speculated upon by US President George W. Bush himself throughout his entire mandate about the dangers of Al-Qaeda and bin Laden setting up an Islamic caliphate opposed to the West. He warned about the presence of an Islamic-type of fascism that would pose a threat to world peace.
TENTH STAGE: YEMEN’S WAR—THE PEAK OF ARAB SELF-DESTRUCTION
The misery endured by Yemen and its people has reached levels of destruction, starvation, and human catastrophe never seen before which had severely afflicted this historically and culturally rich country. This was the result of armed intervention by Saudi Arabia and its military ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who both participated in the random bombing of the nation’s capital, Sana’a, and all other regions in Yemen under the pretext of fighting the Iranian presence operating via the Houthis. This is an example among many of the systematic violation of human rights towards the Arab peoples, a situation that complements most recently that of Libya, Syria, and Iraq in which the proliferation of terrorist organizations and their destructive acts has been funded by Arabs and the West.
CONCLUSIONS: GIVING IMPORTANCE TO THE LOCALIZATION OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN THE ARAB HOMELAND
In the face of this appalling scene staging the proliferation of destruction in the Arab Mashreq and the dismemberment of its communities, we must reconsider the empirical conditions that led us to this phase in our developmental path. It is quite easy to blame the West for meddling with the “nation’s” affairs—here implying the Arab nation or Islamic nation. However, I have never seen a people who raise their voices in protest against situations that they have themselves contributed to! In truth, the decade-old issue of politicizing and manipulating the Islamic faith at the expense of Arab communities’ development eventually led them to this situation of misery and incredible suffering, as well as the systematic destruction of their history and civilization. Solutions to rebuild a better future will be considered only after we first call for concerted efforts to keep religions and religious doctrines away from the political arena. As was the case in the middle of the last century in the Middle East, the manipulation of religion was the main contributor to the self-destruction of Arab communities. It kept them in a state of perpetual developmental failure.
This developmental breakdown appears in rentier economies where corruption and the plunder of national wealth are rife, and minimal efforts are made at opening up to scientific and technological information that could provide job opportunities for millions of unemployed young Arabs. Various social costs arise out of this developmental pattern, notably unemployment, poverty, marginalization, and brain-drain, on the one hand, and the accumulation of huge private wealth in the hands of a very few in the private sector, on the other.
The constant debates over issues of identity, the role of religion, and the relation between Arabism and Islam have impeded the possibilities of discussing the dreadful developmental failures that had become an essential feature of Arab societies, whether rich or poor in natural resources. The inability to relocate valuable scientific, technological, and industrial information and services was evident, despite the appearance of modernity projected through buildings, luxury hotels, banks, and airlines. This deficit was even more clear when compared with the outstanding success of East Asian countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and China. The Arabs’ revolts in the first months of 2011 were but a mass expression of social discontent and with regards to the wealth and revenue inequalities between a minority of lucky people wandering in the sphere of power and the common people.
Instead of discussing the reasons behind development failure, severe disputes over religion and its role in society broke out following the Arab revolts in 2011. As in the era of the rise of pan-Arabism in the 1950s and 1960s, a coalition of counter-revolutionary forces was rapidly organized with the help of powerful Western countries and the Arab countries supporting the Islamist movement. This movement always sought to restrict civil liberties in the name of religion within its programs and slogans. Consequently, it generated an environment of intellectual terrorism that paralyzed the potentials for Arabs to discuss the most important issues or directed them toward discussions that do not relate to the actual development challenges these communities are facing.
For us to build a better future for the Arab peoples and direct efforts towards their integration as a productive and stable group in the economic and political international community, so that they may be respected in the global community and viewed positively rather than be feared of as deadly terrorists, we must work at different levels of achievement. The first task is to bring awareness and understanding of the state of affairs in the global community and the present situation of Arabs. In fact, the fragmentation of the Arab peoples proves, undoubtedly, the loss of commonalities and values around which Arabs would gather in order to rebuild their communities after failing to form a conscious and moral system that would internally bind the community and restore their relations with the international community as the means of securing the dignity of Arabs and their creative and productive capacities. As shown in the aforementioned list of successive stages that led to the fragmentation of Arab peoples, the establishment of a value-based system based exclusively on religious identity has contributed to the breakdown of the Arab world and inhibited capacities to allocate science and technology in our communities.
The call to put religion aside from political affairs has become a critical matter for Arabs. The bloody rivalries we are witnessing today among proponents of different Islamic doctrines are the ultimate proof of such necessity. It is, therefore, important not to confuse secularism, as a doctrine advocating the exclusion of religion from the political arena, with Al Kufur (infidelity) and loss of personal identity as claimed by a number of fundamentalists. In addition to the discord among Islamic doctrines and the harassment and, in some cases, the persecution of Christians, the serious danger political Islam holds is in its claim to monitor all Arabs’ actions, behaviors, readings and writings, and other practices of basic civil liberties that, once hindered, trigger a reverse effect of gradual and systematic self-destruction that we are nowadays witnessing.
It is crucial to mention that the escalation of religious fundamentalism as a global movement rose out of American-led globalization from which sprang Zionist fundamentalism along with some new Protestant evangelic churches that possess huge material resources and are the main supporters of the Zionist entity. These churches spread extremely quickly across many regions of the world at the expense of the traditional Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church as well as other Asian religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism. Is political Islam, which has long been instrumented by the United States, meant to serve their geopolitical interests? An Orientalists answer would be that political Islam is an identity-related reaction by Muslims who were double victims of the colonization’s persecution and the “persecution” endured under regimes that are remnants of colonial rule and implemented new political systems that did not place religion and religious identity at the centre of the Arab identity reference. Another narrative that is as stereotypical as the former claims that the Islamic faith cannot distinguish between religion and temporal reality as, unlike Christianity, Islam implies a religion and a political system all at once.
We cannot go deeply into details to show that history does not correspond to this narrative. In medieval Christianity, the church supervised the community and governments in a constant and integrated manner. In Islamic civilization, however, political figures and systems multiplied in such a way that the regime may be inclusive as far as it can be. Starting around the mid-nineteenth century, Muslims divided and spread across all regions of the world, mostly in Asia. Meanwhile, the Arabic language, which is that of the Quran, was starting gradually to lose its usefulness. Islam is thus understood to be a religion for multiple cultures and ethnicities, rather than a nationalist religion for a single culture and ethnicity. This particular phase of the Arab peoples’ history shows that the confusion between religion and nationalism is one of the main reasons behind the dynamics of failure that severely weakened them and which held them under the tutelage of different non-Arab custodies regionally and internationally.
Ultimately, none among the Arab communities was able to lift us out of our humiliating and degrading situation. We must build our own self-governance by developing our own intellectual autonomy and eliminating all narratives that kept us imprisoned in a state of delusion. A great number of these narratives were formulated during times of great philosophical questions in the West, including the orientalist narrative. Is it not the right time to exercise logic and intellectual independence away from all these mainstream narratives so that we may build a better future and break off from the earlier phases of the degeneration and social disintegration as described above, hoping also to enter a new phase of intellectual autonomy and develop our productive capacities so that we may adjust to the same level as the rest of the world, and ensure collective productivity and cooperation that will safeguard our health and dignity in the long term. Only such actions can break the cycle of bloodshed and decadence in which we have been living for at least a century, that is, since the systematic destruction of all achievements made by the Renaissance and the beginning of the Arab Renaissance that began in the nineteenth century with the appearance of Al-Tahtawi’s publication of Muslim modernity, and continued throughout the twentieth century—until the era of oil reigned in the Arab communities in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
This article is based on a talk delivered at the Saade Organization in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2018.