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Monday, January 23, 2006

Bashar and the axe of Arab nationalism

In his speech on Saturday, Syrian president Bashar Assad said “national sovereignty is the most significant thing and not UN resolutions," and lashed out at a "global plot" that is targeting "Syria and Lebanon," Iraq and Palestine, as well as “the Arab peoples” and the “Islamic nation.”

Assad spoke to an audience of Arab “lawyers” at an Arab legal conference in Damascus, in front of a backdrop which read "Defending Syria is National Right and Duty" in English. In Arabic, it read “Defending Syria is an (Arab) Nationalist right and duty.”

Assad’s speech contained your usual combative and nationalist statements that earned him standing ovations and ecstatic cheers and applause from the audience. He held the Lebanese responsible for the deteriorating Lebanese-Syrian relations, alleging that certain Lebanese want to see their country destroyed. He said his cooperation with the UNIIIC “must be made by respecting principles of national sovereignty, the neutrality of the inquiry and on a legal basis." He dismissed the UN probe as a “condemnation commission” that relies on “made-up testimonies by certain traitors”, in reference to his VP Abdel Halim Khaddam, who accused him of ordering the Hariri assassination. He wondered why the world was focusing on the Hariri assassination and not the “Arafat assassination.”

Domestic reform again took a back seat to the global plot and need to preserve “stability.” "The road is long, and perhaps reforms are being done slowly, but we want to accelerate them as fast as possible, without harming (the nation's) stability," he said, limiting future reforms to those “consistent with domestic requirements, and we refuse to accept them being imposed from abroad."

Bashar’s speech reeked of ignorance. It was a hodgepodge of nationalist statements that made no sense combined.

The Syrian president claims to know and understand Lebanese and Palestinian affairs better than Lebanese and Palestinians. After all, he is the supreme Arab leader, protector of Arab causes and identity, the one who must not fall, because if he did, the Arab regimes’ house of cards will collapse. Or that’s what he says.

Just like Bin Laden and his dispersed cohorts appointed themselves the rulers of a fictitious Islamic land, the novice Syrian dictator has made himself the commander in chief of an imagined Arab nationalist empire.

Bashar’s attitude towards Lebanon resembles Jamal Abdel Nasser’s attitude towards Syria as the northern province of the failed United Arab Republic in the late 1950s. Nasser didn’t know much about Syria and he treated Syrians like lower class Egyptians. All that Nasser knew was the necessity of a centralized authoritarian system with him in absolute control. It is ironic that Bashar would act like the guardian of an extreme brand of Arab nationalism that his own father helped destroy. Compare Lebanon’s situation to Syria’s in the late 1950s when the Nasserites “relegated the majority of Syrians to the rank of traitors, governing by terror and trampling on the honor and dignity of citizens.” These were the words of ex-Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatly.

Of course Bashar is no real Arab nationalist, or at least his Arab nationalism is just a cover for his dictatorship, a formula that most Arab leaders employ successfully. For as soon as the logical requirements of such an imagined union with Lebanon and the rest of Arab world present themselves, Syria’s “sovereignty” pops its head right on time to spare the regime any duties towards that imagined union, including cooperating for the sake of strengthening the union, as opposed to strengthening the authoritarian regime.The regime’s convenient dual use of both Arab nationalism and “nationalism based on sovereignty (qawmiyya and wataniya) is pathetic, and unfortunately, it eludes most of Syria’s ignorant clappers. Bsshar wants to force a Nasserist Arab nationalist union on Lebanon while subscribing to a reduced version based on Syrian sovereignty. All the regime had to do to make this paradox appear logical was to accuse Syria’s enemies and Lebanon of doing Israel’s bidding. And then the conspiracy theory is complete and logic dies at the altar of honor and ignorance.

With plenty of illiterate citizens in Bashar's empire putting off free thinking till Judgment Day, Bashar finds plenty of cheerleaders to enslave and parade to the world as proof of his popularity. It also helps him when men and women with law degrees choose the rule of ignorance over the rule of law, making it easier to turn poor people into cattle, and to present slaughter houses as places of worship and sacrifice.

In this regional order of hypocrisy and delusion, seeking truth and sovereignty for the purpose of independence becomes a great sin. Bashar can shamelessly use his country’s "sovereignty" to protect himself from retribution, and then somehow portray repercussions from Syria’s mistakes as foreign plots to redraw the Arab nation. When Lebanon seeks sovereignty, it is viewed as an attack on the Arab nation. Very few see Syria's attempt to impose on Lebanon what most Arab countries have rejected and destroyed: Nasserist Arab nationalism. The situation is now such that the road to Lebanese sovereignty (and Syrian freedom) will have to pass through the rejection of all political pan-Arab ideologies, especially when they are made as basis for a solution to the country's problems. This sounds logical, yet difficult to perceive by many in this region, who unfairly expect Lebanon to guard what their leaders only use to keep them in check. For as long as the dictators are allowed to hold the ideological axe of Arab nationalism over our heads, there will be no progress in Lebanon, Syria or any other part of the region.

Arab nationalism? I thought that this ideology went extinct!
I think the rise of political Islam has overtaken Arab nationalism. The Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, the Hamas in Palestine, and the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq in Iraq and the Hizbollah in Lebanon have all superceded Arab nationalism.
That's actually an older phenomenon. What we have now is actually something that's much closer to the first half of the 20th c. That is, an amalgam of Islam and Arabism. I and Charles Paul Freund have referred to it as (Pan-)Arab(ist) Islam(ism). You see it very clearly with Hizbullah and Hamas, where the message is Nasserist Arabism with a heavy Islamic coloring. In other words, it's much closer to the earlier 20th c. amalgams than the theoretical dichotomies that proliferate in academic books (esp. in the US by MES people).

As for al-Qaeda, it too, as I and my friends Matt Frost and Lee Smith have argued, is in fact a heavily Arabo-centric Islamist movement, and you can see it in its hierarchy and other such evidence. It's a bit different though, cause it's related to the convert dynamic, whereby an idyllic ARAB Islam is posited as the most authentic Islam, and that setting, with its Arabic culture (reconstructed of course) become dominant in the proselytizing message (I've linked to a comment by Salman Rushdie on this very issue, and V. S. Naipaul has also commented about this phenomenon, which is really Arabic cultural imperialism. These are not my words, by the way.)

So in essence, this is the predominant message among those groups. And it's much closer to the "original" shall we say, than usually thought, or made for us to think by "experts."

I've posted on this subject extensively, and I'll likely do it again, now with Kais' input.
In my mind i dont consider Pan Arab and Pan Islam to be separate movements. The over lap is substantial . I would even go as far as to suggest that an understanding of political Islam is impossible independent of its Pan Islam roots that could be traced at least as far back as Sayyid Jamal Aldeen AlAfghani. The more recent theoretical roots for Pan Islam , however, are found in the MB through the teachings of Banna and its major theoretician Sayyid Qutb. Again it is instructive to note that Al Maududi , a founder of the Jamati Islami in Pakistan was just as radical in his demanding the creation of a Moslem Ummah. Osamah Bin Laden et al have not added anything to the teachings of Qutb and Maududi.All what they have attempted to do is to revive the idea that conjours a golden era of Islam.Such ideas will always fail because history does not go backward but is always forwrd looking. The susccesses of Pan Islam and Pan Arabism in their current form will not make any major advances.

What does that have to do with Bashar? I trust that his advisors have decided that one of the few cards left for them ,to get out of the self inflicted isolation that they find themselves in, is to play the card of Pan Arabism. But unfortunately they do not seem to have learnt from history that Pan Arabism is an ideology whose time has come and gone. It might come again but not in its present form. Pan Arabism could succeed if an EU model is pursued, a model that preserves local identities of the states. But Bashar's speech was so full of nonsense and errors that even one of his usual fans, exPM Hoss, has disagreed with the speech on a number of issues. I am not sure that Bashar had any memorable performances in the past but definitely this speech is not one of them.
I agree with Anton. While Islamism and Arab nationalism are two different things if you only consider these ideologies in their pure theoretical, there's no clear separation between the two in practice. Both ideologies come in various shades of grey and this explains why people can (and did) switch easily from one to the other. Whenever I point out to the connection between panarabism and panislamism there's always some troll who reminds me that "Michel Aflaq" was Christian and that panarabism is secular by nature (ha!). But those canned arguments don’t really hold when you get a closer look.

We tend to neglect this evident fact: both ideologies are connected at the emotional level. First of all, Islam and the Arabic language are strongly linked in the heads of most people; the separation between Arabic and Islamic culture was never as neat as panarabism’s theoreticians wanted us to believe. Second of all, both ideologies derive from a desire to create large coalition against perceived or real enemies (aka the West) in order to resurrect what is perceived as a golden age. From that perspective, panislamism is just the application of a common prejudice: bigger is better. It is driven by the same emotions that led to the rise of panarabism in the 50’s and 60’s.

I don’t think that metaphysical questioning is the primary reason for Islam’s revival. Islamism is also a form of religious nationalism (panislamism) and it can easily replace Arab nationalism from an emotional point of views. As I said, both ideologies arise from similar feelings.

A lot of people see Islamism as the anti-nationalist ideology 'par excellence' and think that Arab nationalism and Islamism are mutually exclusive by definition. This is gross simplification. Political analysts tend to be to dogmatist with their approach to Arab nationalism and should differentiate between real & practical panarabism and theoretical panarabism the only exists in book. Nasrallah's sympathy for Nasser is not a secret. The Iraqis insurgents in not driven by pure Islam or pure Arab nationalism but by an explosive cocktail combining the two ideologies.
I am not qualified to get into the academic/historical part of this debate. However I'd like to make a very important practical point.

Whatever IT is Arabism/Islamism/Palestinianism, the problem is not its nature but the fact that IT is put UBER ALLES. IT is given more importance than our lives, our economies, our future.

The soviets screw you in the name of the PEOPLE/REVOLUTION.

The Nazi screw you in name of the Fatherland/race.

The Mullahs screw you in the name of Religion/God (on earth).

The Baathist screw you in the name of Arabism/Palestine.

It is the same story.

Bashar and other leaders use IT for their criminal and personal purposes. But when intellectuals and regular people buy into the abstract concept, and accept it above ALL ELSE, they are perpetuating the failed culture and helping tyranny.

If you read my recent blog posts, that's why we cannot advance when we put some ill defined unattainable goal ahead of life itself.

That's why morons like Aridi and Eido say it's Ok if thugs shoot at you as long as it is good for the Arab/Palestinan "cause".

Kais says: Of course Bashar is no real Arab nationalist...
Implicit is that there is a kind of decent real Arab nationalism ( a la EU or whatever), maybe. But I think it is too late for that, the concept needs to be destroyed for now, and left for future generations. (Or at least downgraded to priority number 15, not ONE).

Kais is right As long as the dictators are allowed to hold the ideological axe of Arab nationalism over our heads, there will be no progress..

Yes but many in the Arab world accept to put Arabism/IT (as we know it) above all else without making the link to its catastrophic consequences.
“As long as the dictators are allowed to hold the ideological axe of Arab nationalism over our heads, there will be no progress in Lebanon, Syria or any other part of the region”

Paul-David Wolfowitz is that you hiding behind the Kais nom de plume?

As for al-Qaeda, it too, as I and my friends Matt Frost and Lee Smith have argued, is in fact a heavily Arabo-centric Islamist movement, and you can see it in its hierarchy and other such evidence” [sic]

Yeah sure, the ubber-rationalist fez-wearing linguist went through the “evidence” and came to that crystal clear conclusion: Al-Qaeda is “Arabo-centric” whatever that means…

The Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and the insurgents of Thailand and the Philippines will be glad to learn they’re viewed as later-days Ayyrabz by intellectual luminaries such as Tony and Kais!

And after all, why not? In the 17th century, the Spanish conquerors of Manila used to call the city’s Mohammedan inhabitants “los moros” in reference to the Arabs of Andalusia…

Plus ça change…
Vic-- Wolfowitz sounds like a cool name, I will consider using it in the future. Kais is too Ayyrab and backward. Better than Vega anyway. Really thanks!

Also thank you for noticing that Tony and I have merged. We are now the same person.

And your knowledge of Afghanistan's tribal culture is astonishing, Vic.

You should also be commended for your fact-free arguments. You write like a true Ayyrab, Victorino de la Vega!

"And after all, why not? In the 17th century, the Spanish conquerors of Manila used to call the city’s Mohammedan inhabitants “los moros” in reference to the Arabs of Andalusia…"

First of all, the moros live on the ilsand of Mindinao. Manila is on the island of Luzon. There weren't any Moros in Manila. But, if there HAD been moros in Manila, they weren't "Mohammedan" - unless you are seriously contending that Arabs made their way to the Phillipines before the spaniards did?

How do you manage to use all those multi-syllabic words, and still manage to make such big historical, religious, ethnic and geographical blunders?

Good going man, you almost completely succeed at masking your ignorance!
" unless you are seriously contending that Arabs made their way to the Phillipines before the spaniards did?"

Well there's a famous proverb that says "impossible is not panarabist". :)
« If there HAD been moros in Manila, they weren't "Mohammedan" - unless you are seriously contending that Arabs made their way to the Phillipines before the spaniards did »

Well, dunno mate as they say in East London

1) In classical Spanish “Los Moros” simply meant “The Moors”, not the “Muslim inhabitants of the Philippines”…which by the way was exactly what I was saying earlier

2) Wikipedia says: “Many of the inhabitants of PRE-SPANISH ERA Philippines were said to be of the Muslim faith. Rajah Sulayman, the local chieftain of Manila at the time of Spanish conquest under Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo, was a Muslim”

3) For more, you can check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filipino_Muslim

You probably studied history under professor Kais and/or aspiring “doctor” Tony
Hey Vic,

What does "Negrito" mean?


Are you saying that black africans also made their way to the Phillipines?

"Many of the inhabitants of PRE-SPANISH ERA Philippines were said to be of the Muslim faith"

Yeah, I have a lot of respect for the word "said to" when it comes to history, Vic. It seems Columbus is "said to" have had Arab translators with him, now, so that he could communicate with the muslimes he encountered in the West Indies :D

Seems Hindus are "said to" have been around 150 trillion years to! There are Hindu groups trying to tget our History books modified to include this little tidbit, right now.

Are you REALLY a college professor? Please say that you are not.
As we all know freedom is not free, there is a price associated with it. The unrestricted, unedited access to blogs is a perfect example. Anyone can pretend to be an authority on any subject and post whatever they desire. It is left to the reader to exercise common sense and discard the ridiculous and keep the genuine. Free internet access , especially email, has a price also; a daily load of spam.

Wkipedia is in the same category. Many, maybe most things on it, are accurate and well intended. But this does not change the fact that it is a free encyclopedia that is edited by its readers. Anyreader can edit anypage on any subject. The silly outlandish edits do eventually get discovered and corrected but only after the unsuspecting has been damaged. Please remember that you get what you pay for. Users of Wikipedia use its information at their peril. As an academic, I know of no professor at any university or college that would permit students to rely on Wikipedia for their research. It is simply a resource that is totally reliable and there are very easily accessible substitutes whose verasity and trustworthiness is impeccable. I have never understood the fascination with Wikipedia, why settle for an inferior product when a highly reputable one is equally available and accessible?
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