ARAB UNITY UBER ALIS
By Micah Halpern
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
One of my biggest and most often repeated critiques of the Arab world is their own lack of critique, their own lack of self-criticism. One of the most significant weaknesses of Arab-leadership, Arab intelligentsia and the Arab masses has been that they have all, blindly and boldly, followed the move to extremism.
As fractured and as divided as they are internally, the Arab world has always determined to present a cohesive, united front to the rest of the world. Now, suddenly, we are beginning to see cracks in the facade of Arab harmony and unity. Distinct voices are being heard, publicly and in the press, speaking lovingly of their people but critical of the direction the Arab world has taken.
Muslim Fundamentalism is being chastised for turning the Arab world into a violent world. Muslim Fundamentalism is being blamed for altering the very fabric of Arab life and turning every facet of Arab life into an act of destruction.
The fear of intimidation is gone. The fear of destroying the myth of Arab unity is vanishing. The fear of an Arab world bent only on violence and destruction has become too great to suppress. By embracing violence and by turning violence into their primary means of problem solving, both internally and in dealings with the outside world, the Arab world has severely diminished not only the way they are perceived by the outside world, but also the way in which they perceive themselves.
Hosni Mubarak the acknowledged big brother and political advisor to a large segment of the Arab world is the first Arab leader to acknowledge the flawed path Islam has taken and to speak out for change. Last week the president of Egypt delivered his message by means of the national Egyptian media. In a live television appearance Mubarak, a man who minces no words, said: "Shouldn't we Muslims shoulder part of the responsibility of these wrong ideas about Islam? Have we fulfilled our duty in correcting the image of Islam and the Muslims? What did we do to face a terrorism that wears Islam's cloak and targets the lives of the people."
In essence, Mubarak was telling his fellow Muslim leaders as well as all believers that the future of the Arab world is in their own hands, that Arabs must play a major role in the way they themselves are perceived by the rest of the world, that they have done nothing to confront the murderers of innocent people, that they have instead supported terrorists by supporting Islamic radicals. Mubarak chose harsh words to clearly define an even harsher reality.
Even more revealing - and much more surprising than the critique leveled by Mubarak, is the very personal expression of concern and condemnation that came from Dr. Ghazi Hamad, one of the leading spokesmen of Hamas. Yes, Hamas.
In a very self critical column published in the Palestinian weekly al-Ayam. Hamad posed some very thoughtful and introspective questions reprimanding his own society. He takes them to task for embracing violence as a way of life, for allowing violent means to supplant any and all other forms of personal expression. Hamad asked: "Are we truly a violent society?" "Do we suffer from the chronic illness of violence?" "Have we become people who believe that all our problems can be resolved only through violence, with a bullet, a shell, a blatant leaflet and harsh words?"
Truly, this is one of the first times in a very long time that I am hearing material of this critical nature coming out of the Middle East. The best and only serious self-critique we have heard has, until now, come from ex-pat Muslims musing from the safety of the West, in interviews given to al-Hayat, the largest Arabic London-based newspaper, posturing on al Jazeera or even penning op-eds for The New York Times.
The Muslim world had fallen victim to its own violence. The radical Muslim world intended for violence to be a response to the non-Muslim world. And it was. But now that violence has spread and engulfs the world it was supposed to protect.
The threat of Muslim violence to the Western world is real, but it is not existential. The true tragedy is that the Muslim world has attached so much value to the warped myth of Arab unity uber alis that is has empowered the myth to destroy the value of human life.