Arab Nationalism and the Poisoned Palestinian Chalice

The original flag of Arab Nationalism, its colours are in a number of present day Arab Nation's flags

The identity of what is now Arab Nationalism, and is reflected in the use by many countries of the black-green-white and red-triangle flag, reflects little of what it was founded on.  Why is that?

It could be argued that the ideal was spoiled each and every time it had a boost.  From the time of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed united Arab tribes, the greed of man segmented it.  As the Arab tribes immigrated along with the spread of Islam, a great united Empire is created and then fragmented at the pen-ultimate moment, again by greed or anger at greed.   We can, to a degree, understand those hard and difficult times and most certainly the rest of the world suffered similarly.

The modern and distinctive rise of Arab Nationalism has its roots in an attempt to push back the Anatolian hegemony over Arab lands and culture through the Ottoman Empire.   The Ottomans had a tenuous but nevertheless firm grip over almost the entire Arab world except its extreme west (what is now Morocco and Mauretania) and portions of the lower edges of the Arab Peninsular.   As the education and participation of Arabs increased, to necessitate the running of the vast Empire, so did the aspirations of those very people increased.  These are, in fact, classic elements of pre-decolonization throughout the world.   The re-emergence of popular Arab literature, press freedom and a distinct cultural identity spurned the popularization that any nationalistic movement requires.

Wikipedia’s rather comprehensive item on Arab Nationalism is worth reading in total, and had this to say about the foundation of pan-Arabism:

The first stirrings of Arab nationalism have been detected by some historians as early as the 1860s, but it is more commonly accepted that as a sustained political movement it began early in the twentieth century. This followed the reimposition of the Ottoman constitution in 1908, and the greater freedom of the press and of political expression that resulted throughout the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. A tendency that has since come to be known as “Arabism” rapidly appeared: It stressed the ethnic identity of the Arabs and emphasized their common cultural roots. It also called for equality for Arabs with other national groups within the empire. As well as being influenced by European models and by reinterpretations of the Arab and Islamic past, Arabism was strongly affected by the rise of nationalism among the Turks, Armenians, and other peoples of the Ottoman Empire at this time.

The Arabist tendency built on the work of several groups of writers and thinkers, including the pioneers of the renaissance of the Arabic language, the Nahda. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, this group produced new printed editions of the classics of Arabic literature, as well as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and works of history and literature, mainly in Beirut and Cairo. Another group, whose work was influential in a different way, was the Islamic reformers known as salafis, most of them from Syria and Lebanon, who argued for a return to the practices of the earliest days of Islam, and thus emphasized the period of Islamic history when the Arabs were dominant. Among them were the writers Rashid Rida, Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Tahir al-Jaza’iri, Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, and Abd al-Razzaq al-Bitar. In addition, there were authors and publishers who traveled to Egypt to escape the censorship that increasingly afflicted the rest of the Ottoman Empire after 1876, and remained to publish newspapers, journals, and books. All these groups contributed to the growth of the Arabist idea.

The clear reference to the “other group”, the “Salafis”, shows a distinct draw-back to the expansion of an Arab national identity, how radicalism hitch-hikes on the back of other movements and begins the slow-but-steady process of infiltration and infection (see my item on Islamism, Salafi and Wahhabis in the special section of Blootstellen).

To cut a well-documented history short, the process and movement to create pan-Arab nationalism took its roots at the end of the Ottoman Era and was spurned further by the impending hegemony of European powers and the advancement of communication and liberties mostly brought by those very same colonizers.  The attempt to promote a resurgence of an identifiable past Arab, and to a lesser degree, Islamic-wide cultural identity backfired, with the latter forming a distinct “ism” itself in the form of political-Islam or Islamism.  Political groups were formed, some very secular and following well known political variants, others combining varying levels of Islamic conservativeness with political ideology.   Nevertheless, there was the makings of a large Arab-speaking identity took form in a political and wide-spread cultural nationalism.     

During the First World War, the desire to shrug-off the Ottomans caused Arabs to support the British in its war, but with serious aspirations of independence that was not mostly granted.   It also caused the more radical nationalist groups to side with radicals outside the sphere, if it helped fulfill their aspirations.   After the war, the Muslim Brotherhood, greatly concerned over Zionism’s pressure to have a Jewish Homeland and a hatred for British and French interests in Egypt sided with the growing popularity of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany who in turn offered support for their independence and was distinctly anti-Semitic (and thus would not tolerate anything Jewish).  This politically-inspired anti-Semitism choice is the first taste of the “Poisoned Chalice” of this item.   This continued and flourished, but the entire push was itself hijacked by the events of the Second World War.

The changes in European power, the Allied victory, the need and promises to nationalist movements for support (whom learned their lessons from the first war) contributed to a growing and obvious surrender to autonomy and nationalism that eventually lead to both independence of Arab nations but also the creation of the Israeli State.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leading pan-Arab Nationalist

At the forefront was the militant nationalist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and political identities Michel Aflaq (a Christian) and Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Zaki al-Arsuzi the founders of the Ba’ath Party.  

The Winds of Change and a different Arab Nationalism

The creation, independence or freedoms given to various Arab countries was the death of the original pan-Arab nationalism.  It died because they had it and then they divided it.  The greed of men, the addition of various western systems and political ideologies guaranteed division and not unification.  The creation of fledgling democracies, autocratic Monarchies, Marxist-Leninist states, a division was a forgone conclusion.

The creation of Israel was the catalyst for a vastly different pan-Arab Nationalism and it was hijacked from the start.

Irrespective of the justification and the resulted catastrophic results for some, Israel now exists and is not going away.   The politics and the results of Israel, the enigma of Palestinian homelessness and the conflicts surrounding it are well known and are not going to be re-described again here.  For the purpose of this essay, the impact of the creation of Israel has an important position in what is Arab Nationalism now. 

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat - his desire for a Palestinian Nation lead him to the dark side....

A combination of the expected support for the Arab Palestinians whom were dispossessed, the need for unification of Arab nations, the game-playing between Arab nations, the co-current game-playing between the West-Soviet spheres and the desires of the more radical Islamist movements is what happened.  Like the mouth-full I just wrote, we can call it “a mess”.

The Palestinian migration, dispersion and activism were given a sympathetic ear by all Arab and Muslim nations, desperate to have that global voice and if it took a common enemy, so be it.  Israel was condemned, the nations imposing and supporting it equally so.  The differences between the West and the Muslim-Arab world were already large, now it was a gulf.

Those Arab countries trying to push their weight around with the major players in the West – be it only in their own mind or for domestic consumption – pushed the link further.   Created in March 1945, the Arab League was fragile and there to discuss internal disputes. But after the creation of the Israeli State, “Joint Defense and Economic Cooperation” was agreed and formalized on April 13, 1950 that committed the signatories to coordination of military defense measures.

The Cold-War between the US lead NATO Allies and the Soviet-Bloc had a mixed result.  Their willingness to spend billions on propping up regimes and providing weapons and technology (at the cost of ideology and other agreements) pitted many members against each other as well as give the capacity for nations to push aggression towards enemies.  That galvanizing issue of Palestinian support pushed Israel as the number one target and raised the stakes for conflict in that region considerably.  We know the result and I need not go into that at all.

Islamist movements to a greater degree had all the success in their radical plans.   Playing with the key human interests and emotions that faith does, they played the religious card.   As in the theme of my items about how “radicals are willing to alter their faith, standards and morals to support their agenda, rather than the opposite”, radical Islamism certainly did the same.

The ugly marriage of radical theology and militant extremism caused the Iranian Revolution and the birth of modern violent Islamism

Judaism and Jews have always had it tough in history, being targeted constantly from all sides, but if looked at from a theological point, are the older brothers and sisters of Christianity and Islam.   All three share the Abrahamic Faith and scriptures of the later two, recognize Judaic scriptures.     Islam specifically states that all good “children of the Book” (Christians and Jews) will stand side-by-side with Muslims at Judgment Day (my quote and I will not go into Islamic scriptures in this essay, so do not expect sources).  Anti-Semitic rhetoric has come from all sides, both Christian and Muslim for centuries and always for political reasons and never directly religious.  What changed?

Islamist movements, from the time of the Muslim Brotherhood up to this very present day, have for political point scoring and gaining support via the Palestinian Issue, have pushed anti-Semitism to the forefront, and from the lips of clerics and theologians.   In the past, it was quelled by the Islamic Institutions that wielded much influence and power over Muslims but over the last century most of them have been also infiltrated by political Islamist movements or have chosen to politicize their faith as well.   The Fez-based Maliki Islamic School of Jurisprudence and the oldest running degree-issuing University in the World (Al Karaouine, opened in the year 956 in Morocco) however, has and

Iranian Stamp, grossly anti-Semitic, pushed by the Islamic Republic and yet un-Islamic

continues to condemn anti-Semitic rhetoric as un-Islamic.  It is not a coincidence that Morocco today still has strong ties to its Jewish heritage, a strong albeit still diminished Jewish population living still in historic quarters in ancient medinas and even has Israeli and other Jewish tourists visiting in large quantities.  An example of what it was like and how it should be some would say.

Osama Bin Laden - a product of Wahhabi Saudi extremism

Modern day Religious-Political Ugliness

The power of faith is at the heart of man’s emotions and has been the trump card for all the beauty and ugliness that mankind has been able to produce in this world; so that it is still being played is no surprise.   Add to that a willing and vulnerable audience, dispossessed, angry, poor, and uneducated and often a captured audience (the only school is often a Mosque’s back-room) and you have a mass following.   It was inevitable, perhaps, that Islamists and ultra-conservative Imams, Mullahs and Ayatollahs would combine and capture even more followings by adding the Palestinian issue to its arsenal of “evidence”.

In more recent times, since the Iranian Revolution to be exact, things have come out of hand. Islamist movements have simply now taken power over countries, by force of arms. The combination of Islamist and militant revolutionary is an ugly hybrid that is doomed to violence, autocracy and hypocrisy.   Religious leaders are willing to usurp their religious dogma to support revolutionary aspirations to gain their might, the revolutionaries themselves are willing to give up their ideology and desires to fight off one evil by signing up to support another (or to become it).   The Iranian revolution was not only the downfall of the tyrannical corruption of the questionably authentic Pahlavi Dynasty, but it caused a panic in neighboring Kingdoms with strong Salafi, Wahhabi and other Islamist movements.   Saudi Arabia, always strongly conservative, bowed down to the even more hard-line and extremist Wahhabi population with backwards results that only in the last few years is being slowly turned corrected.

Talibanism and Al Qaeda – the two forces that arguably the world is currently at war with are direct results of the Iranian Revolution with examples of combining religious extremism with a militant arm to enforce its views on others.   Both clearly are combinations of the giving up of religious principles to suit alternative political and cultural needs that normally would be in conflict with each other.  Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden is a child of the Wahhabi extremist growth in Saudi Arabia caused from the Iranian example and we can all feel the bitter results that have come from that.   Though Israel is far from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is still the topic, the number one enemy of both.   Iran, the first example of this ugly combination, threatens Israel constantly even if it continues to condemn its people to embargoes, isolation and possible retribution.

The Palestinian Chalice

What of the cause itself, the “Palestinian Question”?  This essay does not touch the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself and though I have my own opinions, I do not discuss it here at all.  Most of my opinions are available on Blootstellen in various places and can be found out easily enough.   The issue of the legitimacy of Israel, its right to defend itself and have its own peace and tranquility for its citizens is equally expressed in other items, as are direct comments about Israeli policies.  What this essay does touch is the benefit to modern-day radicalized Arab-Nationalism and anti-Semitism of the Palestinian cause. 

Basing this essay on the reality that there is a Palestinian Diaspora, homelessness, camps, suffering and a very strong independence movement, what affect are the Palestinians themselves on the Arab Nationalism that is galvanized behind them – if they still are in fact.

The Palestinians, to a degree, have been their own worst enemy.   In the early stages they were a cohesive force, which they certainly are no longer.   They had little support from other Arab Nations and until the above mentioned political self-interest occurred were crippled.   Acts of aggression were to a degree not surprising and for them it was war but more and more they started down the line of terrorism and lost their victim status quickly.  When backing did come, in the questionable form it did, political and later religious radicalism forced itself into the mix.

Arafat chose to side with Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War because of the promiss to attack Israel

As refugees, accepted by neighboring countries, they were the worst of house guests.  They brought their conflict with them to the dismay and later suffering of The Lebanon and Jordan.  In the case of the former, it brought direct war that still preoccupies the life of the south of that country and damaged the economy of that country to this day.   In Jordan the same was occurring to the point that they were told to desist or leave, they chose neither and attempted a coup-de-tat.    Later in the First Gulf War, they chose to side with the aggressor, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, simply because he promised and did attack Israel.  Israel did not respond through desperate pleading from Western governments that could have sparked another conflict and possibly the finishing of any collective Palestinian presence at all.   To sum up these events, the Palestinians have made endless wrong decisions and made more enemies than friends and certainly hurt their case for sympathy from the world’s peoples. 

In more recent times, the radical Islamist movements have taken hold and the Palestinian Territories are cut in half, with The Brotherhood spin-off “Hamas” taking over control of the Gaza Strip.   The radical Hamas organization is at perpetual conflict with Israel and plays its game intelligently.  It gives the illusion that it cares for its population and with a not-so-hidden thug tactics is able to win elections.  It relies on the blockade of Israel for its own survival and yet uses that blockade to justify its hard-lines.    In the South of Lebanon, the Iranian-backed and Shia hard-liner Hezbollah movement does the same and is an inspiration and example for Hamas.  They have the benefit of not being blockaded and a direct source of income and armament from Iran and have had success in dealing with weaknesses that Israel has.   They are strongly linked and supportive to the Palestinian cause because of a common enemy and yet are distancing themselves from the Palestinian Authority not because of their preference to work with Hamas, but because they know the Palestinians Authority is unable to manage their issues themselves.

To a degree, this essay is about Palestinian politics and how “the Cause” has been usurped and to a degree lost through radicalism.    Supposedly, Arab Nationalism today is all about a mutual Arab Identity, economics and includes support for the creation of a Palestinian homeland.   In reality, it does not, it is an excuse for self-absorbing agendas and radicalism to flourish and the losers are the Palestinian people themselves whom are no closer to a homeland or a solution to their plight.   That extreme political and radical religious Islamists have all but taken hostage of the issue, again to the benefit of their own agendas and certainly not for the Palestinians.   That these agendas are more about hatred and not about peace, that no matter what you think and what the Israeli Authorities are doing and their own agendas, that their people are suffering to a degree as well.

The idea of pan-Arab nationalism, an Arab Identity and unity of the Arab people is a great ideal but has been dead in the water since World War II, since then it has been about personalities, politics and agendas.  Those who drank the poisoned Palestinian Chalice are only fooling themselves and the Chalice needs to be cleansed, rinsed and filled from another source, hopefully one with a flavor of peace and not hypocrisy.

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About donny2811
Trots Nederlands, goed gereist en een begerige politieke centrist met een speciale afkeer voor basissen.

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