Sunday, November 21, 2004

Time for History Lessons for Arabs and Americans

History keeps repeating itself because people either forget its lessons or won’t learn from them. Arabs and Americans have something in common these days. We suffer from Alzheimer’s. Take the business of war, for example. Who would believe that after some fourteen centuries Arabs are still disputing over who was to succeed the Prophet (pbuh) — Abu Baker, Omar or Ali? What difference does it make today to millions of Shiite and Sunni Muslims about who was right in the war after the death of Caliph Othman? Don’t we have enough troubles on our plate today instead of trying to solve differences among people who died 1400 years ago? America is at — or perhaps within — our gates and we are repeating the mistakes of those who discussed what came first — chicken or egg — while their enemies took their city.
In the last fifty years we have gone from independence struggles to wars of dependence. The first thing we did after liberation was to submit to neocolonization. In place of Britain, Italy and France, we went after the new superpowers of the day, America and Soviet Union. The Cold War divided our Arab nation and put us in opposing camps, fighting each other more than fighting the enemy. Meanwhile Israel developed from a gang of Zionists, terrorizing Palestinian villages and murdering women and children into a major nuclear power that is now, through its superpower ally, the US, terrorizing the entire region.
Chances for solving many of our problems and disagreements presented themselves time and again, but we never missed a chance to miss a chance. We were almost always ruled by dictators though they called themselves by other names. Freedom and democracy, scientific and economic liberation proved to be the way to go but we still persist in and cling to our miserable old, ways. Rulers come and go, but dictatorships, corruption and captivity go on ... until we perish at the bottom of civilization and history.
The Americans have a similar record of failure in their history classes as well. In two hundred and twenty-eight years of independence, the Americans have been engaged in two hundred wars. Since the end of World War II, America has waged wars in 22 countries. A century and a half since the end of black slavery and forty years after the civil rights struggle, the race struggle continues. Black and Latino ghettos in American cities are filled with drugs, gang wars and economic failures. Still in the circles of power, few questions are asked and even fewer solutions discussed. History might yet be repeated.
I won’t go into Vietnam because not much can be added. Hollywood has never stopped turning out movies about the period and libraries are full of books about the lessons to be learned from that war. It is worth noting that one of the political players during the Vietnam War, Donald Rumsfeld, has been a major mover and shaker in the most recent American war. Other players who should have learned from Vietnam and the first Gulf War also failed to do so. Colin Powell who fought in Vietnam and directed the first Gulf War fell for the neocons’ schemes. Even if true that he resisted the current, he should have resigned much earlier. In the courts of history, his hands are as bloody as any of the neocons. Now what about the history lesson of Afghanistan? When the former Soviet Union invaded that Muslim country to replace a hostile regime and install an ally, America revived Islamic jihad after centuries of inactivity and gave it full support. Billions of dollars and military, political and intelligence aid were provided. The US — rightly — led the world community to denounce the invasion as a breach of international law. It did the same when Iraq invaded Kuwait. After the Soviet withdrawal, America supported another kind of Mujahedeen, the Taleban. Hand in hand with Pakistan, it helped the new Salafi movement take control of a war-torn country. Ten years later, America invaded and occupied that country, as well as doing the same in the much tougher geopolitical terrain of Iraq. This time the Mujahedeen of the world didn’t need any help. They already know what to do and how to do it. The enemy is different, but the story is familiar: The crusaders are returning less than fifty years after the “official” independence from colonialism. A clash of civilizations begins and another liberation war is warranted.
I don’t know how many more lessons we, Arabs and Americans need before we learn from history. What I do know, however, is that we are making not only ourselves but the entire world suffer. It is about time we opened our history books, read them carefully and learned from them.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why Palestine Is So Dear to Us

Many Americans cannot appreciate the link between the anger of 1.5 billion Muslims and the plight of few million Palestinians on a small piece of land that makes less than one percent of the Muslim world. To them, this is a sorrowful affair, but not enough of a cause for the resultant clash of civilizations. Instead, they suggest, Palestinians could easily be absorbed in the Arab and Muslim world. Life goes on. End of story.
Just imagine if someone suggested that the destruction of a couple of towers in New York, and a single wall in the Pentagon, and the death of some 3,000 people, not all of them Americans, do not deserve the anger of 260 million Americans. There are more people killed in accidents and crimes in a day. An earthquake or a hurricane could have caused similar destruction and loss of lives.
What is the big deal? The buildings can be easily rebuilt. The families of the victims and the owners of affected buildings can be nicely compensated. Life goes on. End of story.
But no. America was rightly upset, rightly angry, and rightly resolute on punishing those responsible for mass-murdering Americans and insulting America. We do disagree on why this happened, what is the appropriate response, and who should be punished. But we certainly agree that America was attacked and insulted and must respond in kind. Punishment should match the crime.
Similarly, how could any just person suggest that the uprooting of millions from their ancestors’ homeland can be easily compensated somewhere else? I understand that in America people move around. Except for Natives, all came from other continents. In the Old World, it was different. A land where my ancestors were buried, my history was made, my culture is based can’t be easily replaced. Given the choice, an old family house in a poor village is a world better than a luxurious Manhattan apartment or a Swiss chalet.
If the Jews of the world feel the same toward a homeland they left four thousands years ago, what of the Palestinians who were kicked out only forty or fifty years ago and have no place they could call home.
But if that is the case for the Palestinians, what is the stake for Muslims and Arabs? I could ask the same question of Americans. What was in it for the West to intervene on behalf of Christians of East Timor, Sudan and the old Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?
In Islam, we are a big family, all for one, one for all. Fellow Muslims are regarded as brothers and sisters. What affects one in Chechnya or Kashmir hurts us all.
In addition, Palestine is a holy land. Jerusalem is as holy to Muslims as it is to Christians and Jews.
For us, Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, are an extended family. Of course, we care about the schoolgirl who was shot twenty times by an Israeli solider who wasn’t justly punished for it. Surely, we feel bitter about what happened to the little boy who was targeted by Israeli soldiers and died in his father’s hands. You bet we feel the pain of hundreds of families, whose homes were destroyed in days by Israeli bulldozers as a collective punishment.
We don’t need to be Arabs or Muslims to feel sorry for them, any decent human should, as Americans, rightly, expected us to feel about the victims of 9/11. The world felt the pain of both Americans and Palestinians and demanded justice. The difference is: America is a nuclear superpower, and can take justice into its hands, never mind the UN, world law and opinion. The Palestinians can only hit back against the sophisticated, overwhelming Israeli killing machines, with stones, small fire, and human bombers.
Now that our stand, as Muslims and Arabs, is, hopefully, clear, let me explain why we blame America, more than Israel, for our pain. First, America was the first in the world to recognize Israel. It took President Truman 10 minutes to do so in 1948. On the other hand, it took generations for the US to recognize any Palestinian representative. The US was the last country in the world, other than Israel, to recognize the PLO, years after the UN recognized it as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
For fifty years now, the US chose to blindly support Israel against the Arabs. It vetoed tens of Security Council resolutions. It voted, mostly alone, with Israel some eighty UN resolutions. It supplied Israel with hundreds of billions of dollars in cash and sophisticated arms and guaranteed loans. In short, by providing the bloodline to an otherwise failed state, the US is more than a partner in crime. It is the mother ship.