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.