REBIRTH OF ARAB NATIONALISM? IOSCA (SEPT.12, 2006)
REBIRTH OF ARAB NATIONALISM?
Lebanon war revives Arab nationalist feelings, not of a socialist-secular Nasserite vintage, but of a universal Islamic kind.
Some observers see the post-war surge in Arab national pride as rebirth of Arab nationalism that had begun to fade after the 1967 Arab-Israel war. By the time Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser died (September 28, 1970), the idea of Arab nationalism had receded considerably.
The highest point in the Arab national destiny came in 1956 when Nasser stood firm in the face of three invading armies " Israeli, French and British " till international pressure forced the invaders to withdraw. The 19th and the first half of 20th century had seen Egypt being continuously insulted, ruled or manipulated by the French and British. Nasser’s firmness had given vent to pent-up Arab anger over French excesses in Algeria, British double-dealing in Palestine, and their colonial viciousness in Egypt and other Arab lands.
The Nasserite revolution was secular-socialist in orientation, which many saw as a counterpoint to Islamic doctrinal principles. Nasserism inspired the rise of a number of Arab political leaders from Jaffar al-Numeri of Sudan and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and even Hafez al-Asad of Syria. However, from early on it was evident that the Arab socialist-secular nationalism was turning out to be a counterpart to the traditional understanding of, belief in, and practice of Islam by Arab masses.
It was quite natural that countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan constituted the other pole of Arab politics. A time came when the Arab socialist leadership was seen in the Soviet- or Soviet-backed Non-Aligned camp while the other group was firmly placed in the West-supported bloc. Both the camps were at odds with Israel, which was openly and unfairly supported by the West in all its excesses against Arabs.
The Arab debacle in the 1967 war with Israel destroyed Nasserism and Arab socialism. Its lowest point came in the late 1980s when Syrian President Hafez al-Asad was reported regretting that Arab nationalism and its secular-socialist ideal had wasted their energies by making them chase a mirage. He went on to say that had he been born again he would prefer to be an Islamist.
Islamism had at least one advantage over Arab nationalism. By putting their Islamic identity in front the Arabs gain the sympathy and support of the entire Muslim world, while emphasising their Arab nationalist identity they exclude themselves from the entire Muslim world as it naturally de-empasises the Islamic heritage common to all Muslims.
The argument against Arab secular-socialist nationalism is that both Islam and nationalism are overarching, totalising doctrines. Thus they cannot co-exist. However, what we have been witnessing in the post-Lebanon war is fundamentally different from the Nasserist phenomenon.
The new Arab consciousness is primarily Islamic in its orientation, not secular-socialist like the earlier one. One of the most respected journalists working from West Asia, Robert Fisk, has commented that a mere rag-tag amalgam of non-state fighters has done in Lebanon what the regular Arab armies have failed to do. The Hizbullah killed nearly 200 Israelis and destroyed several tanks despite being virtually unarmed.
The Arab population that had regularly been seeing on their TV sets the excesses of American and British occupation forces in Iraq, and by American-equipped and financed Israeli army in Palestine everyday on their TV sets has been convinced by Hizbullah fighters that even Arabs can stand up and fight against aggressors. Also, these fighters are inspired by Islam only, not nationalism or socialism as the earlier leaders were.
As always American media was busy overtime trying to convince Arabs and the rest of the world that Hizbullah was not fighting for Islam, but Shia Islam. They tried this mischievous line in Iraq as well, trying to divide the resistance and the House of Islam in Shia and Sunni factions. To bolster their propaganda against the universal, undifferentiated Muslim identity American media tried to create the scare that if Hizbullah was allowed to survive it would act like a spearhead against the majority of Sunni Arabs.
American and British media repeatedly highlighted the pronouncement of a Saudi cleric that Hizbullah was not the party of God (that’s what the word means in Arabic), but Hizbus Shaitan (the party of Satan). Nobody in the Muslim world took this openly mischievous American, British and Israeli propaganda.
Despite extensive damage to Lebanese life, limb and property America, Britain and Israel completely failed to achieve their war aim. Arabs were not impressed by Western arms, much less overawed by them. The worst part of it was that President George W. Bush met Jewish leaders staging a pro-Israel, pro-war demonstration and expressed solidarity with them completely ignoring Muslim or Arab opinion. Their media drummed up the propaganda that governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan were supporting the Israeli aggression against “Shia militancy”.
All said and done, the celebration among common Arabs may be premature, because America may get another, more devastating Israeli war launched against Lebanon, this time with more deadly American-supplied weapons. (Contrary to normal practice, America had been continuously supplying weapons and ammunition to Israel during the war itself).
The outbreak of another war could not be ruled out till this piece was being written (September 15, 2006) because hawkish Israelis were baying for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s blood for having waged a war which failed to impress Arabs. Israelis may come back with greater preparation to avenge their “humiliation”. America had been persuading Israel to launch this attack against Lebanon, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. With so much external and internal pressure the Israelis might start another war on the slightest pretext. g