The Arab Identity.. Caught In between Alienation and Extremism

The Arab Identity.. Caught In between Alienation and Extremism

For the first time in its contemporary post-independence history, our Arab region is witnessing a new, unfortunate development: Arab states resorting to non-Arab powers to mediate in their disputes instead of, as expected, asking any Arab organization or state. That began with Turkey s mediation in negotiations between Israel and Syria, then between Syria and Iraq. Later on, Iran mediated between these two Arab states.

Interestingly, the issue which escalated steadily was the Iraqi government s accusation against Syria of facilitating the movement of extremists across the border between the two countries. Despite the escalation, not a single Arab country attempted to intervene. Unfortunately, calls for continuing the negotiations between the two parties came from France and the USA. What are the implications of such international and regional developments for our Arab region?

No doubt, the main implication is the absence of influential Arab powers from the Arab arena, giving way to foreign powers. Furthermore, it affirms Arabs admission of their failure to resolve regional Arab problems since Saddam Hussein s occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. However, the more obvious implication is he implicit meaning of this noticeable development, which is a sign of the diminishing of the Arab identity which lost its raison d être and basic values. Another implication is that the Arabs loss of their sense of identity has led to the loss of the institutions of joint Arab action, mainly the Arab League, of their credibility. The League was supposed to be the main agency created to resolve pending Iraq-Syria problems and any controversy between any two member states.

Though looking an incidental political issue, it is in fact the product of long cultural changes which this region has undergone in recent decades, not ruling out the deliberate intentions of Western powers very keen to weaken the Arab identity and replace it with Western culture in the long run. In point of fact, this is one of the key ideas drawn by all colonial powers in an attempt to obliterate the identity of the indigenous people in any colony. A good example is the USA in its early attempts to establish its state on the ruins of native Americans. The original plan was to eradicate all signs of their traditional culture and thus undermine their sense of identity and assimilate them into the new community.

Let s consider the signs of the gradual loss of the Arab identity in recent years, including neglecting Arabic at all levels, starting from school which is now witnessing some sort of imposing a certain foreign language as the language of the future, learning and high culture, and even a means of providing good employment opportunities and securing children s future. This is not confined to private schools but extends to importing international schools and foreign universities to be major educational centres everywhere in the Arab World. Most if not all of these universities seek to promote all aspects of Western culture in the Arab communities where they are established.

Foreign Languages and our civilization values

It goes without saying that we are not against learning foreign languages per se, but against their promotion at the expense of our mother tongue, obliterating our cultural identity or losing our Arabic language, which is the repository of our memory, culture, identity, values and heritage. However, undermining the Arabic language is not limited to the concept of foreign education but has also become a media target practised by Arab media organizations in radio and TV commercials in which a colloquial language rather than classical Arabic is used. It is also noted that there is an increasing number of Arab satellite channels which seem to compete in imposing their respective local dialects instead of classical Arabic. Furthermore, some private Arab channels news coverage is given in their local dialects, and some Western and Turkish TV drama serials are subtitled in local dialects.

Even the local press in a number of Arab countries use a colloquial language along with classical Arabic, apparently in an attempt to create an alternative language in each Arab country in place of classical Arabic, the language of the whole of Arab and Islamic culture, despite the fact that experiments show that classical Arabic is readily comprehensible to all, being the language taught to all at school and the language of the Holy Quran. As it is a rich language in terms of aesthetics and rhetoric, famous Arab singers, such as Abdel Wahhab, Farid Alatrash, Asmahan, Umm Kalthoum and Fairouz, succeeded in carrying it in the form of poems to the feelings of people, even the illiterate who memorized them and enjoyed their words and meanings.

The Arab countries will not achieve any progress or development unless they make a genuine effort to restore the Arab identity through cultural plans and strategies on the part of Arab media authorities. Arab satellite channel officials should also be aware of the importance of Arabic as a major factor of public awareness.

In addition, a key role is played by Arab children s channels which air Western children s films and cartoons subtitled in classical Arabic, which enriches and fosters children s language. But this role will be an individual effort unless it is combined with the set of elements which raise Arab youth s awareness of their identity, such as well-produced, exciting documentaries on leading cultural, literary, arts and music icons, as well as ancient and contemporary Arab history. This role is played by the state, in view of its huge costs. Such programmes are no longer just luxury or entertainment but a necessity at this stage as one among many factors which should stress the Arab identity so that the youth are certain of their ability to restore their countries power through their efforts and activities and culture which reflect their specificity and Arab cultural heritage which is rich in honourable effort in all areas.

Such loss of the Arab identity is also reflected in official correspondence at a number of financial institutions and banks and even government agencies where the official language Arabic- is replaced with foreign languages, especially English, despite the fact that countries today are keen to preserve their original languages, resist any attempt to replace them in official correspondence, and plan large budgets to spread their languages all over the world. A good example is the Francophonie and France s role.

Cultural defects

Another phenomenon is the youth s use of a special language combining Latin and Arabic characters in communication on mobiles and computers and in blogs, most of which use a local dialect or a completely invented language in which some young men and women communicate and express their belonging to a specific age group and lifestyle in the absence of government plans intended to protect the national identity and fix its language and cultural values in the hearts and minds of the younger generation.

At another level, some Arab countries, such as Lebanon and Egypt, depend heavily on foreign currencies, such as the euro and the dollar, in transactions at the expense of their local currencies, which is an implicit recognition of the power of the countries which issue those currencies, and a sign of the absence of the state and its prestige. Even in architecture, most Arab countries have obliterated their heritage and replaced it with a modern style , Americanized high rise towers, which do not suit Arab culture, environment, climate or the needs, customs, traditions and lifestyle of the inhabitants at home or work.

These signs have been extensively discussed during the last few decades; however, all words of warning by visionary people have fallen on deaf ears, and thus we are currently suffering from the harsh realities.

Colonialism and the Arab identity

In the light of these realities, it is natural that our current conditions have a negative impact on the key concepts and values on which joint Arab action is based and its institutions established as bodies subject to the Arab states which are untied in Arab Islamic identity with all its cultural and civilization heritage. Consequently, these affairs have been neglected at bilateral and regional levels, in addition to the marked retreat in the role of the Arab League which all but ceased to manage any central Arab affair, dispute or issue. This reflects on all other political institutions engaged in joint Arab action or the process of development at pan-Arab level.

Colonialism in its old crude form attempted to control the entire region and its resources, wealth and raw materials, and when the peoples of he region rose against it, the Arab and developing countries doubled their efforts to restore the last educational and development reforms and infrastructure.

They also attempted to introduce new industries and manage their wealth efficiently. But the old colonial powers didn t just stand there in the face of such progress and tried to halt it in its infancy through indirect domination, mainly economic, supporting ethnic and sectarian separatist movements (Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Morocco and Algeria) and providing them with weapons to come into armed conflicts and in turn hinder and foil any development.

As a matter of fact, we can clearly see the West s attempts to change the character of the region since wars were waged against Arab countries, starting from the 1967 war and defeat, to the American occupation of Iraq. Soon afterwards the West s plan unfolded: the partition of Iraq, provoking sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites, stirring up hatred between Arabs and Kurds which made the latter insist on separation from Iraq.

It is also clear that the regional powers, such as Turkey and Iran, which mediate between Arab countries, eventually play such a role following their own agendas in the region, while the Arabs offer themselves as scapegoats and refuse to draw up any strategic future plans to restore their prestige, power and unity and thus become a major power capable of defending their existence and future. Cutting off or reducing water in the rivers which flow from those powers into the Arab world is a flagrant example of such intervention, which is illegal worldwide.

All signs are that it is unlikely that the Arabs will realize such strategic plans in the near future if the current cultural, political and economic signs of the loss of the Arab identity continue. They will fail to achieve any progress in facing such foreign plans to dominate the region unless they feel the need to make every effort to restore and foster the Arab identity through pan-Arab cultural projects and strategies. Arab ministries of education are certainly largely responsible for developing the teaching of Arabic and arousing interest in it, providing highly qualified teachers to simplify its grammar, as well as for providing Arab youth with masterpieces of Arabic books on arts and science to learn about Arabic scientific and literary heritage and rhetoric and restore public confidence in Arab culture and civilization and human values.

A major aspect of the way plans to obliterate the Arab identity achieve their objectives is making the Arabs lose their confidence in their culture and believe that no progress can be achieved unless they belong to more developed cultures. Accordingly, Arab media and cultural organizations must stand against such plans, stressing that progress does not mean abandoning our national culture in favour of a Western one, for the Arabs, in fact, were the main contributors to the Renaissance which was built on Arabs achievements in science, mathematics, science, thought, philosophy, etc.

Fundamentalism and the Arab identity

In the meantime, it is necessary to differentiate between the restoration of the Arab identity and the role played by such groups that claim to be fundamentalist and argue that religious formalities and signs, like headscarves, beard growth, hatred of life and the culture of indifference, which these groups promote at the expense of the essentials, are the means for restoring the sense of identity. Such a claim is in fact nothing but another aspect of brainwashing the youth into accepting defeatist and suicidal ideas in favour of political interests which undermine Arab societies. This is an involuntary contribution to the success of smart Western plans started hundreds of years ago to fragment Arab societies. This is far from reality and the essence of religion, which stresses the value of reason and thinking as a sign of knowledge and progress for all Muslims, and all religions promote learning as well.

Almost three decades of extremism and terrorism with innocent victims and allegations that that was for the sake of religion have proved that that was against religion, and the history of Islam, which most representatives of these extremist movements claim to be their reference,

does not contain any such signs. The only result of religious extremism which cells for abandoning reality and retrogression, as widely seen around, did nothing but incite sectarian strife which has reached a dangerous level, as seen everywhere in the Arab world, which, like other signs in history, shows how deep the identity crisis is.

Numerous incidents in history show that sectarian strife, civil wars and terrorist acts are the product of a crisis in common identity and disintegration of its basic ingredients which should preserve the unity of society in terms of coexistence of the ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, sectarian and regional origins of its members and make it accept the system of government and the social hierarchy arising from it. This is the common scene in every sectarian strife in Arab Muslim societies and any other society, like Russia and Cambodia, which indicates that this phenomenon is of the same type: an identity crisis, while the extremist movements have slogans that are more acceptable to them.

The mission of religion, particularly Islam, is unity and rejection of fragmentation. It never clashes with knowledge or the factors of progress, welfare, hard work as well as reasoning and the use of science and philosophy. That s what we really need today in order to restore our Arab identity and in turn our role as an influential power in the international community. This will be possible once we deal with many of our domestic problems and crises, particularly in view of the fact that we are living in an age whose main mark is globalization, and, accordingly, the need to restore our identity is no longer a delayed project but rather a matter of destiny. Without our identity, our fate would be like that of other civilizations which disappeared because they succumbed to the obliteration of their identity, leaving behind stories about such weakness that makes peoples and civilizations fall and go unheeded.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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