Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Historic Chance to Save what Could be Saved | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Buses gather at Aleppo’s Ramousseh crossing, before driving to Rashidin, west of Aleppo, to pick up the civilians stranded following a suicide car bombing on April 15. (AFP Photo)

By the end of Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990), the Lebanese discovered a truth that a pre-Islamic young and brilliant poet named Tarafa Ibn Al-‘Abd had touched on more than 1,400 years ago when he said: Being maltreated by close relatives is more painful than being hit with a sword!

The Lebanese those days, each in his/her religiously homogeneous ‘canton’ run by a single status quo authority, realized how difficult it was to co-exist with armed bullies from the same community; sometimes even from the same clan. It felt much more painful than being maltreated by others.

During that period, state institutions had all but collapsed. In many areas road blocks were erected to protect dividing ceasefire lines and fiefdoms, manned by armed young men (and sometimes women) under various religious and sectarian justifications. As time passed by, and militiamen began to enjoy more sway than ordinary citizens, abuse of excess power emerged, and with it public resentment as well as political and personal feuds within the very same religious/sectarian camp.

This was the case with almost every Lebanese region or area. It continues today in the shadow of a fully-fledged armed sectarian hegemony, next to which the whole Lebanese political scene looks like a stage decoration, nothing else.

The same is true in other Arab entities, such as Iraq and Syria, both of which are currently going through what Lebanon has. In both countries, abuse and maltreatment have been the result of fellow citizens or communities enjoying excessive power, thus imposing their hegemony over the rest of the population. Certainly, this phenomenon will have dire consequences unless wisely dealt with in the right way and the right time, with full awareness of how important it is to contain ills of incitement, dictatorship, and marginalizing others.

Given the above, there are two inter-connected elements, both our Arab region and the Muslim world, need to address wisely and decisively when necessary: The first is terrorism of every religious, sectarian or ethnic identity. The second is how majorities treat minorities, in order to ensure that injustice does not lead to morally or humanely justifying any action detrimental to all.

Arab and Muslim identities are those of the ethnic and religious majority in the ‘Arab world’, extending from Oman in the east to Morocco and Mauritania in the west. This is a fact. However it does not tell the whole story, as there are many details worth keeping in mind. It is not acceptable any more that our youth grow up unaware of the benefit of ‘unity in diversity’, and the common interest in peaceful co-existence. In this day and age of high tech interaction and easy travel, cultural, educational and geographic borders have become almost non-existent. Thus, it would be suicidal for Arabs and Muslims to ignore what is taking place around them. They, simply, do not live in another planet!

A few days from now, Riyadh will host an unprecedented Arab-Islamic-American summit that is expected to highlight the importance of ending the fruitless dialogues between the Arabs and the West, Islam and the West, and between some Muslims and some Arabs, too.

The November victory of the current American leadership, whose ultimate political decisions are of institutional rather than personal nature, has uncovered a real problem in how American society views Islam. On the other hand, terrorist crimes committed by Arabs and Muslims in Europe, during the last few years, have also highlighted a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between them and their host nations.

Furthermore, Donald Trump’s victory was achieved against the emergence of wrong theory inside the US, more so during Barack Obama’s two terms in office, that there is a ‘good Islam’ with which one can do business with and a ‘bad Islam’ that is extremist by nature, and thus, incorrigible.

This wrong theory has produced the JCPOA with Iran, and prevented any American action that could have stopped the Arab Region’s slide toward extremism as a reaction to Iran campaign for hegemony. Iran’s campaign has fueled civil strife in Iraq, Syria and Yemen under the pretexts of resisting Israeli occupation, and bringing down USA’s regional influence; and yet former President Obama turned a blind eye and decided to do nothing about it. Obama’s justification was twofold: One, that Iran’s Islam was of the good ‘type’; two, that its rhetoric as radical as it may sound was in fact ‘reserved for local consumption, as it had no intentions of threatening Israeli and US interests.

In the meantime, those conspiring against the future of the Middle East have been quite happy to see extremism begetting counter extremism that justifies fear, which in turn justifies seeking foreign intervention, en route to making partition an acceptable case for self-defense, indeed, self-preservation.

Today this is exactly the background of what is unfolding in Syria and Iraq, where everybody maybe a beneficiary from the future partition map except the Syrians and Iraqis themselves. Ordinary Syrians and Iraqis will not be happy to be forced out of their ancestral homes. There is no interest for them in population exchange carried out for sectarian reasons in the aftermath of mass destruction of cities and countryside, and sowing the seeds of hatred and blood feuds.

Knowingly, or unknowingly, extremists and brain-washed henchmen went along with the tit-for-tat factional violence; and gradually, those brandishing arms and trading in slogans dominated the political scene, at the expense of the sincere and honest fighters for peaceful change, justice and human rights.