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The problem is not about having a loud or muted voice, it’s about having a noble cause to defend. This is precisely the point of comparison between two speeches that were simultaneously delivered; the first was one without a conclusion or boundaries, speaking of everything and saying nothing, while the second was brief, calm and succinctly to the point. The first speech was given by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, a televised appearance aired from some location in Tripoli on Al-Jazeera’s screen – or rather, it’s podium in Qatar, while the second was the one delivered by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to the Arab leaders attending the recent Riyadh summit.

The colonel stated the known facts, talk that is more appropriate for chitchat sessions and yet he still failed to convince those who hold him in the highest regard or those who believe in his ‘Ummah’ theories. Meanwhile, the Saudi king spoke of the Arab leaders’ need to regain credibility so that their people could trust them and so that they may influence the course of events. He explicitly stated that the Arabs’ failure and their abandoning of their problems is the reason behind the interference of others in their affairs and the cause behind their entry into Arab land without permission. The Colonel Qaddafi’s words warrant no further discussion as they quickly lapse into illusions and abstractions. With his fantasies that transcend all limits he expressed the Arab psychological reality. He is the unadulterated embodiment of the world in which the Arabs live distanced and alienated from reality, add to that their penchant for lies which they demand and are nurtured upon. As such, honest and realistic people are not wanted by the Arabs who sustain on prevarication.

But the question is: Why do we need those who lie to us? And why do we have an aversion to those who tell us the truth? Are we the type of people who continue to fabricate lies so as not to confront the truth and because we loathe our image in that reality? That is why we protect liars and the acts of lying and what lies between them in the industry of lying. Are we who the poet Nizar Qabbani was referring to in his poem ‘Hawamish ala Daftar al Naksa’ (Marginal Notes in the Book of the Setback) when he said, “We have an exterior shell of civilization but our soul is pagan”? Is our blindness and this inability to see the secret and the core of our backwardness and which in turn makes us fill up the space with noise so that we may not be left in solitude with our fears? We speak in loud voices not to intimidate the enemy but rather to comfort and reassure the soul. In the words of Qabbani: “The secret behind our tragedy is that our screams are louder than our voices and our swords longer than our frames.”

Since time immemorial, the Arabs have witnessed many cases of dishonesty and the acceptance of it or perhaps it is because of the absence of standards for criticism and the abundance of their emotional counterparts that renders criticism alien to the Arab minds and souls. Thus exaggeration and gross overstatements become the psychological compensation to heal the wounds of the broken souls. This can best be exemplified in what the poet and legendary Arab hero, al Zir Salem, once said when describing a minor battle, in fact it might even have been a skirmish between his clan and others. He said: “If it weren’t for the wind, the people of Hajr would have heard / the clanking of swords striking down the men.” What he meant to say that the raging wind was what prevented the people of Hijr [ancient Saudi city also known as Hajr], which is located in the Yamama province from hearing the clash of swords in the battlefield – one that happens to be located 3,000 kilometers away! Another poet when describing his clan says: “We filled the land until there was no place left / even the sea was filled with our ships,” as if he were referring to the American Sixth Fleet! His lies were amusing and accepted – and more dangerously, required!

There is no hyperbole involved when mentioning these examples, since we, taking into account the temporal and location changes of course, still feed on and produce these same lies: the unified Arab nation, the unified Muslim nation, the great Arab capabilities, the illusory Arab distinction – and lesser lies such as the victory of the resistance in Lebanon and absolving Iraq from sectarianism if it hadn’t been for the Mossad (I heard this last statement from an Arab intellectual who said it to an Iraqi politician). When explained clearly, statements and ideas appear different than what they ostensibly seem. The Arab nation is composed of people and countries that have conflicting interests, and the same applies to the Islamic nation. Additionally, that statement about the ‘illusory Arab distinction’ is untrue, whether meant positively or negatively Like all other nations, Arab nations have their issues and obligations – if only they could just forgo this romantic view that distorts their true images of themselves. They lapse into an exaggerated self-deprecation when some of their revolutionary slogans are not fulfilled, such as unity and victory, so that it gives rise to poets like the enraged Muzaffar al Nawab who cursed the hell out of Arabs. His Arab audiences derived the same relief from his satire as would someone afflicted with scabies addicted to scratching his wounds. However, if the Arabs were to achieve a victory or if they were portrayed as heroes such as Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait or Hassan Nasrallah’s adventure in southern Lebanon, the Arab poets would rush to write their panegyrics and odes to glorify and laud these heroes, while the Arabs audiences would applaud this false exaltation.

In both cases of psychological ascent or descent: Arabs have a delusional regard of themselves, which is why this ceremony of lies prevails and the performers never cease to perform their roles to the spectators. No one ever comes in to switch on the lights and cast the curtain aside to reveal the truth of the scene and not the false backdrops that hang in the back. Qaddafi and others like him are a product of this mental state of prevarication; they didn’t create the public, it’s the public that has made and sought them. This is why some leaders fight to dispel these lies and cast aside the masquerade to reveal the inherent truth. It is also why Qaddafi and others have fought against King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz because in his cancellation of this play of lies it also meant that the performers would be discarded with as will the whole play, which in turn would confront the Arab audiences with the real show or the theater of reality rather than these absurd chapters in the theater of absurdity.

No rational being can compete with the performers of absurdity, like Qaddafi and others, in giving a stellar performance. Arabs, the wounded and the ones who regard themselves in an exhaustingly exclusive manner are the essence of this problem. The majority of the intellectual Arab elite are the ones who nurture this lying disease as a result of not practicing collective self-criticism; rather they fan the flames of delusion further. The critic George Tarabishi once said: “Arab intellectuals suffer a grave state of neurosis; a deep feeling strikes all and it is a great narcissistic wound.”

It is true that there are deep roots for prevarication in our moral and historical consciousness but they could have withered and vanished to be replaced by better values. What kept them alive amongst the performers and the audiences are the grave events that have afflicted the collective Arab ego and shamed it; from the fall of the Ottoman Empire, or rather with the advent of the intense and technological Western colonialism into Arab states that were slumbering since ancient history unto the execution of Saddam Hussein. The pioneers of the Arab and Islamic renaissance were the ones responsible for receiving the (shock of) civilization in the aftermath of Bonaparte’s campaign and the grand exposure in front of the victorious West. However according to Tarabishi, this remarkable moment did not have any destructive effects but rather resulted a rousing and awakening; it was a shock but not a bruise and the impact of it acted as a catalyst to the energy that was enduring within the beaten body.

However in time, and for a number of historical reasons and political circumstances, the most prominent of which was the June 1967 defeat, this shock transformed into a bruise. And thus we moved from this alerting catalyst to internal damage that was not confronted with defense mechanisms that could have been introduced, accepted and employed to further this awakening, a jolt back into reality as it were, no, what happened was the conscious and subconscious defense mechanisms were launched in a pathetic manner to become associated with an unwillingness to recognizes reality and feelings of superiority and satisfaction. Additionally, it generates an annihilation of the critical mind and its ability to engage with the world, which was followed by an entry into poetry and the world of poetry and it is as though the more intense the poetry got the more potently it burned the rational mind.

It is from here that our pathetic exchange with the West began, in the words of Tarabishi, “A childish resort to heritage and burdening it with hopes of salvation and duties of parental protection. Arab intellectuals have collectively resorted to heritage after the defeat in June ‘67 for fear of exposure and as a means to escape confronting the bitter reality.”

As long as we were to uphold this attitude, and since we seek shelter from exposure and weaknesses like children, seeking refuge in lies then there will be many more examples like Qaddafi, Muzaffar al Nawab and all the protagonists of the absurd theater. And those who seek to utilize the language of reality shall suffer; suffer greatly on the Arab theater.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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