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The Arab Elite and the Double Standards - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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How can progressive intellectuals claiming to be propagating enlightenment, freedom and openness, support a fundamentalist party such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which openly declares through [its Secretary General] Hassan Nasrallah that it is part of Wilayat-e-Faqih?

And why do these intellectuals support a fundamentalist group that has dominated over and transformed the [Gaza] Strip into an experiment station for fundamentalist practices on the public and society, such as the case with Hamas in Gaza?

How can it reach the point where some among the Arab intelligentsia, the people spearheading progress and enlightenment, describe Al Qaeda’s leader [Osama Bin Laden] as the Mujahid Sheikh?

This is truly baffling: On the one hand, we find these Arab intellectuals calling for and propagating the need for criticism, enlightenment and reform whilst being infuriated over their governments’ hindrance of development, progress, democracy, tolerance and the tackling of women’s and minorities’ issues, while on the other; it is those same people that chant their loyalties to fundamentalist groups.

Indeed, it is a contradiction, but it is one of many in our Arab societies. The matter has even reached the point where some of the Christian Arab intellectuals have expressed their fascination with Khomeini’s revolution and Wilayat-e-Faqih. The famous Syrian poet Adonis [Ali Ahmad Saeid] who is one of the most prominent symbols of modernity wrote an old-fashioned panegyric in praise of the Iranian revolution in which he said:

I shall sing for Qom, that it may transform itself in my ecstasy

Into a raging conflagration that surrounds the Gulf

The people of Iran write to the West:

Your visage, O West, is crumbling

Your face, O West, has died.

Many of these progressive thinkers are aligning themselves, in every sense of the word, behind Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s robes; Nasrallah who is a member of the Wilayat-e-Faqih party and who continues to boast and visualize a bright Arab future. Renowned Egyptian journalist and one of the most distinguished Arab journalists, Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, stated that hope in the Arab world lies with Nasrallah in the speech he recently delivered at Egypt’s Judges’ Club (Nadi al-Quda).

Are these ‘broad-minded’ intellectuals unaware of the sharp contradiction between their beliefs and their social and intellectual discourse and those of the fundamentalist parties that consider themselves to be divinely guided and that their duty is to steer the straying sheep towards the light? Or is the notion of progress and modernization nothing but an empty and insubstantial outer shell among these elites?

Are they oblivious to the conflict and denial between politicized extremism and social and intellectual modernity, or are they deliberately trying to forget, ignore, or let us even say, downplay it and postpone its discussion until the ‘appropriate’ moment to settle the major crisis and fulfill the ‘grand duty’?

So, what is the intellectual, political and ideological focal point and what is the fundamental preoccupation of the Arab intellectual?

By Arab elite, we are referring to those who are concerned with political, social and cultural criticism and development, whether revolutionary or reformist. This elite, from the outset, was dominated by the leftist trend. The late Egyptian intellectual Abdel Wahab Elmessiri who is a prominent symbol of this trend made a distinctive remark on the Al Jazeera TV channel (9 June 2005) while reminiscing about the sixties. He said, “There were no intellectuals among the Islamists; there were eminent sheikhs but they were not part of the cultural movement. The idea of Islamic intellectuals and thinkers only began to emerge in the 1970s. Prior to that, we were all left-wingers.”

The leftist trend, with all its offshoots was the favored trend among the Arab intellectuals at the time; it was the stage in which they saw their reformist aspirations embodied. However, after the Arabs were defeated by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, the left-wing trends began to decline, the most important of which was the Marxist trend. The zealots among the followers then began to gravitate towards politicized religious trends that raised the banner of republican leadership and resumed the race towards succession. These trends borrowed the banner of the oppositional left, and with it; they inherited a full-fledged cultural and revolutionary organization.

However, it is important to point out that the leftist shift towards the Islamist trend was not limited by or restricted to the stage after the 1967 defeat. Sayyid Qutb who had joined the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the ‘50s played a major role and was responsible for injecting it with a revolutionary leftist outlook that was encompassed within an Islamic sensibility. The concept of the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ among the Lenin Marxists was transformed into the ‘faithful believers’ in accordance with Qutb’s lexicon, etc.

Those who had renounced Marxism and other leftist trends embraced leftist Islamism and the ‘exalted intellectuals’ became the ‘exalted sheikhs’ and thus the religious opposition began to establish, modernize, revive and enrich its political oppositional lexicon from narrow-minded rejective religious terms, such as ‘infidel’ and ‘occupying West’ into more modern rejective formulas that were closer to the spirit of the times.

Throughout the 1970s up until September 11, 2001, phrases such as ‘cultural invasion’ and the ‘barbaric West’ and ‘America: the grand workshop’ were popular and they are all terms that were included in Sayyid Qutb’s dictionary. Although sentiments of rejection were deeply rooted among fundamentalist trends, they became more entrenched in the language and concepts of the age following the shift of a number of intellectual figures towards the politicized extremist trends.

However, there were some intellectuals that exploited the anti-West and anti-imperialistic attitudes from another standpoint; namely, that of a purely nationalistic and resistance perspective, such as the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said and others that opposed the West and imperialism through an absolute and ‘ideological’ rejective manner.

Have our intellectuals and elite been afflicted with ‘West-hatred’ disease? In his book ‘Arab Intellectuals and the West: The Psychoanalysis of a Collective Neurosis’, famous Syrian critic George Tarabishi wrote that: “Arab intellectuals suffer a grave state of neurosis; a deep feeling strikes all and it is a great narcissistic wound.” He believes that these feelings of hatred and resentment towards the West are a form of neurosis and that in order to infuriate the West even further; they shun internal development – even if it ends up destroying everyone. This could be epitomized by Hezbollah’s example, whereby its ‘victory’ ended up ravaging Lebanon and derailing it off the path of development!

Notwithstanding, this is all justified as a reason for going to war with the West and asserting the ‘Self’ and protecting its existence in the battle of identity – although we never once stopped to examine the truth behind this ‘threat’ against identity that the rejective Arab cultural discourse claims it to be.

Tarabishi quotes a shocking remark made by Mr. Tarek al Beshri [MB writer, historian and former judge] during a symposium in Beirut in 1980 in which he said, “If development rejects me then I am not a supporter of development and if it denies and diminishes me as a group then I will be a reactionary.”

There is no correlation between development and progress on the one hand, and the rejection and annihilation of the self on the other – unless, of course, the ‘self’ in question is hell-bent against life!

Marginalizing modernization and progress in Arab societies under the pretext of prioritizing the resistance against the foreign enemy is the essence of the disease in our movement and it is the reason behind the obstruction of all development efforts.

Slogans and phrases central to the opposition and resistance have been injected into the Arab mind and awareness by the Arab elite, who are responsible for exaggerating the fear and mania towards the West into epic proportions so that the Palestinian cause has become a legend and a taboo that we cannot discuss or approach – not unlike the taboo of the holocaust among the Jews.

The end result is that Palestine did not benefit a thing from the culture that sanctifies rejection or rejects internal development. The majority of the Arab elites are blemished and they have caused the public and the fundamentalist trends to be even more so.

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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