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The Setback of Our Cyclical Age - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Forty years ago on June 6th, Israel launched a surprise attack and defeated both Egypt and Syria in what came to be known as “the Setback”. Since then, the term has come to denote a setback-oriented Arab awareness that excels in dodging and evading the real questions.

Much has been said and will continue to be said about that pivotal moment in the history of Arab states, particularly Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Many have changed their convictions and have been transformed on an ideological and political level in the wake of the humiliating Six-Day War defeat.

Many of those who possessed an iota of self-respect sensed that they were faced with a revelatory moment that required a genuine response and a revolution for a new awareness. But despite their large numbers, they immersed themselves in a vast sea of darkness; an Arab sea of darkness that swallowed up every spark of rationale or criticism.

And now the jugglers and jesters are back to reiterate talk of the same awareness that preceded 1967 as if nothing had happened and as if the entire Arab political discourse had not collapsed on the morning of June 6th. This event only served to exacerbate the suffering of the Palestinians, adding the 1967 refugees to those already displaced after the 1948 war.

The same arguments were repeated, along with the same stories about a united Arab nation were retold with the very same illusion of the balance of power, the same myths about Arab unity against imperialism and Zionism, and the same lies about a shared Arab destiny.

Major events that leave behind a resounding impact are supposed to create a new and different awareness, perhaps to the point of disassociating from the old one, and even on a direct individual level and through personal experience. If a person discovered that their closest friend had betrayed them and was seeking to destroy them, it would certainly raise new questions that would make the person realize the extent of the delusion he/she lived. This would compel the person to reread the papers again; the lines and what is between the lines and the implications, not just what is overtly said. This is when another reality will emerge and the person in question will discover a new scene that he/she had been oblivious to because their vision was controlled by that delusion. “I show my eyes what they did not see / We are both aware of the lies,” in the words of a prominent Umayyad poet.

But this is all talk of an exceedingly private and individual personal experience, so what if it were a monumental vanquishing of awareness such as that of 1967?! Why has the same discourse returned once again, while the same faces have reemerged and we are being fed the same words after “the Setback” as we had been told before it occurred?!

Is it true that Arab time is cyclical by nature, moving in a circular route to return to the point where it had begun, over and over again?

Why do not we consciously boycott that dead part of our history?!

As an Arab, you should not be surprised if the same defeat is repeated in the same manner without interruption or a moment of disclosure followed by the launch of a new awareness. The Arabs do not part with their past and are prisoners of their times with all their sorrows and concerns.

Can the West go back to the time of the Thirty Years’ War between the Catholics and Protestants? Can the revolutions that once overthrew regimes return once again to European capitals? Can the West go back in time to the Kingdom of Prussia era, or even to the time of Bismarck?

Their time marches forward and crosses the past after assimilating and incorporating it into the fabric of the present. Theirs is a past that does not strangle the present but rather enriches it, relieving the past from the pressure of the present and setting the present free from the shackles of the past.

But this is not the case in our part of the world! The past overshadows the present while the present begs for the crumbs of achievement from the past to live on, but neither succeeds in living independently away from the child-like resort to the past, nor can it let go of that past without exaggerating, distorting and even damning it every time it experiences a ‘setback’!

Our time is cyclical and our problems keep revolving until our minds are made dizzy. For forty years, we have talking about victory without a victory, and preaching a unity when none existed – although this same unity is not necessarily the solution inasmuch as it doesn’t need to be a realistic idea that conforms to the geographical and historical conditions. Still, this is what was said and is still being said with a repeated frequency that induces laughter and tears!

Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the symbol of media defeat, is still talking and talking and talking through his forum on ‘Al Jazeera’. What does this mean?! It means that criticism is a virtue that is not practiced here and that we are creative in the art of accommodating ourselves and others to delusion.

A movement for a new awareness should have been launched, in addition to the removal of the symbols from that cyclical cultural, social and political era. We should have reviewed our history and entire discourse and recognized our true stature – without lies. Moreover, we should have determined our capabilities whilst discerning truth from falsities. A rational shock should have occurred to shake off history, examine the present and come up with an explanation as to why our part of the world has been resisting development, power and growth!

Imagine, after forty years since the defeat and too many promises made about the war to restore our dignity, we are now talking about Fatah al Islam, Osbat al Ansar and Jund al Sham in the Palestinian refugee camps!

In Gaza, both Hamas and Fatah are slaying one another while the world is fed up with us and our endless crises.

It only takes one moment to break this cycle and release the questions from their cyclical prison. Then our world can shed its cover and our culture can emerge from behind the lies – only then can our time stretch and break free from the boundaries of closed circuits.

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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