Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on the West's Exploitation of the Middle East's Divisions

Arabic original here.

We Are Willingly Heading toward Civil Strife

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897) and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), the pioneers of Islamic reform in the modern era, were in agreement that the source of weakness and decline in Islamic society lies in the loss of unity between Muslims and that the fundamental factor behind the lack of unity lies in the division between Sunnis and Shi'a.

Al-Afghani believed that the enemies of Islam, by which he meant the European colonial powers, benefited from Islamic fragmentation and encouraged conflicts between the Islamic countries in order to weaken and subjugate them. For this reason, al-Afghani called for an Islamic state to emerge that would unite Sunnis and Shi'a under its banner. This would not happen, in his opinion, before urgent and serious effort could be made to bring about rapprochement between Sunni and Shi'i schools of thought.

Much time has passed and the situation has not changed. The enemies of Islam still benefit from intra-Islamic disagreements and exploit them to extend their domination and hegemony over our countries and to plunder our riches... Instead of us uniting to fight the enemies, we find ourselves fighting and slaughtering each other in the very name of God.

Indeed, the situation has not changed. At the end of the 19th century, al-Afghani wrote an article with the title "The West and the East" in which he presents the ways that the West goes about dominating the East. This article is as though it were written today, even though no small amount of time has passed since its writing.

Al-Afghani says, "There is no Western state knocking at the door of an Eastern kingdom that does not use as its excuse either preserving the sultan's rights or suppressing an uprising against the amir... or some other slander, trickery, deception or feeble pretext.

If these lies are not enough for them to remain, they invoke either the pretext of protecting Christians, protecting minorities, the rights and privileges of foreigners, the people's freedom, teaching them the basics of independence, gradually giving the people its right to self-government, or enriching a poor people by overseeing the resources of its wealth."

Al-Afghani continues by saying that the Easterners go back to giving themselves the excuse that the Westerners will fulfill their promise and leave them as "a free people, independent in the management of their own affairs and able to choose rulers from their own sons, those with the purest souls and the best way of life, the most forthright with the truth in word and deed." But what the Westerners actually do is a program that they bring from their own countries about the Easterners, "inert, ignorant, fanatical people fertile land, many minerals [and this before the discovery of oil!], large projects, a mild climate, we [i.e. the Westerners] shall be the first to enjoy it."

Al-Afghani concludes his characterization by saying that Westerners are devising a plan to gain control over the country by "marginalizing every free citizen who is able to openly make patriotic demands and promoting those with the basest concern, the furthest from the discussion of demanding justice. They enter our country by dividing it into sects and factions. They prefer one sect over another such that distrust reigns..."

Indeed, the situation has not changed. The West considers our land, our skies and our seas to be fair game. Once again it is colonizing us, plundering our riches, imposing tyrannical rulers on us. They promise us freedom, sovereignty, independence and human rights.. They lie and lie and lie... However, we can only blame ourselves. The West works for its own interests while we vainly fight with ourselves and willingly head towards civil strife. "Once bitten, twice shy", but here we are being bitten continuously.


The Anti-Gnostic said...

It's your bailiwick so I'll defer to you, but have any of these groups ever liked each other? "Arab" is just a linguistic designation; it seems about as prolapsed as "Hispanic."

Might the fissures run a bit deeper than just the current break-up of the old French and British imperial constructs? It seems we are also seeing the break-up of the old Mohammedan imperial construct--a Big Man model that brutally homogenized hundreds of diverse cultures.

Lebanese and Syrians have a lot of Greek admixture. After getting to know them, it's struck me that a creed thought up by nomadic desert tribesmen wouldn't be the best fit with Mediterranean cultures and their longstanding urban, agrarian societies.

The Ba'athist social democrats are still doing the ghost dance for Arab unity, but it doesn't seem anybody else is.

Samn! said...

I think your mistake is to assume that Arab nationalism is only espoused by Baathists. When it's tempered by a dose Syrian (or Egyptian) national particularism, it still has considerably more currency than you'd imagine and is to some degree the default position of anyone who's not rabidly sectarian.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I don't see where the Syrian or Egyptian nationalists have much common cause with the Gulf Arabs. Culturally very different as well. Like I say, I think this is the second stage-breakup after the break-up of the artificial states created by Britain and France.

Samn! said...

Generally speaking Arab nationalists have always tended to be quite politically and even culturally hostile to the Gulf... It's a more complicated bundle of ideologies than simply wanting to create a pan-Arab state.