Sunday, March 1, 2015

Met Georges Khodr on Being Arab

Arabic original here.

Arabity and Islam

I feel myself to be from this Middle East that existed before the Arabs and extends to them. The Middle East was arabized in the conquest, but only partially. It was the Middle East of Christ before the Arab Conquest and remained so to a great extent because the Muslims are also Middle Easterners in the broad sense of the term. They did not come from the Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of our branches, but before that we are from Syria [Bilad al-Sham], which includes Mount Lebanon. Without making things complicated, we are Syrian [min al-Sham] in origin and Arab by adoption and adoption, in the law of the people of this country, is like sonship. These words pertain to culture and sensibility, not to politics.

There should be no division over these words because they do not imply a political choice. This is what we are of. You speak Arabic, and there is no sense in searching for the essence of Arabity. It is a nationality and nationalities do not have essences. The longstanding debate over our arabity or the extent of our arabity is a pointless debate for me, so long as we have been the pioneers of Arabic language and literature and lovers of all its nations. Do you want something stronger than love in order for us to become Arabs?

Any discussion of our Arabity and its extent is a sterile discussion while we are in it. Does a person define his own place? Of course we are Arabs if we consider ourselves to be concerned with the cultural fate of this nation and sympathetic to the Arabs in determining this fate. Arabness, in its cultural and cooperative sense is first and foremost a choice made today and not research into the distant past. I am one with the Arab peoples around me because, like them, I seek the Arab's freedom and their say in international affairs. I am one with them in my Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian individuality. I am not an Arab in the sense that I consider myself to be the same as an Iraqi or Hejazi. With them I am an Arab because they are with me and because I want them with me in establishing the right of all Arabs  to dignity. Our Arabness is no longer so much a sort of poetic nationalism as it is the commitment of our peoples to their right to life and cultural production.

From this perspective, our arabity is no longer the dissolution of its parts into a dream. It is the realization of its parts in cultural production. From this perspective, arabity is not separate from Lebanese consciousness, since the former does not permit the latter to see itself as separate from it, just as it does not permit it to eliminate itself in order to confirm Arabness.

Arabity is part of world civilization. In this precise sense it is called a culture-- that is, a belonging. This is fundamental to establishing a person's personality. It is something complete, if you understand it as tied to the cultural whole. Nothing in the world is complete unless it is organically tied to other people. However, ties are not the same thing as dissolution.

Therefore there is no room to doubt that we exist on the one hand in ourselves and on the other hand through our participation. Thus there is no dissolving into an arabity that gives no value to the local cultures within it and there is also no arabity that does not have a vision of its own unity-- that is, the unity of its destiny. The world enriched it with diversity, that is, with encounter, and an encounter is not a clash.

I am free to include in my arabity feelings or sentiments unknown to Arabs outside of Syria, as Syria gave arabity something nothing else has given it. Perhaps this was because it is older than the civilization of the Arabs that came to it through conquest. I have always felt that we gave the countries of the Arabs what they had not recieved from the Arabs of the peninsula. Arabity is not what languished in the peninsula after Islam but rather what it extended to the world. Therefore if we speak comprehensively about Arab civilization, we mean that which grew great in Syria and from which others were nourished. Islam itself only attained its cultural extent when it left the peninsula. Arabity, by its nature, is that which extends like the Bedouin. Arabity was only known through Islam, in its leaving the peninsula.

It had not been known in all its senses except as the people of my country adopted it and gave it its Byzantine sense. Arabity became civilized. That is, the cities in Syria became part of it. When it was in the desert, it was not civilized. What has been called the "Arab conquest" in the expansion of language was a Syrian conquest, then an Iraqi one. Arabity appeared in the Arabian Peninsula, then developed in Syria. Everything else is an image borrowed from Syria.

I was sad when I read that Arabs only make up one sixth of all Muslims, but the Muslims of our country are intellectually the heart of Islam. However, there is an overlap and interaction between Islam and arabity that is clear in intellectual life. This was our historical path until God opened other doors to us.

Arabity is a culturally Islamic concept that can be secularized. That is not what I am trying to do. I am happy for the reality of Arabity and the reality of Islam to be closely tied. Historically, this is clear-- and i say this as a committed Christian, signing on to this path in freedom and love. I, a Christian, go down every byway while remaining faithful to how I was raised. Religion moves and flows. Why should we want to limit it within a cultural template?

We in this country know all the byways of Middle Eastern history and move within them, and each one of us remains subject to his religious choice, if we want to be honest. However, religious choice does not impede cultural diversity, all within arabity. Within it, you can be  a strongly-believing Christian, all while loving Muslims and if you do not, then your Christianity is in vain.

We know these things very well, we who are committed to the Christian faith in its Middle-Eastern aspect, because we have kept company with Islam and with Muslims. At the very least, we have come to know that they are our destiny and that we are their destiny. In the best case, we have seen that we love them and that they love us. We, the followers of the Nazarene, have understood that love is all of existence.

You, a deeply-believing Christian, love the Muslims because you see them with you in the city, in the street, in language and also, at a higher level, because you have come to know Islam and that there is something to love in it.

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