Sunday, January 21, 2024


There are a pair of 'silent' isms in the Middle East which barely get a mention compared to 'Zionism', definitions and counter-definitions of which are very much at the centre of debate, particularly in the ROW.

The first of these is Tribalism, which we can maybe come back to later, but it is one of the underlying mentalities which drives the various cycles of violence.

The second is Arabism, and the fact that this so often goes unmentioned is rather extraordinary, because it has been one of the factors feeding Zionism since the foundation of the modern state of Israel.

When looking for mentalities within the opposition to the Jewish state commentators habitually highlight the extreme forms of Islamism that are hard to avoid in the milieu of Hamas and their smoke-coming-out-of-their-ears, clerical cheerleaders. 

Many westerners 'standing with Israel' (albeit from a distance) often do so because of the perceived civilisational threat from this toxic blend of religious fundamentalism and totalitarian fascism.

Yet sometimes the moderates also say things that we perhaps ought to find equally troubling. Take Rashid Khalidi, prominent Palestinian-American and mate of Barak Obama, who teaches history at Columbia and in a recent interview expressed succinctly his Arabist opposition to regional Jewish self-determination: "[Jews] who came didn't come to live with the residents of the country [Ottoman provinces, then Mandate Palestine]. They didn't come to live with the Arabs. They didn't want to learn Arabic or take the citizenship." 

It’s that old “they won’t assimilate properly” trope. Or, those infernal Judeans are being a bit "what have the Arabs ever done for us?" aren't they?

Jihadism is the higher-viz, foreign policy component of Arabism, the latter the more inward-looking, domestic expression of the urge, which is the one which currently threatens Israel more than any other western democracy. (This is because, in spite of the occasionally hysterical expansionist rhetoric, it is the original captured territory that apparently matters the most and of European nations, only Spain gets the direct nod on a consistent basis.)

Arabism, in short, is the notion that any peoples living within the original extent of the vast empire — the Caliphate — regardless of their own ethnic and cultural histories, really do need to adopt an identity that is primarily Arab.

Speaking the language is a bare minimum (though the Persians, alone really, have been allowed a compromise) and practicing Islam is a lot more than a nice to have.

Since the very early days of the empire it has been extremely difficult for regional minorities to preserve and protect their traditions, be they Jews, Druze, Christians, Zoroastraians, Yazidis etc. And things have been getting worse, not better. Persecution has seen the Christian population drop from 20% to 4% over the course of the past century. 

Arabism is supposed to transcend all the internal rivalries established by Tribalism, and it has been bolstered by the existence of an apparently shared nemesis in the form of Israel and its own ism.

It is very much a form of imperialism — or a particularly open-ended form of nationalism — which operates by subterfuge whenever the repression is less violent and overt. It benefits from the fact that many in the west adopt its key presumptions almost reflexively. (The BBC routinely refers to the Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur as an ‘Arab woman’, for example.)

"From the river to the sea" and "free Palestine" are part of the subterfuge, for western ideological consumption. There is a vague pretence of liberal nationalist intent, but the mentality is fundamentally informed by the notion that Israel is an unbearable affront, a misalignment, a tumour even, within the sacred Caliphate. So, a negative not positive resistance: Freedom from....

This is another reason why it is absurd to compare the situation within Israel to South African Apartheid or even the Jim Crow laws of the American south. Not only does the 20% non-Jewish population of Israel enjoy the same basic rights as the Jewish one, you only has to ask yourself how Jews or any other cultural minority would fare within almost any Islamic majority society in the region. No matter how bad Israel’s local recusants fare, things would be so much worse if the boot were on the other foot.

Some do seem to get this. A recent study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, which would make the pro-Hamas propagandists squirm somewhat, found that between 2010 and 2022, the proportion of Arabs living in Israeli-administered east Jerusalem who would prefer to be governed by the Palestinian Authority dropped from 52% to just 38.2%.

So while some Palestinians don’t seem to urgently desire their own mini state because they are motivated by Arabism or Jihadi-imperialism, others, a very clear majority in this case, reject the idea because they understand what sort of state that would be. Occupation...Apardheid...nothing could be worse than self-rule!

The majority of Israelis have direct family experience of this under-mentioned asymmetry: it is often forgotten that at the time of the foundation of Israel 900,000 Jews were systematically expelled from homes around the Middle East many had occupied for a thousand years. For those whose morality has arithmetic foundations, it can be observed that this was, numerically, a greater catastrophe than the Nakba.

1 comment:

norm said...

I think there is little question that the Arabs have an aggressive culture based on crude tribalism with a religion that is evangelical in nature. In that, they do not play well with others. The pure hatred we encounter in the Balkans toward the local muslim population is a direct result of how the muslims acted when they controlled the lower Balkans. History makes a damnable indictment.