Wednesday, August 11, 2004
More on Darfur and the Arab World
Rami Khouri's editorial, "Darfur's ugly resonance in the Arab world" will no doubt end up in the 'Editorial Hall of Fame', if there is such a place. If there isn't one, Khouri's piece is reason enough to establish such an institution.
Khouri says, "The Arab silence on this issue probably is not specific to Darfur or Sudan, but rather reflects a wider malaise that has long plagued our region: Arab governments tend to stay out of each other's way when any one of them is accused of wrongdoing, and most Arab citizens have been numbed into helplessness in the face of public atrocities or criminal activity in their societies."
This is more than a shrewd observation or profound insight. It is far more important than that. It is an emphatic voice to what is rarely said or written.
Rami Khouri's comment on the tragic state of affairs in the Arab world directly addresses the western world's puzzlement as to why the Arab world seems so indifferent to Darfur. In a roundabout and subtle way, he seems to speak to other unspoken issues: The obsession with Israel and the United States over all else in the Arab world-- an obsession that seemingly places the blame for all ills, real and imagined, on external sources.
The Israel-Palestinian issue is no small matter, of course. Despite the history, recriminations, hyperbole and finger pointing, the fact of the matter is that millions of Palestinians find themselves,
through no fault of their own, as pawns in a chess game in which they have no say. Whether through corrupt government, or deliberate Arab world manipulation, the Palestinians and their cause are going around in an endless circle with no real end in sight.
With Darfur in the headlines, and after a million and a half dead in a long ignored civil war in Sudan, it is hard for westerners to understand what they see as an implicit agreement on the part of the Arab world to ignore and prolong the slaughter of innocents-- those vast numbers not engaged in the fighting. It is in this framework that a Palestinian Authority legislator had the temerity to dismiss the crisis in Darfur as 'unimportant' as compared to the Palestinian situation. He went on to state that attention must not be deflected from the Palestinian cause.
If it weren't for the magnitude of the unfolding tragedy in Darfur, his statement would be laughable. The sheer myopic narcissism of his remarks, speaks volumes as to why the west has to take PA-- and for that matter, much of the Arab world-- pronouncements with a large grain of salt. What is equally astonishing to the western public is the lack of response to his inexcusable public statements from the Arab world.
Rami Khouri acknowledges this: "This basic governing contract explains much of the silence and acquiescence by otherwise decent Arabs in the face of atrocities or criminal activity carried out by fellow citizens, or even by their own government." Khouri then goes on to say, " This basic governing contract explains much of the silence and acquiescence by otherwise decent Arabs in the face of atrocities or criminal activity carried out by fellow citizens, or even by their own government."
In a world now so much smaller because of satellite television and the Internet, many in the Arab world mistakenly take comfort and satisfaction in their causes being adopted by the Left, in particular, the Palestinian cause. This short sighted posture will undoubtedly come back to haunt the Arab world.
Being a poster child for Left wing causes is almost a sure path into oblivion. The Left, with great vigor, supported Communism, Castro and the Sandinista's and a host of other 'Liberation Movements'-- now all relics of failed efforts adopted by the Left and failed and immoral regimes that did nothing for their citizenry, with the notable exception of repression. These regimes and causes all had one thing in common. They attempted to gain legitimacy by doing everything they could to influence others, regardless of the means and irrespective of the truth, without cleaning their own house and providing for the basic rights of their citizens first. In the end, these regimes and movements were brought down by the rot from within. Ask any Pole, Russian or Czech today what they think of the Left and their decades long defense of Communism. Stalin succinctly described the Left as 'Useful Idiots'. One can only hope the Arab world doesn't make those same mistakes.
Rami Khouri has in effect, thrown down a gauntlet by simply holding up a mirror. He cautions the reader to understand that the current malaise, as he puts it. "It would be a terrible mistake to misdiagnose the Arab silence on Darfur as reflecting some Arab, Islamic or Middle Eastern cultural acceptance of violence."
Khouri is probably right, of course.
However, until we hear voices to the contrary, how credible is his argument to most in the west? How can any thinking person on the outside, for example, really believe that the religious establishment in the Arab world, are really 'religious' leaders? It would seem they hold office because their views adequately reflect those of the current political leadership.The crisis in Darfur has resulted in various facets of Western communities-- including various Christian and Jewish religious communities-- to galvanize and embark on massive relief efforts and to publicly decry the unfolding disaster. Where are the concerted religious voices from the Arab and Islamic world to take the same mantle and do the same- or for that matter, even acknowledge the crisis?
Khouri's editorial is as important for what it implies, if doesn't address directly-- "The more troubling consequence is that small groups of bombers and terrorists have exploited this state of Arab helplessness, seeking public support for their militancy. Thus large numbers of ordinary, decent Arab citizens instinctively reject the atrocities against fellow Arabs in Darfur, but do not speak out or act to stop them; and equally large numbers of Arabs - majorities in troubled lands, the polls tell us - similarly do not speak out when Arab terrorists bomb Arab, American or other targets".
It is important that the Arab world realize that the west is engaged in it's own silent 'jihad' as it relates to the Arab and Islamic world. It is a 'jihad' of the moral variety and it is no less than a 'jihad' offering redemption. Give us a reason, any reason, to view Arab concerns as legitimate and not only self serving, and we'll jump on board. We want to see Arabs endowed with freedom and rights, but that freedom must be earned and deserved. Show us that Arabs deserve our support. Show us the morality, integrity and moral voices that are the backbone of a free and tolerant society, or at the very least, show us voices that want to change the status quo.
In the interim, how can we seriously consider current Arab views as valid, when all we see and hear are no less than tired government sponsored and inspired tirades spewing hate and ideas that encourage or excuse violence and the destruction of others. How are we to respond to ideals that sound reasonable to the western ear, yet are openly only for external consumption? We see and read, everyday, that which is uttered and written in Arabic. Indeed, some of the best lobbying efforts in Washington and European capitals are nothing more than translations and transcripts of what is spoken and written openly in Arab capitals.
Rami Khouri's editorial is 'putting it all on the table'. It is not an explanation or nuanced insight. It is a not so veiled challenge, clear and direct, to his readers, antagonist and defender alike. We would do well to rise and meet the challenge.
The west wants to see the Arab world and the Middle East move into the 21st century. The free world wants to see moral and democratic values become part of the Arab landscape. Do it your way, however that manifests itself.
Give us a reason to believe it can be done.