Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald discusses how Arab-ness is in many ways inextricable from Islam — a phenomenon that has had effects even among dhimmi populations.
Within Islam, a supposedly universalist religion where all Muslims in the ummah are equal, there is a special place for the Arabs. But how could it be otherwise? Islam itself, a mishmash of pagan Arab lore, Judaism and Christianity, has its origins in the attempt to take what was available and construct out of it something, a belief-system, that would both promote, and justify, Arab attacks on, and Arab conquest of, far more advanced, settled, and wealthy populations of Christians, Jews, and pagans — and with the attack on Sassanid Persia, Zoroastrians.
Within Islam, the supremacist ideology is expressed first, and perhaps most importantly, in linguistic and cultural imperialism. The Qur’an is written in Arabic, and was delivered to, given to, revealed to, the Arabs, that best of people. That best of men, Muhammad, was an Arab, and so were the Companions. The Qur’an itself should ideally not be read in any language other than Arabic (the Arabic in which it was written, not in any simplified or updated version). Qur’anic recitation is in Arabic. The students in Pakistan or Indonesia or elsewhere who pass their young lives memorizing Qur’anic passages are essentially memorizing Arabic, a language that they do not know at all, and understand most imperfectly. Yet it is 7th century Arabs, real or imaginary, who must serve as a guide to existence. Was Muhammad against sculptures? Against music? Against painting of living creatures? Very well then. For all time, and in all places, good Muslims will emulate Muhammad. For he is central to Islam, far more significant than Jesus is in Christianity. Yes, it is true that “Allah knows best” but so to does Muhammad — see Qur’an 33:21. They both know best.
Think of all the Pakistanis, clearly the descendants of persecuted or terrified Hindus, who have taken Arab names, or appropriated the honorific Sayeed to indicate their connection to the Prophet. Think of how the Berbers and other non-Arab Muslims have had to struggle to save their own language. The Iranians supposedly managed to prevent linguistic arabization through the superior quality of their own poets — for after all, “Islamic literature” is mostly a product not of Arabs but of Persians. High Islamic civilization was very much a product both of non-Muslims and Muslims, and in the latter category, the Arabs played a much smaller role than the Persians.
The riots in Tizi-Ouzo a few years ago — unreported in the Western world except in France — reflect the unhappiness of the Berbers with this cultural and linguistic imperialism. So does the greater participation of Berbers in such organizations as “Maghrembins laiques” in France. The Kurds, the black Africans with their marabouts and syncretism, and even those described as Malaysian “intellectuals” and Indonesian “intellectuals,” have realized that the Arab supremacist view, which encourages all Muslims to ignore their own pre-Islamic or non-Islamic history and heritage, leaves a lot to be desired. This is similar to the phenomenon in Brazil, where what prevails is not always orthodox Christianity, but some blend with pagan African beliefs and traditions that gives rise to Candomble.
And then there are so many examples of Arabs riding roughshod, and worse, over non-Arab Muslims. Think of the treatment of the Berbers, especially but not only in Algeria. Or of the black African Muslims in Darfur, or in Chad, or elsewhere where Arabs and blacks, even if all of them are Muslims, collide. There is also a religious dimension. Though there are non-Arab Sunnis (Turks, Kurds) and Arab Shi’a (see southern Lebanon, Yemen, the Hasa province of Saudi Arabia, the Hazaras in Afghanistan, Bahrain, even Kuwait, especially among Fouad Ajami’s worldly Behbehanish friends and hosts), and both Sunni and Shi’a in Pakistan, Sunni Islam is identified with the Arabs, Shi’a Islam with Iran. No getting around this.
In Saudi Arabia there is apartheid: the signs “Muslim” and “Non-Muslim” are everywhere, both physically and in the minds of men. But “Muslims” are further divided into Arab (first class) and non-Arab (second class). This has not escaped the attention of the many Muslim non-Arabs who live in Saudi Arabia — or at least not the attention of all of them.
As Infidels seek out ways to divide and weaken Islam, surely the exploitation of this linguistic, cultural, and political imperialism of the Arabs should be high on the list. Remember how the “Arabs” were hated even by some of their “Afghan” allies whom they treated with such cannon-fodder contempt –at least according to all the reports that have come out of Afghanistan. The resentment of non-Arabs, of Kurds, Berbers, blacks, Persians, Malays and so on, is perfectly understandable. It is not a Western invention. It has not in any way been fanned by the West. It need not be. It need only be pointed out. And even then, the Arabs themselves help this cause by continuing to show their contempt and indifference for non-Arabs, though they wish those non-Arabs to adopt whatever causes they, the Arabs, deem important.
Part of weakening Islam is to show many Muslims that Islam was simply an Arab invention and export, a poisoned chalice that has lain low higher and superior civilizations. This is likely to resonate especially in Iran among those who have had their fill of the Islamic Republic of Iran — that is, every thinking and morally aware person in Iran.
The treatment by the Arabs of non-Arabs has been at least high-handed, and as the glinting daggers of Arab aggression tell us, often of a more horrid hent.
Yet at the same time, the pride in Uruba — Arabness, Arabdom — that affects so many Arabs, has also convinced many non-Arab people who speak Arabic that they too are or must be or should be “Arabs.” The scholar Franck Salameh has written a brilliant analysis of linguistic imperialism, of how the Arabic-user (even the Maronites) comes to believe that he therefore must be an “Arab” — even if his ancestors clearly were living in, say, the Lebanon long before the Arabs arrived on the scene. It is quite a trick.
Yet almost all of those who left Lebanon and Syria between 1880 and even as late as about 1930, even if their passports identified them in some cases as “Turks” (they were still in the Ottoman Empire) knew that they were something else, and that the best way to describe themselves was as “Lebanese” or as “Christians.” Only later did some of them begin to think that they were “Arabs.” Muslims in the United States have tried to create a false sense of an identity of interest, using that meretricious term “Arab-American.” This is meant to enroll in the Muslim Arab campaign for acceptance, the descendants of people who not only were not part of the Muslim Arab world, but were the main victims of that very world — people who left the Middle East precisely because of their growing insecurity among the Muslims. From 1860 on there were massacres of Maronites and Assyrians and other Middle-eastern Christians in present-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
The Christian Arabs, or those who have considered themselves Arabs, needed to find a place in the sun. They knew they had to appeal to something, anything, other than Islam straight up. What was Ba’athism, which the Christian from Damacus, Michel Aflaq (he made a deathbed conversion to Islam) but an attempt to find a way for the Christians of the area to be enrolled in something that, in its philosophy, would be aggressive, totalitarian, but more pan-Arab than pan-Islamic? So it was that Ba”athism was born and found its greatest appeal in the two countries where, for various and complex reasons, the ruling elites (Alawite in one case, Sunni the other) found it useful to have an alternative to pure Islam. For the Alawites were not orthodox Muslims, and had Islam been the only game in town, in Iraq the sectarian majority was Shi’a, not Sunni.
Note that the phenomenon of “islamochristians” is particularly pronounced among the “Palestinian” Arabs. Despite the obvious and steady pressure on Christians and Christianity wherever the “Palestinians” have extended their sway, Naim Ateek and Hanan Ashrawi are both perfect examples of the cunning propagandistic use to which islamochristians can be put. Why, Naim Ateek is the go-to guy for the Christian churches’ Middle-Eastern policy, judging by all the divestment measures he has skillfully, sabeellly, managed to push. And we all know of the requited affection between the late Peter Jennings and Hanan Ashrawi, whom he had as a special guest on September 13, 2001, to discuss you-know-what.
Compare, among those who live in or came from predominantly Muslim lands and who are Christians, the non-Arab and the Arab Christians. It is fascinating to see the difference. Christian Pakistanis have nothing to do with Islam. They do not defend it in the slightest. Look at Christian Iranians. They do not defend Islam. They have nothing to do with it. Look at Christian blacks in Nigeria or the Sudan. They have nothing to do with Islam. Look at Christians in Indonesia. They feel no need to defend Islam.
But many (although by no means all) Christian Arabs do — and the reason is that goddam ethnic pride in being an Arab — or thinking one is an Arab because everyone tells you that if you speak Arabic you must be (not true, of course). And Islam is the great gift of “the Arabs,” and Islam and the Arabs go way back, and well — it’s hard for some, perhaps many, Arab Christians not to end up as Defenders not so much of the Faith (that Faith being Islam) but of the political attitudes and atmospherics and defensiveness that all arise so naturally from Islam.