Long ago, Bernard Lewis wrote about the “multiple identities” of the peoples of the Middle East. By that he meant that one could be Muslim, but not necessarily Arab — as Berbers and Kurds were also Muslim. One could be Arab, but not necessarily Muslim, or identify by language and culture with Arabdom, as some Arab Christians (especially “Palestinians”) do, while Copts and Maronites may not. Then there are Shi’ite Iranians, but also Shi’ite Arabs, as in Syria, who might favor one part of their identity over another. And then there were smaller peoples in the area whose identity was neither Muslim nor Arab, which made them particularly vulnerable to aggression, having no one to call upon, for they stood alone — such as the lamented Yazidis.
The recent fighting between Berbers and Arabs in a town — Ghaadia — in southern Algeria reminds us of this crazy-quilt of peoples and tugging identities in North Africa and the Middle East. To the extent that a Berber is keenly aware of being a Berber, he is less likely to be a keen embracer of fanatical Islam, for Islam is identified with ‘Uruba, or Arabdom, the “gift of the Arabs” that demanded of non-Arab Muslims that they pray five times a day in the direction of Arabia (Mecca), ideally take Arab names, read the Qur’an in Arabic, and sometimes even construct a false Arab ancestry (as the “Sayeeds” of Pakistan) that links them to the Prophet. Not all Berbers want to be told they must ideally be Arabs.
The clashes in Ghaadia between Arabs and Berbers offer a chance to consider how those “multiple identities” can be played upon, or appealed to, to lessen the tug of Islam among non-Arab Muslims.
It is no mystery as to why Christian missionaries might be having their greatest success in the Kabyle, which remains the Berber heartland in Algeria. It is where the Berbers are concentrated, that is, those who were not forcibly transformed, during the centuries of Arab rule (interrupted by 132 years of French rule) into “Arabs.” (How many of those “Arabs” who now persecute the Berbers realize that they themselves are a generation, or two, or five, removed from their clearly Berber origins?)
The cause of the Berbers is hardly known in this country. Yet the writer Kateb Yacine, a Berber who refused to write in Arabic, but chose French, is celebrated in France, especially among Berbers — but unknown in this country, and his anti-Arab rage is not likely to cause his books to be included in the syllabuses of courses on “Francophone” literature, given that so many such courses are now taught by French-speaking Arabs.
What is that cause? In the first place, it is linguistic and cultural. In Algeria, where the French saw the Berbers as superior to the Arabs — one French general wrote a book about the “Europeanness” of the Berbers — the Berbers were not discriminated against, but as soon as the French left, the forced arabisation of the Berbers started up at once, as if the French interregnum, with the wider possibilities that French education made possible to both Berbers and Arabs, had never existed. Older people in Algeria speak and use French; the younger ones are forgetting. And meanwhile, the Berbers were forbidden to use their own language, Tamazight, in their schools or in their institutions, and even, at times, they could be punished for using it among themselves, on the street. Berber culture was officially ignored.
About thirty years ago, news of Berber agitation began to reach the outside world. There were riots in Tizi-Ouzou that were reported in France, but hardly anywhere else in the Western world. In America, of course, we had all been sufficiently subject to ARAMCO propaganda (performed as a “public service” by the big oil companies, as part of their propaganda payoff to the Saudis for allowing them to find, produce, and then pay exorbitantly for the oil that happens to lie under the malevolent sands of “Saudi” Arabia), to believe that there is something called “the Arab world,” and in this “Arab world” there are no Copts, no Armenians, no Assyrians, no Chaldeans, no Turkmen, no Mandeans, no Maronites, and of course no Berbers, no Jews (no, there never were any Jews in North Africa or the Middle East — they all came to Israel, you see, from Europe), for everyone in the Arab world was an “Arab.”
The discovery or re-discovery of a Berber identity (and, again, how many of those North African “Arabs” should begin to realize that they are Berbers?) is or could be an important weapon in unsettling the world of Islam, and perhaps causing the Maghreb to see itself, as it should, not as “Arab” but as the victim of Arab imperialism.
For what is Islam if not a vehicle of Arab imperialism, and what are the Berbers, if not the victims of that Arab imperialism, an imperialism far more potent and long-lasting than the European kind, for it attempts to efface the historic identity of whole peoples?
And it makes perfect sense that Berbers in the Kabyle, having felt along their pulses the Arab imperialism of which Islam is the vehicle, would be more open to the efforts of Christian missionaries, or more likely, are not so much responding to missionary activity, but to their own observations as to what Christianity is like, and what Islam has brought them.
In this respect, one should not underestimate the fact that many Berbers now live in France, that they make up most of the membership of such groups as the “maghrebins laiques,” and that they, not the Arabs whose ethnic identity is so bound up with Islam, are capable, in some cases, not of identifying with the Arabs, but more closely with the French. And those Berbers communicate with Berbers at home, or through the Internet. And sometimes they return to Algeria and Morocco to see their families, and bring with them their own observations on the relative merits of the Islamic world, a world suffused with Islam, and the non-Islamic world, the one they have experienced in France.
The more the non-Arab Muslims of the world, and 80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arab, come to realize — and it would not be hard to help them to realize, for they will not be able to deny the facts, having experienced so much of it themselves — that Islam is a vehicle for Arab supremacism, the more likely it is that at least some of them will fall away. And others, who may believe in a kind of Islam not dominated by Arabs, a “non-Arab” Islam (as if such were possible) will, in so doing, at least help to divide, and therefore to weaken, the Camp of Islam.
Ideally, one would wish this Total System, that has held so many hundreds of millions in thrall, and thwarted over so many centuries so much human potential (think of the art, think of the science, that might have resulted in the absence of the dead hand of Islam on so many people, prevented from so many forms of artistic expression, from so many avenues for free and skeptical inquiry that are necessary for the enterprise of science, think of so much dull fanaticism, so much boredom, so much violence, in posse and in esse) will be seen, by Berbers, by Kurds, by people in the subcontinent (why should Muslims in India not “rediscover” their own history, their Hindu, or Buddhist, or other non-Muslim roots?), by those in Malaysia and the East Indies, with its rich pre-Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist past, as having helped to make them forget their own history, and this history deserves to be rediscovered.
Meanwhile, start reading and promoting those Berber sites. And hope that the French state, instead of “integrating” its Muslims by government-supported mosques, will try to work with Berbers in France, work to make them see the light, work to help them to achieve their own destiny, one different from, and superior to, that of the Arabs whose method of cultural and linguistic domination comes from, and is supplied by, Islam.
We should help those in North Africa (and in France) who know, are well aware, of their Berber identity. DNA could come to the rescue. There is a genetic marker that, in studies by French geneticists in Tunisia, shows that Berbers and Arabs can be easily distinguished. Some who proudly identify themselves as “Arabs” will resist. But others may listen. And as they recognize the violence, the “culture of death” of Islam, in its fanatical form, perhaps those who wish to make a break from Islam, and recognize that such a break is hardest of all for Arabs, and that another identity needs to be accepted, invented, believed in, will manage to discover, and embrace, their Berber “roots.”
It seems fanciful, just as it seems fanciful that Iranians, those who are not merely disgusted with the mullahs running things, but are coming to be disgusted with Islam — that “gift of the Arabs” — itself, may wish to rediscover Zoroastrianism. Not because of any particular wonderfulness in what Zoroastrianism has to offer, but simply because it offers another identity (see Bernard Lewis’s excellent “The Multiple Identities of the Middle East,” to which I referred earlier), in a part of the world, and among people, who believe that “everyone simply has to be something.” And that “something” cannot be, as it is in the advanced West, a collection of ideas or ideals — as an American might define himself as loyal to the American Constitution, and wishing to defend the political and legal institutions of this country, fortunately fashioned by an inimitable group of geniuses, and fortunately, not yet made complete hash even by those who embody the degradation of the democratic dogma.
Some Berbers accepted being considered as “Arabs,” the way some Copts and Maronites have had a false “Arab identity” pushed on them, or have only semi-accepted it, an “identity” constructed out of nothing more than the fact that they are speakers, “users,” of Arabic, and may have had Arabic names forced on them over time. Indeed, there are differences between Arabs who have become Christians (as a few did in the 19th and early 20th centuries) and those Arabic-using Christians — Maronites, Copts, Assyrians, Chaldeans — who are not Arabs, but some of whom have, in order to survive in an ever-threatening Muslim sea, had to find their role as “Arabs” or even, in the manner of the Christian Syrian Michel Aflaq (one of the founders of Ba’athism), become hyper-Arab nationalists, as promoters of an Arab identity, pan-Arabism, the whole works — an alternative to Islam (they were fooling themselves, because pan-Arabism for Muslim Arabs was never a real alternative to Islam, but merely a temporary goal, a subset, of the goal of a reunified Muslim world. In the end Islam triumphed).
Not every ill that befell the non-Muslims in the Muslim world, or non-Arabs in the Muslim Arab world, can be attributed to colonial powers. There were French, during the time of the “presence francaise” who brought schools, hospitals, modern agriculture, and other elements of modern civilization, to North Africa (in Morocco and Tunisia, over about half-a-century; and in Algeria, over a 132-year period) who were quite capable of distinguishing Berbers from Arabs, and it was not their pressure that caused some Berbers to forget their own identity, any more than it was France as the guarantor of the Christians in Lebanon and Syria who caused some to make themselves hyper-Arabs. Aflaq co-founded the Ba’ath party with two associates not when the French seemed to be there to stay, but when it was clear that they would, in a few years, be leaving, and Arab nationalism would be the cover to protect the Arab Christians from Islam.
Aflaq’s “Ba’athism” came to dominate only two countries, and for two similar reasons. The first was Syria, with a large Christian population, and with a powerful military caste, the Alawites, who were not regarded as orthodox Muslims, were indeed disliked by orthodox Muslims for the obvious elements of syncretism in their worship (go to an Alawite village and see the pictures of Mary everywhere), these Alawites who had been miserable under the domination of Sunni Islam but under that of the French formed part of the Troupes speciales, were trained to fight, and when the French left, the Alawites remained in the army, and the air force (with Colonel Hafez al-Assad), and gradually took over, in the way that people or groups always take over in the Muslim Middle East — through the application, or threat, of military force. In Syria Ba’athism tried to disguise, was the facade, for the rule by the Alawites.
In Iraq, Ba’athism took a different turn. There, the Sunnis knew that they were numerically far inferior to the Shi’a, even if they kept denying it. Nonetheless, once they were put in control of modern Iraq, by the British, they never lost their grip until the Americans arrived in 2003 and overturned the old order.
The Hashemite king, Feisal, a Sunni, was put in control of Iraq, and aided throughout the 1920s by British troops, and such British civilians as the celebrated archaeologist Gertrude Bell, until finally, the expense of suppressing the tribes, and the obvious hopelessness of it all, caused the British to leave. It was Winston Churchill who described Mesopotamia (Iraq) as an “ungrateful volcano.” And when the British left, the local Arabs solemnly promised not to harm the local Christians, and five months after the last British troops pulled out, Muslim Arabs killed up to 100,000 largely helpless Assyrians. (William Saroyan wrote a book about it).
Everywhere Muslims spreading Islam are careful to present it as the vehicle for whatever grievance the potential local converts may have. If it is black prisoners in the United States, then Islam is presented as the vehicle both of “social justice” (see how Muslim ruling classes everywhere seize the national wealth, see how well the poor are treated in Muslim countries), and against “racism.” And the Infidels do little or nothing. Have you seen any campaigns of deliberate counter-Da’wa anywhere in the prisons of the West? It would be easy to show, and to keep showing, perhaps by organizing the “Lost Boys” of the Sudan, that anti-black racism, of the purest and most virulent kind, is found among the Arabs. Anyone who has studied in an Arab country returns amazed at what is openly said about blacks, and not a few are shaken. Anyone who looks into the history of African slavery soon discovers that the Arab slave trade began earlier, and ended later, than that of the Europeans – or rather, ended formally later, but actually continues, in several countries, to this day. Why is this not screamed from every housetop? Why have the countries of the advanced world, that have poured $400 billion into aid to black Africa, not tried to halt the spread of the most retrograde force, a force which encourages the habit of mental submission, and which, in its inshallah-fatalism, is in fact fatal to economic development, not tried to stop the spread of Islam? If they have the wellbeing of black Africans at heart, they must begin to understand, and to share their understanding, that Islam has been, is, and always will be, a force that hinders, with that inshallah-fatalism and that habit of mental submission, any possibility of either economic or intellectual development.
The evidence is there. What sustained the Muslims for centuries, at a low level, was simply the accumulated intellectual capital of those peoples whom they conquered, and slowly leached of life, and of property as well. Now North Africa and the Middle East are virtually emptied of the local non-Muslims who once provided a certain supply of Jizyah. What sustains the Arabs and Muslims are two things, and only two things; the new disguised Jizyah of Western foreign aid (which should be ended, and used to meet the new expenses of monitoring Muslim populations in the West), and the manna of oil wealth, entirely undeserved, and the only conceivable way that the Arabs and Muslims might acquire great wealth – through an accident of geology. Are the peoples of black Africa to be misled into thinking that they, too, will somehow share in that wealth if they are Muslim?
There was once a very large and intelligent, because it focused on small-scale, doable projects, aid effort by Israel in black Africa. It was the most successful of all such foreign aid efforts. It was widespread. It was widely welcomed. But it came to an end, after the Six-Day War, under Arab pressure, and bribery – the same bribery that caused several dozen African states, under Arab command, to break diplomatic relations with Israel. Some of those African states no doubt thought that the Arabs would share just a little of that vast unearned wealth – if only to replace what Israel, a tiny country, had so remarkably provided. It was not to be. It will never be. The Arab Muslims are trying in Africa to dominate the Continent. They are patient. They are methodical. In West Africa, where Islam is already dominant, as in uranium-rich Niger, they have transformed the easygoing, syncretistic practice of Islam to something much more akin to what can be seen in Saudi Arabia. And everywhere mosques are becoming subject to the strictures of those who pay for them, or pay the imams – and that usually means the Saudis. In some countries that once had a clear Christian majority, such as the Ivory Coast, the Christians are feeling besieged by Muslims who come in from the north, and the French government under Chirac understood their fear, but did not support the local black Christians, but rather attempted to appease the world’s Muslims. Boko Haram has not been stopped; it becomes more powerful every day and not just in Nigeria.
In East Africa, when the black Africans rose up against their Arab masters in Zanzibar and Pemba some decades ago (the slave trade by the Arabs in East Africa had been centered there – indeed, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman had for a time ruled directly from Zanzibar), little was made of this in the West. No one discussed the long history of the Arab slave trade, with its practice of castrating black children when they were first caught, and then taking them by slave coffle or dhow to the slave markets of Islam, a trip which about 10% survived (see “The Hideous Trade” by Jan Hogedorn). And so the Arabs have continued their march southward. The Sudan had very few Arabs in the southern part one hundred years ago. But steadily they have taken territory, pushed back, killed, black Africans. 1.8 million non-Muslim blacks were killed, or deliberately starved to death, in the southern Sudan in the last two decades. Not content with that, not content with having seized complete control of the oil wealth that lies under the Christian and animist areas of the artificial state of Sudan, the Arabs are now trying to seize, by mass murder, the lands as well of the Muslim, but non-“Arab” blacks of Darfur. The campaign of mass rape, destruction of property, and killing of every man, woman and child they can get their hands on has been reported and reported, and reported. It has been reported without any understanding of Islam as a vehicle for Arab supremacism (the nicholas-kristofs of this world never bothered to figure out what was going on, what ideology prompted the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government that supported it, or the other Arab and Muslim governments that ran interference for that Sudanese government), but are content with writing endless columns of easy anguish.
Americans and other Infidel peoples should be supporting Ethiopian efforts to halt the spread of Islam, or of the purest kind of Islam, whether in Somalia or in Ethiopia itself, and to help Ethiopia remain a Christian kingdom that can help prevent the takeover of southern East Africa by Islam. Muslims owe their loyalty to the umma al-islamiyya, to fellow Muslims. It would make sense, in Africa, for the Americans not only to have handfuls of advisors and troops here and there, but to engage in propaganda. This propaganda, which happens to be the truth simply megaphoned to make a point, should describe in vivid detail the history of the Arab slave trade. It should explain to Africans that slavery is permanently sanctioned by both Qur’an and Sunnah, and can therefore never, within Islam, be banished. It should detail the continuing racism of the Arabs. And it should show how Islam stands in the way of economic and other kinds of development in two ways: in the encouragement of the habit of mental submission, central to Islam, and in the inshallah-fatalism that limits economic activity, and how Islam has relied on two kinds of manna: the Jizyah that is demanded from, or voluntarily supplied by, non-Muslims, and the oil wealth that has resulted from an accident of geology. And despite the thirty trillion dollars that the Arab and Muslim states have received from oil revenues since 1973, not a single one has managed to create a real economy, not a single one–those, like Turkey or Tunisia or Lebanon, that had both a large non-Muslim or secular class, and income from tourism and trade to count on — has ceased to be hopelessly dependent on oil.
Islam, as it spreads, will merely guarantee that the countries and peoples of sub-Saharan Africa will be forced to endure the political, economic, social, moral, and intellectual failures of Muslim states and societies – failures whose source can be found in Islam itself.
Do we wish black Africa well, or ill? If we do wish to help the peoples of black Africa, preventing or halting the spread of Islam makes sense. And it makes sense for us to help others, such as the Berbers who were fighting in Ghaadia, to regain their history, their language and their culture, and it makes sense for us, in other ways, as well to promote pride in pre- or non-Islamic culture, among the many peoples called “Muslim” who have another identity to look to, if they feel the impulse to do so.