Edward Said: The US is preparing to attack the Arab world, while the Arabs whimper in submission

  • From: "muslim-news.net" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2003 09:13:15 -0000

One opens the New York Times on a daily basis to read the most recent
article about the preparations for war that are taking place in the
United States. Another battalion, one more set of aircraft carriers and
cruisers, an ever-increasing number of aircraft, new contingents of
officers are being moved to the Persian Gulf area. An enormous,
deliberately intimidating force is being built up by America overseas,
while inside the country, economic and social bad news multiply with a
joint relentlessness. 

The huge capitalist machine seems to be faltering, even as it grinds
down the vast majority of citizens. None the less, George Bush proposes
another large tax cut for the 1% of the population that is comparatively
rich. The public education system is in crisis and health insurance for
50 million Americans simply does not exist. Israel asks for $15bn in
additional loan guarantees and military aid. And the unemployment rates
in the US mount inexorably, as more jobs are lost every day. 

Nevertheless, preparations for an unimaginably costly war continue
without either public approval or, at least until very recently,
dramatically noticeable disapproval. A generalised indifference among
the majority of the population (which may conceal great overall fear,
ignorance and apprehension) has greeted the administration's
warmongering and its strangely ineffective response to the challenge
forced on it recently by North Korea. In the case of Iraq, with no
weapons of mass destruction to speak of, the US plans a war; in the case
of North Korea, it offers economic and energy aid. What a humiliating
difference between contempt for the Arabs and respect for North Korea,
an equally grim and cruel dictatorship. 

In the Arab and Muslim worlds, the situation appears more peculiar. For
almost a year American politicians, regional experts, administration
officials and journalists have repeated the charges that have become
standard fare so far as Islam and the Arabs are concerned. Most of this
predates September 11. To today's practically unanimous chorus has been
added the authority of the UN human development report on the Arab
world, which certified that Arabs dramatically lag behind the rest of
the world in democracy, knowledge and women's rights. 

Everyone says (with some justification, of course) that Islam needs
reform and that the Arab educational system is a disaster - in effect, a
school for religious fanatics and suicide bombers funded not just by
crazy imams and their wealthy followers (such as Osama bin Laden) but
also by governments who are the supposed allies of the US. 

The only "good" Arabs are those who appear in the media decrying modern
Arab culture and society without reservation. I recall the lifeless
cadences of their sentences for, with nothing positive to say about
themselves or their people and language, they simply regurgitate the
tired American formulas already flooding the airwaves and pages of
print. We lack democracy, they say, we haven't challenged Islam enough,
we need to do more about driving away the spectre of Arab nationalism
and the credo of Arab unity. That is all discredited, ideological
rubbish. Only what we and our American instructors say about the Arabs
and Islam - vague, recycled Orientalist clichés repeated by tireless
mediocrities such as Bernard Lewis - are true, they insist. The rest
isn't realistic or pragmatic enough. "We" need to join modernity -
modernity in effect being western, globalised, free marketed,
democratic, whatever those words might be taken to mean. There would be
an essay to be written about the prose style of licensed academics like
Fuad Ajami, Fawwaz Gerges, Kanan Makiya, Shibli Talhami, Mamoon Fandy,
whose very language reeks of subservience, inauthenticity and the
hopelessly stilted mimicry that has been thrust upon them. 

The clash of civilisations that George Bush and his minions are trying
to fabricate as a cover for a pre-emptive oil and hegemony war against
Iraq is supposed to result in a triumph of democratic nation-building,
regime change and forcible modernisation à l'Américaine. Never mind the
bombs and the ravages of the sanctions, which are unmentioned. This will
be a purifying war whose goal is to throw out Saddam and his men and
replace them with a redrawn map of the whole region. New Sykes Picot.
New Balfour. New Wilsonian 14 points. New world altogether. Iraqis, we
are told by the Iraqi dissidents, will welcome their liberation, and
perhaps forget entirely about their past sufferings. Perhaps. 

Meanwhile, the soul-and-body destroying situation in Palestine worsens
all the time. There seems no force capable of stopping Ariel Sharon and
his defence minister Shaul Mofaz, who bellow their defiance to the whole
world. We forbid, we punish, we ban, we break, we destroy. The torrent
of unbroken violence against an entire people continues. 

As I write these lines, I am sent an announcement that the village of
Al-Daba' in the Qalqilya area of the West Bank is about to be wiped out
by 60-tonne American-made Israeli bulldozers: 250 Palestinians will lose
their 42 houses, 700 dunums of agricultural land, a mosque and an
elementary school for 132 children. The UN stands by, looking on as its
resolutions are flouted on an hourly basis. Alas, George Bush identifies
with Sharon, not with the 16-year-old Palestinian kid who is used as a
human shield by Israeli soldiers. 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority offers a return to peacemaking and,
presumably, to Oslo. Having been burned for 10 years, Arafat seems
inexplicably to want to have another go at it. His faithful lieutenants
make declarations and write opinion pieces for the press, suggesting
their willingness to accept anything, more or less. Remarkably, though,
the great mass of this heroic people seems willing to go on, without
peace and without respite, bleeding, going hungry, dying day by day.
They have too much dignity and confidence in the justice of their cause
to submit shamefully to Israel, as their leaders have done. What could
be more discouraging for the average Gazan who goes on resisting Israeli
occupation than to see his or her leaders kneel as supplicants before
the Americans? 

In this entire panorama of desolation, what catches the eye is the utter
passivity and helplessness of the Arab world as a whole. The American
government and its servants issue statement after statement of purpose,
they move troops and material, they transport tanks and destroyers, but
the Arabs individually and collectively can barely muster a bland
refusal. At most they say no, you cannot use military bases in our
territory, only to reverse themselves a few days later. 

Why is there such silence and such astounding helplessness? The largest
power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign Arab
country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of which is
not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the entire region.
The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to redraw the map of
the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other regimes and borders in the
process. No one can be shielded from the cataclysm if and when it comes.
And yet, there is only long silence followed by a few vague bleats of
polite demurral in response. Millions of people will be affected, yet
America contemptuously plans for their future without consulting them.
Do we deserve such racist derision? 

This is not only unacceptable: it is impossible to believe. How can a
region of almost 300 million Arabs wait passively for the blows to fall
without attempting a collective roar of resistance? Has the Arab will
completely dissolved? Even a prisoner about to be executed usually has
some last words to pronounce. Why is there now no last testimonial to an
era of history, to a civilisation about to be crushed and transformed
utterly, to a society that, despite its drawbacks and weaknesses,
nevertheless goes on functioning? 

Arab babies are born every hour, children go to school, men and women
marry and work and have children, they play and laugh and eat, they are
sad, they suffer illness and death. There is love and companionship,
friendship and excitement. Yes, Arabs are repressed and misruled,
terribly misruled, but they manage to go on with the business of living
despite everything. This is the reality that both the Arab leaders and
the US ignore when they fling empty gestures at the so-called "Arab
street" invented by banal Orientalists. 

Who is now asking the existential questions about our future as a
people? The task cannot be left to a cacophony of religious fanatics and
submissive, fatalistic sheep. But that seems to be the case. The Arab
governments - no, most of the Arab countries from top to bottom - sit
back in their seats and just wait as America postures, lines up,
threatens and ships out more soldiers and F-16s to deliver the punch.
The silence is deafening. 

Years of sacrifice and struggle, of bones broken in hundreds of prisons
and torture chambers from the Atlantic to the Gulf, families destroyed,
endless poverty and suffering. Huge, expensive armies. For what? 

This is not a matter of party or ideology or faction: it's a matter of
what the great theologian Paul Tillich used to call ultimate
seriousness. Technology, modernisation and certainly globalisation are
not the answer for what threatens us as a people now. We have in our
tradition an entire body of secular and religious discourse that treats
of beginnings and endings, of life and death, of love and anger, of
society and history. This is there, but no voice, no individual with
great vision and moral authority seems able now to tap into that and
bring it to attention. 

We are on the eve of a catastrophe that our political, moral and
religious leaders can only just denounce a little bit while, behind
whispers and winks and closed doors, they make plans somehow to ride out
the storm. They think of survival, and perhaps of heaven. But who is in
charge of the present, the worldly, the land, the water, the air and the
lives dependent on each other for existence? No one seems to be in

There is a wonderful expression that very precisely and ironically
catches our unacceptable helplessness, our passivity and inability to
help ourselves now when our strength is most needed. The expression is:
will the last person to leave please turn out the lights? We are that
close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing and
perilously little left even to record, except for the last injunction
that begs for extinction. 

Hasn't the time come for us collectively to demand and formulate a
genuinely Arab alternative to the wreckage about to engulf our world?
This is not only a trivial matter of regime change, although God knows
that we can do with quite a bit of that. Surely it can't be a return to
Oslo, another offer to Israel to please accept our existence and let us
live in peace, another cringing, crawling, inaudible plea for mercy?
Will no one come out into the light of day to express a vision for our
future that isn't based on a script written by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul
Wolfowitz, those two symbols of vacant power and overweening arrogance?
I hope someone is listening. 

Edward Said is professor of English and comparative literature at
Columbia University, New York. His books include Orientalism and
Covering Islam. His latest work, Parallels and Paradoxes, cowritten with
Daniel Barenboim, will be published by Bloomsbury in March

Source:  The Guardian

Comment:  Edward Said makes some important points in this comment, in
particular the enaction of the rulers of the Muslim countries to the
impending war against Iraq and their connivance to the Capitalist war
machine. This ultimately leads the people to believe they cannot solve
the present problems which blight them. 

Within this context there are a few points we would like to add. 

(1) The backwardness throughout the Muslim world is not due to clutching
on to Islam and rejecting modernity. The Muslims lagged behind as a
result of abandoning Islam and not because they held on to it. It was
only when the political bedrock of Islam as represented in the Khilafah
was destroyed in 1924 did we find the Muslims split into nation states,
something which Islam both forbids and results in great problems. The
killing, subservience to the West, economic decline, political
corruption dependent foreign policy and the like are all resultant from
the very leaders who were placed there as agents followng the
destruction of the Khilafah. 

(2) No country throughout the Muslim world applies Islam, rather they
mix between Nationalism, Capitalism, Secularism, Socialism and aspects
of Islam are thrown in for good measure in order to exploit the Islamic
emotions of the people. An example of this is the Ba'thist regime of
Saddam Hussein which is founded upon a mixture of Arab Nationalism and
Socialism. Yet this regime affixed the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is the
Greatest) during the Gulf War and used words such as Jihad and quoting
Ayaat of the Qur'an, despite the fact that the regime did not change
from its Socialist basis. 

(3) Solutions such as Nationalism, Socialism, Capitalism in all there
guises are bankrupt to the core, they will never secure the successful
future of the Ummah in this world and in the hereafter. To call for
these solutions is to cement and exacerbate the already existence
problems we face. 

(4) The only solution is to engage in the political work. This doesn't
refer to the adherence to the political practices of the West which are
founded on Secularism and Capitalism. This also does not require working
through the UN, a well known tool of America. It refers to placing
pressure upon the regimes in the Muslim world in order that they are
removed and unity in all its guises is returned to the Muslim world
under the system of the Khilafah. 

The rulers over the Muslim lands do not seek to solve this problem or to
safeguard Iraq from attack as they exacerbate the problem by their
subservience to the West. The Islamic Ummah requires sincere leadership
and not one weaned and dependent upon their Western paymasters. The
Khaleefah will practically act to make the Muslims dependent of the West
and will not yield to their colonialist designs.

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