Saturday, September 01, 2007

It is not by bread alone that you live...

An interesting article by Sami Moubayad has just been posted and has got me thinking. In it, a person is lamenting the fact that they were 'not a good citizen' for not voting. However, this is not due to a lack of a sense of civic duty, but to a jaded disillusionment with an idea. It concludes with a nostalgic description of an ousted presidents patriotism followed by a sad monologue lamenting the current state of the Arab world. What indeed do we have to tell our children? The person in the article decides to sell them illusions. The first illusion is Syria. The second is that we have nothing to be proud of as Arabs. The protagonist in Sami's article is deluded.

Do I need to embody all my hopes and dreams and somebody elses conception of a 'good citizen' in a piece of colourful cloth? The fatal flaw in this reasoning is that it...like other universalist ideas...is flawed. She yearns for a universalist idea to "unite the young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian, believer and atheist." What she is asking for is a new religion because those Muslims and Christians, believers and atheists are fragmented and divided. All those previous religions and beliefs didn't work, according to her, but this new one can. No reason is given, we're Syrians aren't we? We're supposed to buy into this. I'm afraid not.

Why is that? Am I not a Syrian myself, yes...and no. Syria itself is named the Syrian Arab Republic but I no longer consider myself a Syrian nationalist, let alone an Arab nationalist. Does that mean I am no longer Syrian, or an Arab? As Maxime Rodinson discusses in his book called, pretty obviously, "The Arabs"; What is an Arab? Is it racial? Linguistic? Cultural? Religious? Each of these concepts fails to stand up to scrutiny, torn down by inherent inconsistencies. Yet still, I refer to myself as an Arab. I am a Syrian as a conscious and voluntary decision in a world which defines you based on something called a 'passport'. If I was born in Columbia I would have been Columbian, so does that mean that my identity as an Arab and a Syrian is constructed? I think so, but that does not negate it's importance or power. On the contrary, a conscious and enlightened decision to embrace this identity is healthy and necessary just for the illusion of comfort and stability if nothing else. Yet it can also be overrated. We must never forget the inconsistencies of which we as human beings are all made of. What is nationalism but a greedy attempt to mark what is ours and exclude others? I can't remember who said this right now, but was it Derrida or Foucalt who believed that the nation state in and of itself is a violent concept which divides people into an us/them dichotomy? (Somebody please remind me!) So where can we seek truth in this? Religion? Blissful and self absorbed Atheism? I'm not the one to give you the answer, I'm looking for that myself. Yes, I carry my identity with me, but like Descartes did, I also prefer to take all my apples out of the basket every now and then to find the rotten one. Only then can I be certain of who I am and what I represent. In doing that, I am not too proud to admit that I have rotten apples, nor to ignore my favourite apple and it's growing rottenness. It must be done.

In the article, the protagonist isn't sure what she should tell her children as she considers so much that is negative which has occurred in our contemporary history yet, like her argument about 'syria' (small s), her argument fails the test of scrutiny. I'll describe why in a moment.

She talks about the Israeli invasion of 1982, but does not link that with almost twenty years of resistance and defiance. Why? We are living in an age since the mid twentieth century which has seen most of the world shake off the shackles of tyranny and exploitation. We've done it physically and now it is happening mentally. The Israeli invastion did start in 1982, but it ended in 2000 in defeat. Is that not an accomplishment? Was Lebanon not invaded by an infinitely stronger enemy. Note it was not Lebanon that transgressed, but Israel. Why is she stealing the morsel from our mouths? Why deny a victory?

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is not linked with it's occupation in 2003. That this almost twenty year war is now ending with the inevitable invaders defeat, she does not deem important to tell her children. That there are as we speak 150,000 American hostages in Iraq, an Iraq which the British Army is now hastily retreating from. An Iraq torn to pieces which has humbled the worlds only superpower from the grave. Are the Iraqi's not suffering? Of course they are, they were invaded and divided! You do not complain if there is a massive flood, you just drain the floodwater before you start rebuilding. Experiencing a flood is not fun I am sure, but you surely must tell your children how everybody tried to survive it somehow and eventually stop it?

The shame she refers to on Abu Ghraib is like her expecting a rape victim to be ashamed. It is the rapist who has to hide from the law and refuse to recognise an International Criminal Court because they fear their soldiers and Generals will be sentenced. The victim is not at fault, her honour is not tarnished even if she has been violated.

Shall we talk quickly about oil? Let's talk quickly about oil. About the commodity which our present human civilisation depends upon, which, by a quirk of nature or divine providence, happens to be mostly under our control. A commodity without which people in California or New York would be left at each others throats for a scrap of meat. Are we lesser people because we haven't technology? Technology which our own resources makes possible? America might have a factory, but what use is a factory if you can't run it? Most people live better today than Pharoah did in Egypt. Pharoah never even slept on a mattress or had running hot water! Did he have air conditioned cars? No, but these things are not what made him Pharoah. These things do not a human being make.

I think the Bible says that it is not by bread alone that people can live. That message was once stretched from Spain to China until we forgot it and alienated ourselves with our own belongings. The belief in bread alone is what defines those who have chosen to invade and occupy us, but that is also their downfall. Moubayads protagonist can go ahead and tell her children about glorious flags and her new religion. My children and their generation will learn why Our Syria and Our Arabism (capital letters) is important for them and that it is not by bread alone that you live.

5 comments:

Amre El-Abyad said...

And dont forget the upcoming Arab Iraqi victory against Iran, Inshallah" and with the blessings of sayidna al Hussien. Najad has declared that Iran will occupy Iraq when the Americans leave. The persian dirt is digging the grave of his people.

Wassim said...

Amre.. Please.

Amre El-Abyad said...

Dear Wassim,

That is neither an irrelevent comment nor a story I invented in the loo. That what Ahmadi Najad literally announced in a press conference: the rat said that Iran wiling to fill in the political void that an Amrican withdrawal will incur. Most willing to know your refelections on the issue. By the way, I have done my research. I still, however, would appreciate your inputs into the issue, simply because you are a young conscious syrian non-sectarian Arab man.

Wassim said...

Amre you want to put a band aid on a severed arm. Not only that but your comments are actually racist and irrational.

Amre El-Abyad said...

The metaphor is too high for my mind to undertand. You are simply avoiding the issue of the criminal role of Iran in Iraq.I dont know why!!!???. what is it exactly? you dont want to see Iranian blood spilled or what? what about the Arabs who are being maaacred by those vampires. And calling the persian dirt terrorist criminals for killing Arabs and fuelling sectarian blood baths is not RACISM