Friday, August 19, 2011

Israel Bombs Gaza whilst Assad Kills Syrians - What To Do?

Where do we start? Seriously, where do we start? Should the Arabs continue to focus their attention on removing the barbarous buffoons that have run their countries like private estates for the past half a century? Or do they focus entirely on resisting Western imperialism? I don't pretend to know the answer, but with an Arab world that is unable to speak, or think even, then I begin to lean more towards the path of self liberation first. When you fly in an aeroplane, there are usually little safety sheets which tell you what to do in an emergency. Usually there is a section about oxygen masks, and the first thing you must do in an emergency is ensure that your own mask is on, otherwise you risk falling unconscious before putting the mask safely on your loved one. the motto of this simple exercise is that if you fail to take care of yourself, then you are no good to anybody.

Resistance First?

Those who argue that resisting foreign aggression is the main priority are right, but only to a certain extent. They ignore the reality which is that none of the Arab countries have made any tangible progress with regards to justice for the Palestinian people. In fact these Arab countries which have trumpeted 'the cause' have been the biggest obstacle to justice for the Palestinians: in Jordan they were crushed by the late King Hussein; in Syria, Hafez Assad kept a tight lid on the groups, and his son is shelling Palestinian refugee camps in Lattakia today; in Egypt, Mubarak colluded openly with the Israelis in starving Gaza; in Lebanon we saw the massacres. The list goes on and on. Rather than assisting our Palestinian brethren, our illustrious Arab leaders have only used them as puppets to serve their own goals.

I still think Iran poses the biggest challenge to American hegemony in the region, and I do believe that Hezbullah bloodied Israel's nose in 2006, albeit at great expense. But insofar as an alternative to Western imperialism, Iran and Hezbullah have failed to provide an alternative. Extra-judicial killings, sham trials, the torture of political dissidents, and the violent suppression of protests are all stupid actions which alienate the population, and ensure that nobody wants to live in these little 'havens' that are supposedly safe from Western colonialism. When most of your population are fed up with your rule, it's difficult to convince them that they are 'free' in the big picture when they cannot even demand accountability from those who rule them, or target corruption and inefficient government. For example, a few weeks ago in Tehran, youth were arrested for organising a mixed sex water pistol fight in a park; that is just ridiculous.

Eliminating Dictatorship?

So in the end, it seems as if self reform and the elimination of dictatorship might in fact be Palestine's only hope. There is no point talking about liberation and justice for people when people in Tehran, Damascus or Riyadh are themselves not free and can only obtain justice at the whim of a benevolent (at times) tyrant. What we need is a radical paradigm shift, a break away from the stale nationalistic slogans of the twentieth century, with all the political baggage involved, and a drastic rethink of the way we Arabs view the world, and those around us. Having a free political space where people can think, debate and implement ideas, free from censors, ministries of information and secret police, might be just what the Arab world needs.

Naturally, some people continue to rant and rave about the rising threat of Islamism, as if that term itself denotes some monolithic belief system which is poised to sweep the region. Islamists are part of the political fabric of our countries, and if these countries are to move forward, then they have to work out mechanisms for involving those groups that are committed to a political process into providing practical solutions for the problems the Arab countries face. It's all well for a Salafist movement to rant and rave about returning to the ways of the Prophet, but when they have to play by political rules and deliver economic and social stability to their populations, it will become quite clear to them that a certain amount of pragmatism and flexibility will be required. Then there is the worry of the national armies, which have played  particularly destructive roles for the Arab world, and have been especially pathetic in the face of Israeli or Western invasions. These armies have to be reconstituted such that political affiliations should be banned for veterans as well as serving members. Party propaganda should be severely curtailed on official media, and probably limited to election periods, whilst transparency in the party politics and internal machinations would ensure that we won't see another Baath party emerge that will hijack a country.

Ultimate Sovereignty; Where does it lie?

This is all well and good, but in practical terms, the ultimate sovereignty and power has to lay somewhere. Somebody must guard the guardians and ensure that they do not become corrupted by power. Here I believe the solution is simple. Sovereignty must lie with the people, who will protest, take to the streets, and completely wreck the infrastructure of any state which begins to go amok and refuse to abide by the constitution of the realm. Those segments of the population which begin to disrupt the political process should always be involved in the political process. Even if a total gridlock paralyses the country for months, throwing the gauntlet down and bypassing constitutional safeguards must never be allowed by the people. Arabs have historically, before this horrific idea of a hereditary caliphate was imposed, been notoriously difficult to govern. Whether Christian, Muslim or Atheist, Arabs have a long history of selecting rulers who were simply first amongst equals. That tradition is precedent enough for Arabs who are wary of imposing Western political ideologies wholesale, and a good way forward for the region.

Whilst Israel bombs Gaza, Assad is killing Syrians and Palestinians in Syria. This is not the time to equivocate and both actions should be condemned utterly. But we would do good to remember that Israel is only able to bomb Palestinians with impunity because the Arab world is rife with tyranny and oppression. That is something worth considering.

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