The following is an excellent excerpt from the book ”MIRROR OF THE ARAB WORLD: Lebanon in Conflict” by Sandra Mackey from the “Afterword” on page 255 and I quote: “The profile of Lebanon described in the preceding pages has provided Westerners a look inside the Arab world. Its purpose is not to make the reader a voyeur in the tangled lives of Arabs. Rather it is intended as a journey of insight into another people and another culture at a time when the tide of history is washing away aged sea walls, forcing the West and the Arab East into a lifeboat together. The interests of both demand keeping that boat afloat. And keeping it afloat means reaching cultural accommodation.
“Understanding” is perhaps the most used and abused word in the realm of human relationships. Nevertheless, comprehending the experiences, values, psychological anchors, broken moorings, soaring pride, and debilitating fears of the “other” is where accommodation begins.
Sadly, perhaps tragically, the Arab world and the West have never been able or willing to step out from behind their blinds of culture and religion, lay down the prejudices and perceptions they have carried for centuries, or meet as different societies with competing interests but a shared stake in their collective future. If East and West are to survive and prosper in a world in which they can no longer remain separated geographically, economically, or even culturally, then understanding must come from both sides. This book has been an attempt to begin that process in the West.
The river of time flowing from the Lebanon of the 1960s to the Iraq of post-2003 is cutting a new course through the Arab world. It is no longer adequate to speak of a geographic region defined on the west by the Nile and the east by the Tigris-Euphrates valley. With the political empowerment of the Shia, the Arab world have become the new Middle East, still beginning in Lebanon but rather than ending in Iraq, extending through Persian Iran to Afghanistan. Even so, it is on the ground of the Arab world where two cultures are walking toward the abyss. For it is within the Arab world where Islam and the West are the most intensely entwined. This is where they meet geographically. This is where the religions of Abraham—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are cradled. This is where the assumptions, perceptions, resentments, and realities of an unequal historical relationship are stored. This is where Zionist Israel, located geographically in the Arab East and anchored culturally in the West, sits as the great symbol of Arab humiliation. And this is where the globe’s largest reserves of petroleum pool beneath the sands. Yet neither the Arabs nor the West generally recognize how much each is responsible for the fears facing the other or how near both are to the chasm that could swallow them. The irony is that as tension builds toward an explosion point, both the Arabs and the West are entrapped by many of the same insecurities, constrained by the same levels of intolerance, and plagued with their own internal conflicts over the definition of who they are as a people.
In 1949, the distinguished American historian Arthur Schlesinger opened his book The Vital Center with these words: “Western man in the middle of the twentieth century is tense, uncertain, adrift. We look upon our epoch as a time of trouble, an age of anxiety. The grounds of our civilization, of our certitude, are breaking up under our feet, and familiar ideas . . [are] like shadows in the falling dusk.” In the early years of the twenty-first century, the Arabs are experiencing that same uncertainty.
Spasms of change grip every Arab society. Long-festering wounds on the inside and new influences invading from the outside are eating away at ageless certainties, time-honored traditions, and venerable relationships within families, clans, and tribes. In the simplest expression of cause and effect, these multiple and varied forces can be bundled under the trendy term “globalization.” Rather than opening up to the possibilities presented by a shrinking globe, many Arabs, particularly those shut off from globalization’s economic benefits, are aligning themselves with political movements claiming that all the answers to the woes of the Arab world are found in Islam. Others are drawn to charismatic figures weaving vicious stereotypes and preaching hatred of Christianity and Judiasm. Still others engage in acts of terrorism in defense of an identity enfolded in Islam.
Not since the Crusades have the Arabs and the West faced off so blatantly and simplistically under the flags of culture and religion. They do so because Islam is no longer just a religion. It is also politics. So is Christianity, particularly in the United States. In secular Europe, identity drawn from cultural aggrandizement performs the same function as religion in pitting Europeans against Muslims. It is as if two trains, one coming from Islam, the other from the West, are racing toward each other on the same track.
The highly controversial idea expounded by Samuel Huntington that the wars of the twenty-first century will be fought between civilizations rather than nation-states is neither entirely right nor totally wrong. Throughout history, wars have never resulted from dueling cultures alone. Underneath claims of cultural superiority hide motivations generated by competition for resources and advantages that secure interests. Such were the so-called wars of civilization between the Greeks and the Persians; the Greeks and the Romans; the Muslims and the Byzantines; the Christian Crusaders and Islam’s defenders. At the same time, identity, tradition, theology, ideology, values, and perceptions provide the emotional energy to put armies in the field. And these same factors keep them there.
Through most of history, the West and the Arab East were separated from each other by mountains, oceans, and sheer distance. In the twenty-first century, stunning advances of technology in transportation and communication have shrunk the globe to the point where these two realms are constantly colliding. Not only are Westerners and Arabs bumping into each other, their encounters are reported by a mass media shaped by the articular culture in which it operates. Thus events are framed in terms of specific cultural attitudes. From these flow mutually hostile press reports and television coverage filled with conscious and unconscious bias. Further, fictional characters created through television and the movies exploit existing prejudices and perpetuate intolerance bred in mutual ignorance.
But the tensions are not only between cultures. Both Arabs and Westerners are tormented by conflicts within their own societies over the issue of who has the right to define religion and, by extension, society. Such conflicts are feeding extremism within cultures as much as between cultures. Inside the borders of a political state and religious faith, there are Muslims who abominate opposing interpretations of Islam and denounce those who seek reform of orthodoxy. There are Christians who claim to possess absolute truth and judge Christians outside their own strict theology as damned.
Nearly a thousand years ago, at the time of the Crusades, the Syrian Arab poet Osama bin al Munqudh wrote that most people divided the Arab Middle East into three unequal parts: Muslim, Christian, and Jew. To him, the truth was very different. In his eyes, that region was divided into only two parts: those who believe and those who think. Today it is the believers who are consuming the thinkers.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the future of the Arab world was in the hands of intellectuals and the educated political class. They saw in Arab nationalism the renaissance of Arab culture and gave voice to the expectation that contact with the West would deliver modernization by breaking Islam’s exclusive hold on the culture. The Palestinian intellectual Hazem Nusseibah has written of that time, “They believed in the blending of what was best in . . . Arab heritage and in contemporary Western civilization and culture, and they foresaw no serious problem which might impair the process of amalgamation.” [Footnote: Quoted in Fouad Ajami, Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generations’ Odyssey (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), p. 7.] As secularists, they called for the separation of religion from the state, the abolition of barriers between different sects and denominations, and banishment of clerical interference in political and judicial affairs.
By the mid-1980s, the elders of Arab politics had been pushed aside by cadres of the young who rejected intellectualism and engagement with the West in favor of theocratic politics and isolation. Coming of age in an atmosphere created by massive population increases, regional instability, and the ossification of their own political systems, this generation blamed the modernizers operating on Western models for the economic and political disappointments of Arab governance. They also accuse them of neglecting to shield those they governed from cultural infringement or to confirm the authenticity of their identity. Seeking a redefinition of the role of religion in their lives, many have signed on with the politicized militants of Islam who reject any division between the city of man and the city of God. Believing that Islam encompasses both, they accuse secularism of suppressing religion, advancing Western ambitions to subjugate the Muslims, and bringing disorder into Arab society.
The furious and malignant anti-Westernism of conservative Islam is, in part, an expression of the Arab world’s rage at itself. Judging themselves inferior to the West in terms of power and accomplishment, Islamic militants of the Arab world are attempting to prove that Arab institutions, the Arab way of life, and, in essence, the whole culture of the Arabs are superior to those of the West. In this mindset, Islam must be the pure Islam enunciated and lived by the prophet. It must be free of contamination by reinterpretation or encroachment. And it must not be “reformed” because ultimate truth was articulated in the seventh century. This is the Islam of the Wahhabis. With hatred toward the West added, it is the Islam of al Qaeda and its fellow travelers. Those associated with al Qaeda in Mesopotamia are typical of those who sound the call to jihad: “Young men of Islam; gather together in fighting, the Crusaders and the Jews, and remember Allah at all times. . . It is either victory or martyrdom . . He whoever turns out to be a martyr, his soul will be freely flying around paradise . . . close to the throne of Allah.” [Footnote: Jihad Media Brigade, April 26, 2006, http://w-n-n.net, accessed April 17, 2007.]
Although they see salvation in the past, these true believers employ current technology to disseminate their poison propaganda. In the souks of most Arab countries, stacks of DVDs, produced and distributed by militant Muslims, juxtapose images from the Crusades with images of the Iraq war. In others, a cross drips blood on the Kaaba. On the Internet, the voices of the jihadists exhort their followers and the undecided to become part of Islam’s new century. Al Jihad al Islami, an organization implicated in the 1984 assassination of the president of American University of Beirut, Malcolm Kerr, issues its call to jihad on its Web site: “Islam. . . is a religion that sees its duty and commitment to form an Islamic state . . . Its mandate is to reform the whole world.” [Footnote: http://www.al-islam.org/short/jihad,/, accessed June 17, 2007.] The target of the rhetoric of all is the West but it is also the Shia, the dissenters within Islam, and those Muslims who speak of the need for reform within their own faith.”
(THE FOLLOWING IS SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND I QUOTE:
SANDRA MACKEY is the author of The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. Her other books include The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom; Lebanon: A House Divided; Passion and Politics: The Turbulent World of the Arabs; and The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation. She has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post. She has been a frequent commentator on the Middle East for CNN as well as other major news organizations. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.”
THE ISSUE OF THE JEWS AND THE ARABS LIVING TOGETHER IS CRUCIAL, IF WE WANT WORLD PEACE. I BELIEVE, IN THE END, IT WILL COME DOWN TO THE UNITED NATIONS TO MAKE THE DECISION, THAT’S IT’S ESSENTIAL THAT BOTH THE JEWS AND ARABS HAVE SEPARATE COUNTRIES AND THEIR DISPUTED BOUNDARY LINES ARE SETTLED. FOR THE BENEFIT OF BOTH COUNTRIES. IT’S REALLY A GREAT BOOK THAT ALL OUR LEGISLATORS MUST READ.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members