In Light of Today's Situation, Arab Culture and History
My Experience in the Arab World
It is not new that during one period or another, the Occident was in conflict with some Arab countries, and therefore became their enemy. The Arab World tried many times to recover and emerge from the defeat of the time of the Arab Empire of the Umayyad Caliphate. It had always dreamt of finding again the glory of the past trough any new leader who could reconstitute the Arab Empire of that time. In our time we have known such leaders as Gamal Abdel Nasser who, along with Muhammad Naguib led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which removed King Farouk. Many in the general Arab populace still view Nasser as a symbol of Arab dignity and freedom. The other leader, Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti also wanted to be the leader of an Arab Empire. Each one in his own way.
We should not ignore the influence of religion which played and still plays a considerable role in all Arab states. During the time of the Umayyad Dynasty the greatness of the Empire grew considerably with the birth of Islam. In fact before Islam, the Arabs were peaceful and never conquered any foreign land. Their culture played a great role in the life of every family before the appearance of the religion. By wanting to promote Islam, the Arab conquered in every direction. They promoted the religion but not their culture. In fact until today the Arab culture teaches a lot of respect for the other and emphasizes friend ship among neighbors and nations.
The religion of Islam is divided between Sunni and Shiites. The Sunni whose origin is in Arabia and many of whom are speaking the Arabic language and the Shiites or Shi'ites, whichis promoted far away from Arabia and many of whom are in non Arabic language speaking countries in Asia and in Africa. After the passing of Mohamed the latter suggested during the lifetime of Ali that he should be the leader of the Muslims after Mohamed’s demise.
The various conquests have submitted many populations to the conquerors’ rules. They have created enemies and hatred over the centuries. The Arabs lost not only their greatness and their independence, but above all, their dignity.
Those who grew up in Arab countries know their culture well: the art of food, the music, the dance, the stories, the proverbs, and their loyalty to friends and to neighbors. It is true that the Muslim religion has given an élan to the expansion of the Arab people.
Since then the Arab mass is dreaming of the hero who would recapture their position and their standing in the world. It is irrelevant whether the hero would be a dictator, a wise man, or a religious leader. It is clear that after the fall of the Empire, the Arab countries have been conquered and colonized each one at a different time. In recent times, the Europeans have played a big role in conquering Arab countries. Just to name a few, Turkey, Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, etc.
In reference to Turkey and Iran, which are in the news these days, yes they are Muslim Shiites with completely different languages and cultures. At the beginning, the Arabs have conquered those countries and many others with the Islam. Afterwards those countries conquered the Arab countries. That Turkey and Iran are today trying to interfere with the Arabs like the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Israel is a question of politic s. These two countries are trying to recapture their own greatness through the common religion of Islam, as they did before. The Arab countries are aware that those countries do not really want to help them, but to advance their own causes.
The Western countries rarely go deep into the Arab cultures, which do not derive from Christianity. They certainly know the history of each people, country or nation and all historical facts, but in order to better appreciate other cultures and civilizations one needs to have lived in them and immersed oneself in their daily life, in order to realize certain values and the feeling of each civilization.
Men feel strong when they know their subject but they withdraw into themselves when they approach an unknown subject. It is actually a weakness not to respect another culture. The weakness is dangerous as it invites men to aggression or to supremacy dreams.
Today I am trying to sort out among certain cultures and civilizations which I have come to know. I have barely learned to distinguish between the deep values and the superficial ones.
In fact there is good in every culture and in every civilization. It is upon us to know how to extract it. One needs to find the links that unite us. Tolerance and respect for others is the elementary base of coexistence and of peace.
One should accept people as they are, without trying to force upon them our will and our way of life. As Oriental wisdom has it: “Those who do not honor the stranger and the man of another tribe, are not worthy of being called the sons of a great nation.” Those who do not respect this principle harm others.
We recognize that democracy does not have the same meaning in every culture. It varies from nation to nation and depends on their culture and their way of life. What is good for one nation is not always good for another one. It is essential that each nation should be able to blossom and realize its potential according to its way of life, in security and in peace.
I feel that it is pity that Israel and the Arabs are fighting each other. In fact they have much more in common, which could unite them, than the differences that divide them. But there are other countries which are neither Jewish nor Arab and are trying to divide them. Feisal mentioned in his letter at the Paris Peace conference in 1919 as below:
“The ultimate aim of Feisal is, an Arab federation embracing Mesopotamia, and a Jewish Palestine, all under British mandate”
The author’s note: In my view, they should start recognizing each other and take the advice of Feisal, but without any foreign mandate. They should concentrate on forming a common market which could largely benefit their people. Now that the Arabs saw the revolutions in their backyard, they should abandon their claim to the land; after all there is no shortage of land in the Arab World. Now is the best time to show the Arab generosity to the world, as it is always mentioned in Arab literature and stories.
Copyright Emile Tubiana