Going Back with Words

Salman Masalha

Going Back with Words

'Isaba al-Jurjani, a medieval Arab poet, divided the world's civilizations into two. One is that of the Persians, who belong to Sasan, founder father of the Persians, the second is that of the Arabs who belong to Qahtan, founder father of the Arabs. The Persians in his verse are praised as being the best of peoples, but the best place to live in is Babylon, and the best of Islam is Mecca. But the best of all places in the whole world is Khurasan. In medieval Muslim times the Khurasan region, which nowadays stretches through parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was the place where the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyad dynasty (661-750 A.C.) began, led by Abu Muslim al- Khurasani and brought to its end.

In an interview given to an Arab journalist before September 11, Usama bin Ladin leapt over centuries of history and political borders by calling the country he stayed in, Afghanistan, by the medieval Islamic name, Khurasan. This remark can shed some light on the ideology and cultural background that guide him.

A very deeply rooted attitude towards history and civilization in Muslim thought is inherent in the concept that describes the era of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632 A.C.), and the era of the four Righteous Caliphs that ruled the Muslims after his death (632-661 A.C.), as the most glorious era in Islam. This attitude towards life leaves no chance for an Arab or a Muslim to look forward. On the contrary, for centuries the Muslim and Arab mind always goes backward, as they see glory in past times only. No place for tomorrow, unless it serves the cause of the Islamic ideology. There is no place for the future unless it is the future of the Day of Judgment, a day when the faithful Muslim will win the life in Eden, and win eternal life with the Houri virgins. On that very day God "will deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: That is your rescue from Hell-Fire", as the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, (Sahih Muslim, no. 6665).

Arab and Muslim thinkers in our time must have the courage to face and deal with these traditions in order to show another alternative to new Arab generations. They must do that for their nations and for the benefit of their new generations. Without facing these sensitive issues, nothing can be built for the future. At the same time, this step must meet with genuine backing from all freedom supporters all over the world.

The recently published UNDP report, which deals with the human situation in the Arab World shows no way to escape from the Hell, in which the Arab nations found themselves. This Hell, in many of its aspects, is in fact a self-made one, supported and encouraged by the hypocritical Western world.

For decades the Western world has been supporting the most reactionary regimes in the Arab and Muslim World. For decades, Arab and Muslim liberal intellectuals found themselves fighting on two battle fields; on one hand they are facing the reactionary streams based on folk religion and misinterpretations of faith, and on the other hand they face the so-called secular regimes supported by the Western countries.

In fact, these regimes have never been secular by any means. On the contrary, they are based on inferiority complexes when facing the religious streams. This is the reason behind the fact that most of the Arab and Muslim oppositions have found their way to the mosques. There they found themselves protected to some extent facing the regimes that suffer from their inferiority complexes towards religious clerks. This situation must end, and this can be achieved only with a real support from liberal streams and freedom supporters around the globe. If this support is not be given to Arab and Muslim liberal powers, the situation all over the Arab and Muslim World will get worse and worse, and surely this will affect the whole world.

Something can be done and achieved quickly without any delay. The first step to be taken is to find a just and democratic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This solution can be based only on Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands since the 1967 war and the establishment of a Palestinian democratic state that will live side by side with Israel. The European Union can play a great role in this direction by accepting both states, Israel and Palestine, as special members in the EU. A step like this, supported by the USA and the whole world community, will neutralize one of the most dangerous conflicts on earth that might turn into a global war between civilizations. Such a step can also show another alternative, a different future for the new generations in the Arab World, a future that has been blocked for decades by oppressive regimes and dictatorships all over the Arab world. When a prosperous and different future is put before these generations they will stop looking backwards.

In order to deeply understand the Islamic and Arab approach towards life, It is necessary to refer to poetry again. In a poem called "The Clock", Musa Maroofi, a modern Afghan poet, gives us some insight to what has happened in the last decade: "In our kitchen in Vienna/ A clock ticks./ Its hands herald the time/ Moving forward./ In our kitchen in Kabul/ A clock ticks./ Its hands heralds the time/ Moving backward./ The first adores the future,/ The second worships history./ Both moving fast,/ They pull the time in opposite directions./ But the time is running away/ In search of the present./ Alas, by the time it finds the present/ The present will be history."

Furthermore, if we are dealing with history and traditions, I would like to mention another tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. He said: "The Devil (al-Dajjal) will come out from the East, from a land called Khurasan, and he will have followers with tough wide faces". It appears that the Prophet Muhammad had forecast, in this tradition, the appearance of the Devil and his followers coming out of Afghanistan.

April 2006

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