Monday, June 20, 2011

The Nakba no one's talking about

When many Arabs flee an Arab country because they fear an Arab regime with pretensions to waving the flag of Arab nationalism, then this so-called nationalism becomes dubious and ought to raise questions.
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Salman Masalha

Syria exodus is the Nakba
no one's talking about

For some reason, recent days have reminded of the events of Black September that took place in Jordan in 1970. At that time, the Jordanian military was exerting so much pressure on Palestinian militants that some of them actually chose to turn themselves in to Israel Defense Forces troops in the Jordan Valley.

This is coming to mind now because of what is happening in Syria, where another Arab Nakba is taking place before our eyes. This Nakba is the lot of the Syrian people. But this time, those behind the Nakba are not Zionists. They aren't Jews or French or godless British or Americans. Neither the Little Zionist Satan nor the Great American Satan is behind this Nakba. This time, the Satan is Arab, flesh of our flesh.

When thousands of Arab citizens - men, women and children - are massacred, when many others flee an Arab country because they fear an Arab regime with pretensions to waving the flag of Arab nationalism, then this so-called nationalism becomes dubious and ought to raise questions.

This is all the more the case when non-Arab Turkey is the country to which people are fleeing. Yes, the same Turkey that is regularly mentioned in Arab national discourse as the height of defilement and the source of all Arab ills. And all because of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over the Arabs for hundreds of years and to which Arab nationalists have long attributed all the falterings of the Arab world.

Several years ago, when I asked a Turkish friend about this Arab complaint, he burst out laughing. I asked him to explain why he was laughing and he told me that the Turks had a similar complaint, in reverse: There are some who argue that Turkey was left to falter because it had ruled over the Arabs.

Let's set aside the nationalists on either side for a moment, since salvation is not going to come from them. On the contrary, nationalism is a sick evil, and nationalists love to either join together or chafe against one another. They feed off each other and create new nationalist mutations that are more dangerous than their predecessors and more resistant to remedies.

And so the tribal, ethnic, Syrian Ba'ath regime, which is massacring Syrian Arab citizens just because they are seeking freedom, makes a joke out of all the Arab nationalist ideological slogans that Syrian and similar governments have been promoting for many years.

These governments have never been nationalist and have never attempted to build a nation-state worthy of its name. The nationalist slogans served as opiates for the uneducated masses, the foolish advocates of nationalism. Military, tribal and ethnic Mafias lurked beneath the sugar coating of these slogans.

Recently, Lebanese novelist and playwright Elias Khoury, one of those foolish advocates of Arab nationalism, got angry at Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun, who said at a conference at a Beirut university that there was no such thing as the Arab world.

Ben Jelloun should be cautious about those kinds of statements, wrote Khoury, adding that the things you say in a cafe should be different to the things you say from a university podium. In other words, Khoury wants Ben Jelloun to be a hypocrite, to feel one thing in his heart - as expressed in private or in cafes - but say something else before the public at large.

This "deviant" Moroccan author is thus intended to serve some kind of fictitious nationalist concept that is supposed to rule Arab discourse. He is being called on to be a populist trumpet for this concept, irrespective of whether it has any foundation in reality.

And so it seems that our Nakba is also a cultural Nakba. As long as the Arab discourse seeks to cautiously stay away from the sensitive nerves of the Arab experience, as one stays away from fire, no remedy is in sight for the sickly situation. Indeed, it will remain uncorrected.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, June 20, 2011

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For Hebrew, press here
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Related Arabic article, press here
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