Violence, Anarchy and Hunger Stalk Arab Lands

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

All my life, I’ve been proud to call myself an Arab. Our ancestors gave birth to great civilizations and brought knowledge to the world in the fields of mathematics, chemistry, medicine, linguistics, jurisprudence, and astronomy. They were philosophers, poets, explorers, artisans, artists and builders who bequeathed magnificent buildings whose aesthetics and craftsmanship cannot be replicated today. But now it seems that Golden Age has turned to dust in countries that used to make up an Arab World that no longer exists — except in our memories and our hearts. The day when the Arab League headquarters becomes a museum is fast approaching.

We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. Unless we face the truth unfolding daily before us the downward spiral will continue. Denial will bring us nothing except self-delusion. Within a region wracked by conflict, instability, chaos and poverty, Arabian Gulf States are the last bastion of reason and enlightenment. Even here, however, invisible forces via fifth-columnists are attempting to sow disharmony, which is why we must remain alert and fiercely guard all that we’ve achieved.

The “Arab Spring,” a term synonymous with freedom, hope and renewal, failed to manifest. People of different faiths and political persuasions came together to topple oppressive leaderships, but once that common goal was achieved they turned on one another. History will record that egocentricity, greed and will-to-power edged out unity. Mutual understanding was replaced by suspicion and revenge. Tolerance was cast aside for extremism and polarization — providing a breeding ground for terrorism.

When I look at the disastrous situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya, I’m tempted to wonder whether our area has been cursed. We’ve had more than our fair share of war, foreign invasion and occupation over centuries. And nowadays, so many of our Arab children are awoken by explosions or wake up shivering in tented encampments or scavenge for breakfast on garbage dumps — and they’re the lucky ones. Particularly in Syria, youngsters have been mutilated, tortured and killed by government forces.

Is God punishing us? Is He angry that his core message of peace, brotherhood and compassion has been twisted by chest thumping, politically motivated false marjaaiyas and ayatollahs indoctrinating young minds from Tehran to Beirut, Damascus to Sana’a, and filling our airwaves with hate? If we are cursed, it is because political ideologues, masquerading as religious leaders, are cheating the Creator by creating cults that distort Islam’s message and stain its image. Don’t we deserve His mercy?

It hurts me to have to say this, but rot is steadily eroding our once ethical societies where family values and human dignity were once uppermost. We were born free, but so many of us have become sheep without the ability to think for ourselves. The Holy Quran, the word of God received by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), frees us from being enslaved by anyone. The Quran enjoins us to use our brains, and to seek education, and it provides a template for making right choices.

Our forebears adhered to God’s instructions and were free and united for centuries, whereas today, although Muslims may read the Holy Book or even learn it by heart, they fall under the sway of religious or political leaders with un-Islamic ideologies. For instance, can someone like Bashar Al-Assad be considered to be a Muslim when he has ordered the killing of over 60,000 of his own people? Are so-called preachers whipping up their congregations to strap bomb belts around their waist and to explode them in marketplaces crowded with women and children Muslims by any definition of the word? Why has the MENA region, one of the planet’s wealthiest, become inextricably associated with backwardness, violence and poverty, where innovation and progress are stifled by narrow mindedness? It’s also shameful that countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, where populations are devout, have become havens for drug traffickers, bride burners, and rapists. The supposedly ultra religious Afghan Taliban who torch girls’ schools are funded by poppy harvests. I was recently shocked at televised reports of poppy farmers, unable to repay loans because their fields were eradicated by government forces, being forced to hand over their daughters as young as ten to be used as sex slaves or drug runners.

We have to admit that some of the turmoil is a direct result of interference by foreign powers that stripped Palestinians of their homeland, carved up Greater Syria, and inadvertently gift-wrapped the Cradle of Civilization — Iraq — to the Iranian mullahs. There is much about the United States and Europe to be admired and emulated. We can learn a lot from the West and I, for one, do what I can to further inter-faith understanding. Some of my closest friends are Americans and Brits. But I do not appreciate Western interference in our business. The United States and its allies are partly to blame for ruining our countries. I think I speak for the majority of Arabs when I ask you to leave us be, so that we can begin to solve our own problems unimpeded. Blaming the West is, however, no excuse for our failure to control our own destiny.

Yes, Egypt and Tunisia are transitioning to democracy, a process that is bound to have ups and downs. But the trajectory is far from positive. Two years on from the civil uprising in Egypt that ousted Hosni Mubarak, no revolutionary aspiration has been achieved. On the contrary, as I write, emergency law and curfew has been imposed on three Suez Canal provinces, and the air over Cairo is filled with smoke from burning buildings and vehicles mixed with teargas. And the poor are getting poorer due to rising prices, a depreciating currency and rising taxes imposed as pre-conditions to a US$ 4.8 billion IMF loan. Authoritarianism is rearing its ugly head in Tunisia as well, a country that still suffers from chronic unemployment. There, a growing opposition accuses the government of incompetence while ordinary Tunisians complain they are no better off than they were under Ben-Ali.

It’s evident that Arab governance is lacking, especially when compared to Western nations and those that formerly made-up the Soviet Union — countries that weathered political and economic roller-coasters in an atmosphere of peace and stability. Even in the worst throes of the global economic downturn when Americans were losing homes, jobs and, in some cases, pensions, they protested peacefully. No one tried to burn down the White House or lob Molotov Cocktails over its walls like masked men in Cairo out to incinerate the Presidential Palace.

It’s time for Muslims to seek the high ground to get a bird’s eye view of the current mess, the big picture if you like, before the rot destroys our very foundations. Let’s get back to basics. Islam will guide us towards the light. That’s provided we hold to its pillars — and deafen our ears to distorters, propagandists, extremists and cultists.

As long as we turn our guns on each other, God’s forgiveness will remain elusive. The Quran exhorts Muslims to unite: Al Hujurat 49:10 “The Muslims are brothers to each other, therefore, make peace between your two brothers and fear Allah, so that you may gain mercy.” If only Muslims would heed that instruction so that we can close the book on an era that’s arguably been the most destructive in living memory.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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