Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Arabism; An Orientalist Trope?

Arab nationalism and the post-WWI order it imposed on the Middle Eastern mosaic is another Orientalist trope says Shlomo Avineri in this recent Haaretz piece.

Not tooting my own horn--okay fine, I am--but this is something to which I have alluded repeatedly earlier this year, when every other Middle East expert and their sister kept tripping over themselves heralding a so-called "Arab Spring," and an "Arab Re-Awakening." Back then I wrote--and today I still believe--that
the dismantlement of the "anciens régimes" in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, point to a defrocking of the Arab nationalist order, not its "rebirth"; [signaling] the emergence of new nation-states, not the mending of an old ideology. Much has been written [...] about the region's turmoil bearing the markings of Eastern-Europe-1989. The comparison is tempting. However, it is not unlikely that future historians might revise this parallel and re-christen this year's momentous events as the early stirrings of a Middle Eastern "Peace of Westphalia"; the breakup of the imperial [and I dare say an imperialist] Arab (dis)order and the birth of new free nations. Eastern-Europe-1989 did not only bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain; it raised a Velvet Curtain to reveal the birthing of new nations. Not Egypt, not Libya, and not Tunisia; Sudan is the glimpse into the future of the Middle East.
Maybe this is wishful thinking--and I admit my analysis is not ideologically innocent, I am sympathetic to minority rights and minority narratives in the Middle East--but all indicators seem to validate the Sudanese model. To wit, Hebrew-U Political Scientist Shlomo Avineri wrote today that "the independence of Southern Sudan [and I would add the impending fragmentation of Libya and Syria] reflect the failure of Arab nationalist ideology to impose solidarity and uniformity upon complex, multiethnic societies."

Avineri, whose work is ordinarily seated snugly to a "left of center" well disposed to "Arabist causes", wrote that in a sanctimonious "international community that sticks to its principles" the Southern Sudanese should have achieved their independence long ago, without the oppression and the blood-tribute exacted by "the Arab and Muslim Sudanese leadership" whose stock in trade remains an unforgiving Aflaquesque Arabism.

But Sudan is only the most obvious (and fashionable) "modern" example. Otherwise, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, among others, are likewise modern creations--mainly the product of flimsy British cartography, heedless of the complex, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, polyglot societies that have defined the Middle East for millennia, even at the height of the more recent Arab and Muslim ascendancy in the region. The modern Arab nationalist order wrote Avineri
which presented these new countries as an integral part of the Arab world [...] reflected reality only in part, but for several decades served as a powerful device for oppressing minorities--Kurds in Iraq and Syria, non-Arabs in Sudan. Even the constant pressure on Lebanon to accept pan-Arab policy, at the expense of maintaining its unique character as a mutiethnic, multireligious society, is part of the attempt to force an Arab national identity on a pluralistic, complex society.
The fledgling republic of Southern Sudan might be signaling the end of the reductive, repressive Arab nationalist order argued Avineri; a prelude to a new map of the Middle East, and the beginnings of the dismantlement of an imperial idea obsessed with enforcing solidarity and uniformity where diversity and multiplicity once reigned. Echoing what I advanced in a series of essays in The National Interest earlier this year, Avineri wrote today that
As can be seen from the experience of Eastern Europe, the disintegration of the communist regimes not only gave rise to democratic alternatives, but also led to a reawakening of national movements once suppressed by communist ideology...
Again, this is the glimpse into the Middle East's future!

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