The Arab world currently feels like an arid land that has been set on fire. But it seems the arsonists responsible are yet to realize that the wind is blowing their way, and that as soon as the flames begin to spread, they will be the first victims.
There are several reasons why the region has become the way it is now. Negligence, dependence, and a lack of care and attention given to the new generation of Arabs are just some of them. As a result, we, in the overwhelming majority of our countries, are paying a hefty price for the loss of generations of young people who were driven by frustration and failure to the verge of despair and a feeling of marginalization. Consequently, they have become easy prey for those who exploit extremism and introversion.
Our governments have failed to tackle corruption, instead deciding to coexist with it, tolerate it, and even justify it under a host of different names over the past decades. Our youth have thus found themselves in a situation where they have had to choose between the lesser of two evils: either to submissively accept the status quo or reject everything and embrace nihilism.
Our education systems let them down by neglecting the idea of proper and realistic planning that maintains the right balance between the needs of the labor market and the capabilities required for educational institutions. As a result, the value of a university degree has diminished, and it has now become nothing more than a mere piece of paper required to secure a job. That is why we see long hordes of university graduates lining up to compete for jobs that do not really exist, a case of “masked unemployment.”
Israel today follows the school of thought of Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman, et al, in not wanting negotiators on the opposite side of the table but, rather, submissive, defeated peopleEyad Abu Shakra
The nature of the family has also changed. The family, like the individual, has lost the state of balance between openness to change and the preservation of traditions, originality and professional ethics.
Even our economies, particularly in the countries which lack the sufficiency provided by oil, were either improvised under ideologically oriented mismanagement, or have become openly corrupt under the guise of the “free market economy.”
All these plagues are internal and structural, but they have worsened in light of recent regional developments whose negative effects cannot be underestimated or denied; although, in most cases, they have been the peg on which the failures are hung, in order to escape admitting the truth.
Turning to Israel
Then, let us turn to Israel.
It is true that Arabs and Muslims were too late in understanding the reality of Israel and what it represents to its people, to those who believe in it as an idea, and to the Western superpowers. It is these superpowers that promised to establish the State of Israel and have been nurturing and arming it ever since. Arabs and Muslims were late in understanding the truth that Israel is “a Western outpost.” In fact, for a major superpower like the U.S., anything related to Israel is considered a “domestic issue.”
But, on the other hand, Israel has always believed that the best way to deal with Arabs—whom it continues to believe are determined to wipe Israel out of existence—is the ‘divide and rule’ policy. As a result, Israel has exploited everything that increases the backwardness and misery of Arabs and Muslims. It also stood against any progressive, enlightening or developmental movement, even if the stated goals of such movements resembled the “ideals” promoted in the West and around the globe by the Zionist movement for its “brain child” Israel—even before it was born and became a major regional power.
One example is that Israel rejected, without hesitation, the idea of “a single democratic state” for Israelis and Palestinians, which was proposed by leftist forces from the two sides. This outright rejection was based on the pretext that such an idea would undermine the “Jewish identity” of the state. Even when the barely balanced two-state solution was put forward in the aftermath of the Cold War, Israel was keen to discredit and plant wedges within the Palestinian ranks. In fact, Israel has worked unceasingly towards creating suitable conditions for a intra-Palestinian civil war. Such a policy simply made of the two-state idea a silly and meaningless joke.
Even at this particular moment when Israel is bombarding the Gaza Strip, it is actually seeking to give respectability to the “logic” of Palestinian extremism and to destroy any credibility for any Palestinian side seeking serious, frank and in-depth peace talks not based first and foremost on the principle of unconditional submission.
Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman
Israel today follows the school of thought of Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman, et al, in not wanting negotiators on the opposite side of the table but, rather, submissive, defeated people who are willing to exist in temporary Bantustans until the time comes for their final “transfer.” There is no better evidence of the dangers of the breeding ground of extremism this school of thought is creating than the sick mentality of the extremist settlers who kidnapped Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khudair and then burned him alive.
However, this “school” and its “breeding ground” could not have developed in isolation. There have been conditions conducive to giving both their pretexts to exist and providing their crimes with precious mitigating justifications such as self-defense and tit-for-tat revenge. For example, the issue of the kidnapping and killing of three Israel teenagers, in particular, urgently requires an investigation. How can such a horrible crime be justified? Who has an interest in this? Who planned it? Who executed it? Why at this time in particular? And how could it be possible that those who planned and executed the crime were not aware there would be a reaction from an extremist Israeli authority that is essentially keen to do whatever it can to placate a band of extremist settlers?
One the other side of the coin are those who claim they are in a permanent “existential battle” with Israel. This group, it seems, is divided into two camps. The first is a hardline Shiite camp represented by the velayat-e-faqih (rule by a supreme Islamic jurist) system in Iran, and its henchmen and agents across the Arab world. The second is a hardline Sunni camp at the forefront of which are the forces of “political Islam,” along with jihadist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which have grown and proliferated despite both Iranian ambitions and Israeli aggression in the region.
Rather bizarre situation
But what is now really interesting is that some components of the second (Sunni) camp are closely linked to the first (Shiite) camp. This is a well-known fact in Gaza before anywhere else, and we witness it today also in a number of other Arab countries. As seen in the cases of the less-hardline Sunni political Islam of countries like Egypt, Jordan and Sudan, there seems to be no genuine conflict of interest between some strains of political Islam and Tehran’s rulers.
Given this rather bizarre situation, we have to go deeper in order to explore the “intersection” of interests between the three forms of religious extremism: the Jewish settlers, the Khomeinist–Khameneist Shi’ite Islamists, and the Sunni Islamists comprising the Muslim Brotherhood (and, by necessity, Hamas) along with the al-Qaeda and ISIS jihadist groups.
It is very clear from the catastrophes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the remainder of Palestine, as well as Western stances towards them, that our backwardness and the decline in the immunity of our nations now provide the widest space for such an “intersection” of interests to play out and destroy the Arab identity in the region.
But this may not be the whole picture. Those arsonists who have ignited the fire in the region may soon find themselves threatened by it; especially now that they have lost control of the direction of the blowing wind.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 10, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.