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Slogans of death

Saad bin Teflah al-Ajmi

Published: Updated:

I often read and follow slogans and chants from a linguistic and logical perspective, perhaps because I’m a linguist, or perhaps because I was born into a generation that cherishes slogans, especially those that entice and stir millions of people.

In exploring and analyzing slogans and chants-turned-slogans, I often find a better understanding of their objectives and purposes and of the psychological state and political-economic intentions of the people that raise them.
Slogans are common everywhere in the world: East or West, democratic or totalitarian, Muslim or disbeliever. Slogans are everywhere.

Usually, a slogan attempts to summarize the intention and objective in as few words and sentences as possible. Every material or ideological product has a slogan. For our purposes, we will keep material products aside because their objective is one: marketing and selling the product.

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However, an ideological political slogan has various objectives. It seeks to mobilize, ideologize, and guide the masses. It could have a magical, numbing effect on these masses, who are often moved by this simple amalgam of words without even pondering their meaning or delving into their depths, content with screaming them at the top of their lungs without much hesitation or thought.

“One Arab nation with an eternal message” was one of the slogans of the Socialist Arab Ba’ath Party, whose objectives were unity, freedom, and socialism. The party ruled in Syria and Iraq, but unity between the two countries never happened.

As for freedom and socialism, Iraqis and Syrians were the first to realize these concepts. Meanwhile, the only thing that came out of chants claiming “Saddam’s name has shaken America” was the latter lying in an underground pit from which the Americans extracted him to be tried and executed.

For four decades, Iranian masses have been roaring “Marg bar Amrika” and “Marg bar Israel” - Farsi for “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” also reflected in Yemen by the Houthi group Ansarullah. Notice how the names of parties carry a mobilizing aspect in and of themselves: “Ansarullah,” “Hezbollah,” “Jundullah,” to name a few.

Kurdish and Arab protesters chant slogans against Turkish President Erdogan during a march to the United Nations Headquarters in the town of Qamishli, Syria. (Reuters)
Kurdish and Arab protesters chant slogans against Turkish President Erdogan during a march to the United Nations Headquarters in the town of Qamishli, Syria. (Reuters)

We cannot help but wonder: how could Allah possibly have a party? Supporters immediately jump to quote the Quran in response to this question: “Those are the party of Allah. Unquestionably, the party of Allah - they are the successful.” (Al Mujadila, 58:22) And another: “then it is certainly Allah’s party that will prevail.” (Al-Ma’idah, 5:56) But which one of you truly represents Allah, when everybody claims monopoly over that divine honor? Another verse of the Quran says: “like those who have divided their faith and split into sects, each rejoicing in what they have.” (Ar-Rum, 30:32)

However, the Houthis have beaten Iran’s Farsi slogan with a new addition: “Damned be the Jews.” Still, turning it into a mobilizing chant could prove difficult at the moment as Hezbollah negotiates Lebanon’s maritime border with the Jewish state of Israel.

With the kind of reason that lacks in our stubborn Arab world, I wonder: how could death be to America or Israel? It is common knowledge that states could fail and perish into ruins, and there’s no better proof than Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, when their people, who surely deserve to live their lives like the rest of the world, are still living, though in hardship. I cannot fathom how such slogans and chants could possibly better their lives.

These questions get all the more painful when one considers the Palestinian scene these days. Some Palestinians -and I say some only out of courtesy, because everyone in the Gulf knows that the right word is “most,” not “some- in Gaza chant for Iran and applaud Qassem Soleimani, whom they consider a heroic martyr while millions in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon view him as a war criminal. In the West Bank, a monument was erected in memory of the famous war criminal Saddam Hussein and a vital street was named after him. In Gaza, not only did they scream slogans against Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but they also marched in support and celebration of the Houthis’ bombing of Abu Dhabi.

It is fascinating how history never changes. Perhaps these were the sons and grandsons of those who danced and chanted in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. How could we forget the infamous chant calling on Saddam to use chemical weapons “from Khafji to Dammam”?

After all this, we cannot but wonder: “What have we in the Arab Gulf given to the Palestinian cause and Palestinians, compared to what Iran or the Ba’ath parties in Iraq and Syria gave them? The only things they gave them were compulsory ideologization, blind subordination, killings, assassinations, and the manipulation of the cause.

I admit that Gulf states are no angels. They have their mistakes, perhaps even sins. Like most, they get some things right and some things wrong. But when it comes to the Palestinian cause, they never compromised or raised impossible slogans or arbitrary nonsensical chants that have no practical meaning on the ground. So, why do “some” Palestinians hold such hatred for the Gulf and its people?

Observers of the slogans and chants of “masses” in our region -be they aware or demagogued- cannot but stand in awe at the inexplicable psychological state of masses living around Gulf states, particularly Palestinians, or shall I say, “some” Palestinians.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Independent Arabia.

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