The inter-Arab incitement war

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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A few days ago, enraged mobs set fire to a building in the British city of Liverpool after rumors spread that the children of asylum seekers housed by the government in the building assaulted a local girl. Whether the story is true or a figment of someone’s imagination, no group should suffer the consequences of an individual’s actions.

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Such incitement has become a normal occurrence worldwide. In every corner of the world, we’ve seen groups spread information or ideas that provoke people and incite their hatred for others. Some of these efforts fall under a political or ideological agenda, most stem from a sense of heroism and populism. Ironically, many of those who partake in such actions often describe themselves as compassionate, humanitarian, and other cliches that could not be farther from the truth.

This does not mean that people in the past were all angels, or had no opinion of those around them, be it people, race, nationality, or belief. But even when we did harbor any negative views, they had but little influence.

The truth is, we probably all have a dash of racism infiltrated deep inside, or perhaps some hatred passed down by older generations or brought upon by individual life experiences.

One such example is the mutual ridicule among Arabs. Though it had always existed, the inter-Arab derision has grown significantly in recent times. In some cases, it even turned into dangerous incitement.
Satirical opinions, as such, are not dangerous. They are rather common among neighboring countries, and perhaps the French and British are the perfect example. In fact, the French neighbors may just be Britons’ favorite object of satire.

On the one hand, they love the French cooking, drinking, attire, women, and historical architecture, but they ridicule their sense of superiority and arrogance. The French, too, reciprocate their British neighbors’ praise just as they do their mockery. They admire their superior satire, their great history, their inventions, and their superiority in the creative fields of music, theatre, and film, but they criticize their cultural superiority, their historical egotism, and their poor taste in cooking and fashion. Such is normal life: it can accommodate some ridicule and criticism if they do not turn into vile racism.

Every society has its views of itself and its neighbors, and Arabs are no exception. They are in a permanent state of competition. But in the last few years, things have gone too far, as "frankness" in social media debates continues to plummet to new moral lows, involving even those who are supposedly more educated and socially aware in our societies.

We must keep in mind that the tables can turn quickly with such a condescending mentality that is willing to harm the innocent. The culture of hatred is not a mere rivalry that goes with the wind, but a strong parasite that easily and quickly grows beyond control. Unhinged, it invades your larger community, then your smaller circles, from religions to sects. It travels from other countries to your region and town. With time, it spreads widely enough to become a collective hobby.

Incitement is the most dangerous of weapons. It is a lethal tool that causes mass destruction, and the social media that propagates it is as accessible today as kitchen knives.

In the past, we thought that ignorant societies were the most fertile ground to sow the seeds of hatred. But here it is before our own eyes today, on the campuses of respected universities and the tongues of the elite and common people alike.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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