John McCain and the quest for an Arab hero

Makram Rabah
Makram Rabah
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Heroism is a trait people usually yearn for, going as far at times as to create imagined idols, ones that can be used in the construction of a super narrative for nation and state building.

The death of US Senator John Sidney McCain III and the ensuing touching eulogies and memorial service underscored the touring figure of an American hero, one which the whole nation and beyond mourned his tragic loss.

McCain was a hero not simply because he is was scion of a respected military family nor because he was a Vietnam veteran and a prisoner of war, but he was a hero despite all of that.

McCain’s real heroism was his ability to conquer his family’s legacy, which usually is a setback, and his famous feats of rage and transform it into a passion for championing the causes of the oppressed.

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As a lawmaker, he staunchly tried to reinstate the image of the United States as a morally guided nation an image which his country had lost as early as the 1950’s, especially with the Arabs who always viewed their relationship with the US from the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the US skewed support of the occupation of Palestine.

Despite these realities, people like McCain tried to work through these barriers and attempt to bring some form peace and stability to the Middle East, which was booged down in endless violence and autocratic regime.

Much of McCain’s eulogies stressed his aggressive in-your-face approach to politics but it also underscored his most redeeming quality, which was his ability to work across the somewhat rigid party lines

Makram Rabah

Invasion of Iraq

Consequently, McCain saw it necessary for the removal of these dictators and thus he fully supported the invasions of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussain. He equally opposed Iran’s expansionists venture in the Levant and always stood with the forces of democracy in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, openly supporting the Syrian rebels against Bashar Assad and his Iranian patrons.

Despite his hawkish and interventionist fold, McCain was an advocate of the two-state solution and the establishment of a viable Palestine state alongside Israel, and while he was clearly more of a friend to the Israelis, he was far removed from the populist mindset that US President Trump and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu were peddling for their own personal interest.

Back in 2008 presidential race I was one of the few of my friends who supported McCain, while I was and still is inconsequential as I am not a US citizen, McCain came across as a man of principles that will not waver when any of the imagined redlines are crossed.

Ability to act

As years progressed and the Obama administration gave the region away to Iran, and allowed Bashar Assad to gas hundreds of brave souls in Ghouta and elsewhere, I was reminded why I rooted for McCain, and that ultimately man is not judged by his color or gender nor by his family but by his ability to act. Something that Obama clearly and cowardly failed to do.

Much of McCain’s eulogies stressed his aggressive in-your-face approach to politics but it also underscored his most redeeming quality, which was his ability to work across the somewhat rigid party lines, which divide US politics and keep bipartisanship alive.

By specifically requesting that his political foe and presidential contender Barak Obama, speak in his funereal McCain specially wanted his successors to cherish his real legacy and oppose the Trumpian mindless and suicidal acts which pass for politics.

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Unfortunately, this culture, McCain wished for is non-existent in the region, as people refuse to even consider working with their foes towards the embitterment of their communities. This does not merely apply to relations between states but also on the micro level as sectarian schism seem to be the order of the day.

The people of the Middle East and particularly the Arabs are at a very dangerous juncture, as Iran remain adamant on destroying what remains of their communities. Therefore, to avoid such a terrible picture they should perhaps look towards the life of John McCain for inspiration, and understand that heroism cannot flourish except in a diverse and pluralistic milieu.

One that allows people to grew into heroes, not merely because of their righteousness, but also because of their shortcomings. Maybe then, the search for an Arab hero(s) would be finally over.
Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975. He tweets @makramrabah.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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