Arab Nationalism Essay
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Example Essay on Arab Nationalism
The events of September 11, 2001 have changed not only the American domestic and foreign policy but also the perception of Arab nationalism. Only within one day, the global community turned against the whole Arab world and the word “Arab” became the synonym of “terrorist”. Nevertheless, very few people know that Arab nations who emerged from defeated Ottoman Empire were highly united, even though fell under the tutelage of Britain and France. Arabs saw the forced scheme as ineffective and realized the failure of the liberal leadership which promised to lead the people into modern age. The response was radical Arab nationalism. Many theorists assume that Arab radicalism has resulted in the diminishment of the nationalism. The historical evidence clearly points out that Arab nationalism is not dead and will be reignited by a strong Arab leader.
Very few people are aware that radical Arab nationalism is compatible with democracy and socialismi. It is a well-known fact that religion is one of the most unifying elements of nationalism and, it is not a secret, Arabian world is known as the most religious place in the world. It would be unjustifiable to claim that Arab nations are not united or lack leadership. Arabian world is united through religion and common vision of the government. Today there is no strong leader capable of recovering national identity as seen by Arabs, however, it does not mean that Arab nationalism is dead. On the contrary, it was nurtured historically and is in blossom now.
There is another reason why Arab nationalism evolved into radical form: for many years Arabs were enslaved by powerful western countries and once they saw an opportunity to live independently, they were suppressed by Britain and France. The Arab nationalism is aimed at regaining full sovereignty and control over the destiny of their people. The years of suppression taught Arabs to fight for their sovereignty, to defend their religion, and to protect their lifestyle from outside influence.
The establishment of Arab nationalism was not a matter of one day or one historical period. It was brought by European Enlightenment which undermined the belief in old regimeii. Arabs were aware of the failures of old regime because they were the direct victims of it. Europeans presented themselves to colonial people as the bearers of progress and science as well as the enemies of religion and superstition. Colonizers tried to destroy the cultural heritage of Arabian world through imposing their own rules. They were not willing to admit the ethnic and religious differences and believed in their superiority. Arab resistance is fully justified and it proves that colonial society was not lacking in agency. The political leader Abd al-Qadir is still referred to as a hero because he was one of the first leaders to fight for protection of his people’s heritageiii.
As Martin Kramer noted, at present many Arabs have suspended in their belief in the Arab nation and openly doubt whether there is a collective Arab nationiv. However, these words were written 8 years prior to September 11. The terrorist attack cannot be justified, however, it has brought one positive result: the Arabs have become united for the first time in their struggle to protect the nation. Islamic activists, however, think of themselves as Muslims, not Arabs.
Notably, for a long time the word “Arabs” was turned into a derogatory label meaning wastefulness, incompetence, and subserviencev. Arabs preferred to be called Syrians, Moroccans, and Egyptians, as citizens of their countries pursuing their own interests. Nevertheless, the intellectuals keep the Arab flame alive and believe that nationalism can be reborn if the strong leader emerges.
Some historians trace the decline of Arab nationalism to the revolution in 1948 when the United Nations authorized the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab. As the result, both sides strived to defend their interests. As Syrian historian Constantin Zuravk wrote, the war was no more than a routvi. National governments were filled with military leaders who provided strong support to armed operations and fight for “unity”. However, the result was opposite to pursued and the Arab nations were more and more divided. There was no strong leader to unite them while the national leaders did not believe in united nationalism.
Within the different periods of time, the strong leaders tried to revive the idea of nationalism, however, all of them failed because put personal interests and ambitions for power on the first place. The most prominent leader was Gamal Abdul Nasser. He enjoyed prestige and respect in Arab world for gaining the political victory in a battle over Suez in 1956vii.
Being an Egyptian leader, he promoted the unity of the whole Arab world without division on nations. The similar ideology evolved in Syria and was named Ba’theism (resurrection). According to the Constitution adopted in 1947, Ba’th announced that their goal (unity of Arabs) could not be achieved except by means of revolution and struggleviii. They promoted the belief that creation of a single Arab state was possible because the difference among all Arabs were artificial and unimportant.
Gamal Abdul Nasser was not the only person who strived to renew the idea of Arab nationalism. His initiative was supported by Michel Aflag who promoted the secular nationalistic basis of political community and progressive revolution in the context of Arab nationalism. Unlike Nasser who promoted unity based on ethnicity, Aflag stressed the importance of religion, Islamix. He glorified Islam for being an expression of the genius of Arab nation and emphasized the idea that all Arabs must cherish the cultural brilliance of Islam as an example of the height achieved by Arabs. The Arab world was ready to follow leader Aflag, however, the local nationalistic regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq started to move against the religious leaders including Aflag. Historians still argue over the causes of these movements and differences in ideologies.
The greater interest towards Arab identity and nationalism issue arose after the year 2001. As Mark Lavergne has noted, the content and meaning of the term “Arab” is understood through the official statistics and references which do not reflect the real situationx. Thus, the vast majority of research on the Arab nationalism is not reliable or trustworthy.
There is no clear definition of Arab culture. If to select language as a major indicator of cultural belonging, it does not fit with those Arabs who do not practice Arabic as their mother tongue. Arab identity has started to develop only at the end of the 19th century and gained a wide political expediency only after 1940s. The youth of Arab nationalism and lack of strong leaderships slowed down the development and establishment of Arab nationalism and unifying identity. Today, the definition of Arad nationalism is viewed through the understanding of intellectual western elite. There is no lack of nationalism or strong leadership, there is lack of understanding.
The misunderstanding of Arab identity can be caused by the unique combination of nationalism and religion. “The ‘national question’ had consigned to the ashcan of history, is threatening to become the question of the present and future.xi” The question of Arab nationalism is associated with religion. It is impossible to analyze or define the nationalism in the Middle East without referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the religious disputes within the Arab world. The Arab nationalism is embodied into Islam and underlining assumptions of it. Notably, Islam is considered to be a peaceful religion; however, the radical groupings contribute to the distortion of Islamic values.
In addition to religion, unstable politics and economic conditions slow down the establishment of clear Arab nationalism. There is a huge gap between rich and poor people in Arab world and both social levels are not willing to associate themselves with one nation. As Fouad Ajami wrote, the middle classes in the Arab world mirror the nationalism, while the rulers are not ready to contribute to unification of Arab nationsxii. There is no economic development outside of the state-dominated oil sectors which are controlled by powerful politicians. Unfortunately, politicians are concerned with their own financial wellbeing rather than Arab nationalism establishment.
In conclusion, Arab nationalism cannot be referred to as dead because there are people who are working on reunification of the nation. Historically, there have been authoritative political and social leaders who tried to unify the nation and revive the idea of Arab nationalism. They succeeded only partially because of societal division and increasing gap between the social levels. The current Arab world is seen through the Western perspective and is mistakenly marked as aggressive. Islam, being a very important part of Arab identity, plays important role in reunification of Arabs. As history suggests, the Arab nationalism will be renewed and Arabs will be unified if the strong leader accepts the responsibility for promotion of nationalism instead of pursuing personal financial interests.
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