Ossification of Arab World
Fifty years after Azm and other Arab intellectuals started to mercilessly deconstruct their ossified political orders, reactionary and primitive religious structures, and stagnant societies, the Arab world has descended further into darkness. Physical, intellectual, and political desolation has claimed many of the once lively metropolises of the Arab region — Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Mosul, Cairo, and Alexandria — with only Beirut still resisting, albeit teetering on the edge. For centuries, these cities constituted a rich human and linguistic mosaic of ancient communities including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, and Circassians. In modern times, they were joined by Greek, Armenian, and Italian communities. A vibrant cosmopolitanism found home in the port cities of Alexandria and Beirut and the cities of the hinterland, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and Baghdad.
This paragraph is taken from Post # 5 above.
This ia a very poignant commentary on the civilizational status of this region - the region that was prime example the best that humanity could boast of in those times.
As a teenager roaming the streets of Beirut, I would hear a babel of languages: Arabic, French, English, Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish. Admittedly, that thriving cosmopolitanism had its drawbacks amid a brittle world of uncertainties and inequalities. The rural hinterland was populated by resentful peasants, who could see and envy from afar the shimmering lights of the forbidden cities and their hidden rewards.
Painful again. But this time there is an additional evil omen - this is the foreboding that things are about to go from bad to worse. Social disparity has been brough into consideration.
As a young man, I witnessed the surprising outburst of enthusiasm that arose in the wake of the collective Arab disbelief and humiliation following the swift, crushing defeat of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan at the hands of Israel in six days. The war allowed Israel to seize Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the West Bank and Gaza and eventually marked the death knell for the idea of Arab nationalism embodied by Egypt’s then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.
That was Arab-Israel war of 1967. Three countries united by racial nationalism were defeated by a miniscule but well organized army with some craftiness on their part and dollops of stupidity of Arabs.
Initially, most Arabs sought refuge in denial, refusing to admit that their military rout was emblematic of deeper rotten cultural maladies and social defects and instead calling the disastrous defeat a temporary “setback.” Many wanted badly to believe that Israel’s victory was achieved only because of Western machinations and deception, since it was almost an article of faith among many Arab nationalists, leftists, and Islamists that Israel was an “artificial entity” — an extension of imperialism in the Arab East.
What succint summary of a monumental ignominy.
The belief among Arabs that their armies would prevail in the war was almost universal. I was 17 years old then, and I still vividly remember the searing pain I felt, mixed with unadulterated rage directed mostly against the self-appointed guardians of Arab patrimony.
Bravo. It needs courage to admit the pugnacious reality.
Fifty years after the defeat, the brittle world the Arabs built is unraveling in civil wars fought with abandon by cruel men supported by equally cruel foreign and regional marauders. Ancient cities that survived many an invader now lay in ruins in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. Schools and hospitals, places of worship, bakeries and pharmacies — all were repeatedly violated by governments and rebels. Millions of bereft souls wandered over large swaths of scorched earth before fleeing their countries, by choice or by force, forming rivers of refugees and spilling over into neighboring lands and then scattering across Europe. A tragic modern version of the “Middle Passage” has taken place in the Mediterranean, whose deceptively calm waves became the watery graves of many a refugee braving the sea on rickety, overflowing boats operated by greedy seamen, the slave traders of yesteryear. In the second half of the second decade of the 21st century, Arabs — who barely constitute 5 percent of the world’s population — burdened the world with more than 50 percent of its refugees.
The sad thing here is that even in the wake of the humiliating defeat the assessment does not include the biggest ingredient - perils of revolving your existence around racial nationalism. I hope the writer overcomes this weakness in the rest of the article.
Today, Arabs find themselves living in the shadow of more powerful non-Arab neighbors: Israel, Turkey, and Iran. In both Syria and Iraq, the concept of a unitary national identity has collapsed along sectarian and ethnic fault lines, thus deepening political, social, and cultural polarizations and making the reunification of both countries all but impossible. Egypt, once a regional power, has been thoroughly marginalized politically in the last few decades, remaining afloat economically only because of handouts from the Arab Gulf states. The vaunted Egyptian military is even incapable of imposing its total sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula. It finds itself reliant on the might of the Israeli Air Force — the same air force that decimated Egyptian air power on June 5, 1967 — in the fight against the so-called Islamic State and other extremists.
Further continuation of shame. I find it difficult to hide my face in fce of uttar and complete humiliation.
Cairo has ceased to be the cultural mecca of the Arabs, with none of its universities, research centers, laboratories, publications, studios, or galleries producing meaningful science, knowledge, or art. Beirut, the imperfect liberal oasis of my youth, is meanwhile being suffocated by an ossified, corrupt, and feudal political system and by a predatory, cunning, and ruthless paramilitary force: Hezbollah. The group is among the most lethal nonstate actors in the world, serving effectively as Iran’s foreign legion — a Shiite version of the famed Ottoman Janissaries.
Further continuation of the narrative enlisting the series of more wretched issues.
The only consolation is that someone is writing about these from our own people - if we can call it a face saver. And a face saver it is not by any means.
From the ashes, a questioning
The Sadiq Jalal al-Azm I knew saw such developments as the culmination of his worst fears. I met him in 1968 after the publication of his seminal book Self-Criticism After the Defeat, a withering critique of all facets of Arab life. Published in Beirut, the book argued that only a radical dismantling of the entrenched structures of Arab society and culture, a total rejection of the myths and superstition that support them, coupled with sweeping social and political reforms, could transcend the defeat. It became a milestone in modern Arab intellectual history and caused a storm of contradictory reactions.
Honestly speaking I am relieved to know that there was an Arab intellectual who had the guts to think squarely about the problem staring in face and taking it on the chin when it came to facing dire and rabit reality.
But Azm wasn’t done tearing down the Arab world’s sacred cows. In 1969, he published a collection of essays titled Critique of Religious Thought. This time, he directed his critical blows against the backward religious authorities and their abuse of religion to serve the political powers, which fostered fatalism and ignorance. He juxtaposed these atavistic notions with the values of rational thinking and scientific inquiry.
Again I am glad that the author brought out this issue. Was Azm a communist, Marxist and socialist kind of intellectual?
The reaction from the custodians of the status quo and the religious authorities to this “blasphemy” from the most prominent leftist Arab intellectual was swift and unforgiving. Lebanon’s Sunni mufti and a collection of hypocritical politicians urged the state to ban the book, and the government briefly arrested Azm and charged him with “inciting sectarianism” — a laughable charge since Azm did not spare the Christian religious establishment.
There we have the answer. Allaw SWT does not like deviation in the least bit. This means that even the difference between Deobandi-Balerwi-Salafi are very serious. Our differences with shia are even more serious. And these differences pale in comparison to our differences with Jewish and Christian people. In view of this we can only imagine what is the nature of our differences with atheists like communists. hence our differences with Azm will be monumental. Yet it will be pragmatic to parse through what he had to say about the defeat of the Arabs at the hands of the Zionists.
This is the point where I am becoming acutely aware of the fact that my own brothers and sisters are not aware of the micro details of the ground reality!
After Azm’s arrest, his legion of supporters among the literati, intellectuals, and activists in Beirut and beyond began to mount a counterattack. By 1969, Adonis, the greatest modern Arab poet — a Syrian by birth who spent his most productive years in Beirut — had established the literary journal Mawaqif (“Positions”), which became the venue for critical thinking and avant-garde literature and art. Adonis’s poems and trenchant essays in Mawaqif were magnificently evocative and prescient, the stuff that underpins a civilization. I was among the lucky few to be invited to his weekly salon, along with some of the mostly young and gifted Arab writers and artists who came to Beirut to join the good fight for enlightenment. The biggest thrill in my youthful years was seeing my name in print for the first time in Mawaqif above a few poems Adonis thought worthy of publication.
And suddenly my expectations from this article are considerably lowered. We have a Marxist telling about his underground exploits. Good for him and it does not help me in making a headway aboiut the social, cultural, economic and other conditions of the Arab part of the Muslim Ummah.
The agitation against Azm’s trial was mounting, and I felt emboldened enough to go to court along with a few friends to show solidarity with our hero. Azm was concerned about the safety of his family after receiving death threats, and as a precaution he sent his wife to Jordan. However, Azm’s ordeal was short: He was released from prison after two weeks, the case against him was dismissed, and his book was celebrated as a progressive victory against the forces of backwardness.
The familiar story.
Backward : Muslims ( in this case the Arabs.)
Progressive : The Marxists.
Of all the Arab intellectuals and artists who transformed Beirut after 1967 into the most lively and cultured city in the Arab world, the Syrians had the pride of place. In addition to Azm and Adonis, other Syrian literary luminaries — among them playwright Saadallah Wannous and poets Muhammad al-Maghout and Nizar Qabbani — displayed tremendous courage in exposing the entrenched taboos and sacred religious dogmas of Islam and the political myths of the Arab nationalist movement in its Nasserite and Baathist manifestations. Wannous’s gripping play An Evening Party for the Fifth of June — first published in Mawaqif and then produced in Beirut to critical and popular acclaim — was incisive in its deconstruction of the underlying political and social causes for the defeat. The play, in which some actors sat among the audience, helped revolutionize theater in the Arab world.
There we have it - Islam as the villain - or at least one of the villains.
But interesting to note that Arab nationalism had two versions - Nasserite and Baathist.
In the early 1970s, new weekly and monthly publications came into being, joining established ones like the progressive periodicals Al-Talia and Al-Tariq, as well as the daily An -Nahar, whose weekly supplement, edited by the Lebanese poet and commentator Ounsi el-Hajj, featured pages brimming with exciting debates and profound soul-searching and introspection. The Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani, who lived in Beirut, produced some of his best literary work and his most scathing political commentary in those years. Beirut’s publishing houses, theaters, art galleries, and universities — including the famed American University of Beirut — were humming with creative activities. That moment of Arab enthusiasm was possible only in Beirut, at that time the freest, most cosmopolitan Arab capital.
What a shame when even atheists are thriving the Muslims are either asleep or indulging with nationalism.
There was a faint attempt by some Arab nationalist writers to resuscitate Arabism, but to no avail.
One day the Zionists might ask us to thank them for killing Arab nationalism in 1967.
The great intellectual debate in the years after the June 1967 war raged mainly between the progressive current (Azm, Adonis et al.) and an assortment of Islamists from many Arab states, who saw the defeat, correctly, as the historic rout of Arab nationalism. There was a faint attempt by some Arab nationalist writers to resuscitate Arabism, but to no avail. I have always believed that it was only after the 1967 defeat that the Arab Islamists, who were mocked and dismissed by the left in previous decades, began to regroup and reassert themselves intellectually and politically as the only “authentic” alternative to Arab nationalism. None of us who were politically active in those years would have believed that the exclusivist and reactionary Islamists, mainly the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood movement and its various branches, and later the Shiite Hezbollah, would dominate Arab life and politics in subsequent decades.
Again a useful piece of historical summary.
But such pieces always leave me cringing.
There are leftists, nationalists and Islamists. Were there Muslims also? I am interested to know about their activities and actions and their own reactions to the events.
Were they all asleep. Of course my worst fears are that this indeed might be the case that they were sleeping.
Are the still asleep?
because Shia Hizbullah and Muslim brotherhood can not be the sole Muslim reaction to the vents that took place in 1967. There has to be Muslim reaction also. It can not be all Islamist reaction or Shia reaction.
Of course one hitch is that every Muslim reaction in accordance with Islam will be classfied as Islamist by the leftists as well as the western liberal democratic narrative.