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Where Does the World’s Problem with Us Lie? Where is our Problem with the World?

Where Does the World’s Problem with Us Lie? Where is our Problem with the World?

Wednesday, 3 February, 2021 - 11:15

This column does not claim to provide a conclusive answer, and it does not entail any a priori value judgments. The only thing it does is question and call for asking questions regarding us, as Arabs, the state of justice in the world today, and/ or the extent to which we are ready to integrate into this world.

Let us revise some of the significant events of a deep “miscomprehension” from which a deeper “misunderstanding” arose, one whose effects remain palpable today.

After the First World War, the Arabs, both as elites and peoples, objected to what the wars’ victors had done through the League of Nations that they established. They decided to impose mandates on large swaths of what had previously been the Ottoman Empire and German colonies in Africa. We, in turn, greeted these mandates with insurgencies and emphasized our refusal of the “fragmentation status quo” and our determination to “revive the order” as that had supposedly once been. The stars of our history are still those who faced off with these mandates: The 1920 Revolution in Iraq, Sultan Al-Atrash, Saleh Al-Ali, Yousuf Al-Azma, etc.…

The wars’ victors were celebrating a post-imperial world, and we were at pains to confront their victory, which we saw as nothing more than the colonization of ourselves. Most bizarrely of all, our new states' rulers seemed embarrassed by the states they themselves governed. Many of them apologized for being obliged to play such a role as abhorrent as this.

After the Second World War, the dichotomy of celebration there and mourning here was repeated. With the exception of Britain, which had the mandate over Palestine, there was a consensus among victors of this war, including the Soviet Union, in support of partitioning Palestine. Opposition to the famous 1947 Resolution issued by the United Nations, which the same victors had established, turned into a unified cry of war that brought the Arab region and some of the Islamic world together. Foiling the “conspiracy of partition” became seen as a foremost and sacrosanct national duty. Seventeen years later, Tunisia’s president at the time, Habib Bourguiba, tried to reconsider the issue principle of partition and was subsequently defamed in the Levante and described as a traitor.

With the end of the Cold War (1989- 1991), the Arab region was also the sight for retaliating against the victors of the war. As the euphoria that had hit the Western victors’ victory at the Soviet Union’s disintegration was peaking, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, defying the emerging global order of the day. Ten years later, Osama bin Laden launched his “raid” on New York and Washington.

In other regions around the world, retaliation to post-Cold War neoliberal economic policies arose: for example, in Bolivia, the poor revolted against Bechtel, a US company that privatized drinking water. In our part of the world, the response was of an imperial nature, of an empire that had been prevented from exercising its imperial control. We did not respond as poor and weak entities but as strong players that had been deprived of exercising their power.

Through a comparison with Russia, another place which is not linked with particular friendliness to the West, we realize the following: after the First World War, Soviet Russia stood with those opposed to the war’s victors. In the second war, it became most prominent of these victors. With the Cold War, it contributed, with Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin, to paving the way for the West’s victory over its own model.

There are, of course, a few Arab exceptions that confirm the rule:

-The 1916 Hashemite Revolution that cooperated with the British was supposed to have been among the First World War's victors. However, four years later, after the mandates’ establishment, its officers led most of the uprisings against it. The Iraqis among them, who had acclimated with the new status quo, most notably Nuri al-Saeed, faced an unenviable fate. Peoples’ damnations haunt them to this day.

-The Arab communist parties, because of their links to the Soviets, were supposed to have been among the victors of the Second World War. Nevertheless, partly because of their links to the Soviets, they soon integrated into the forces opposing the war’s victors.

-Some of those who are described as liberals were supposed to have been among the Cold War’s victors. However, the feebleness of their democratic and pluralistic sensibilities, rather their weakness as an independent group, ruled out any possibility for a solid effect stemming from such a transformation.

Claiming that the world “is against us,” based on these repeating turns of events that do not change much, leads to the prevalence of the conspiracy theories in our part of the world and widens the gap that separates us from any shared universal consensus. Saying that we are “against” the world, on the other hand, presents us as a strange exception, whose causes, circumstances and motives do not need to be understood.

Three times in one century, this clash has taken place. Why is that? This issue, in all likelihood, deserves to be pondered and contemplated.

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