Friday, September 1, 2006

The shaping of cultures

By Azmi Bishara

"You see sons being groomed for monarchical succession in republics that are still caricatures of Bonapartism and Mameluke despotism. Ironically, these heirs apparent always begin their careers by condemning corruption, yet they are one of the foremost manifestations of corruption.

There is the division into regional axes, with political leaders changing positions as though they were playing musical chairs. One day they'll deride Arab nationalism and Arab identity if it is used to promote modernism, to resist Israel or combat the American drive to partition Iraq. The next day they'll turn around and use these concepts against Iran. Just to hear a Saudi official defending Arab identity makes your head spin.

There is the Palestinian government under siege, Palestinian society being destroyed. International delegations meet the Palestinian president and snub the democratically elected Palestinian government, while in Lebanon they meet the government and snub the president. Washington could not order non-Arab countries such as Turkey or Russia not to receive elected Hamas officials but it has no problem laying down the law with Arab governments. The same governments which attacked Hizbullah because of its Shia affiliation are the same ones that attack Sunni-affiliated Hamas. Such are the inconsistencies of the pro-American axis.

Even more worrying is the unprecedented drive to inflame sectarian discord and drive a wedge between Sunni and Shia Muslims, as though they were mutually hostile tribal groups rather than adherents to differing Islamic doctrines. In the past, non-democratic governments based their legitimacy upon a doctrine of national unity that they were uniquely poised to embody. Now we see non- democratic regimes fuelling sectarian strife and national disunity in order to perpetuate themselves.

I believe that the Iranian-supported Lebanese party should not act towards Iran as communist parties acted towards Moscow in the days of the Soviet Union. Iran is not infallible, and it is certainly less than innocent in Iraq, where it is helping to promote sectarian strife in order to further its own regional ambitions. One can understand Hizbullah's predicament because of its material dependence on Iran. However, the party still has considerable room for manoeuvre because of the popular support it has received in the Arab world, which it can turn to its advantage without having to lose Iran's support.

Modesty, action instead of words, persistence, organisation and judgement are the qualities that have distinguished Hizbullah over the past two decades, giving the Lebanese resistance its unique character. The party's greatest success is in having developed a workable model for resistance, ending inferiority complexes and defeatist theories based on the notion that Arabs are culturally or genetically flawed.

Generally, political movements tend to condemn this phenomenon only in others. Arab nationalists condemned the hero worship of Stalin yet these same people turned Gamal Abdel-Nasser into an icon in a similar way. The revolutionary left, which scoffed at both Stalinists and Nasserists, pinned up its pictures of Marx and Che Guevara. The problem with this is that it obviates critical thought because it voids the symbols of the ideas they are meant to embody. To personify an idea by vesting symbolic meaning in an individual is to elevate that individual beyond criticism. This immunity must inevitably alter the quality of the idea itself.

But an alternative to the prevailing political and social culture is urgently needed throughout the Arab world. Imitating Hizbullah is not the answer, because the nature of the mission is not the same. "

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