arab pain

  1. 1,781 Posts.

    June 9 2003

    Are Arabs a people who can only glorify the past, while screaming at real and imagined enemies, asks Thurayya al-Urayyid.

    A friend recently wrote and asked why it was that the Arab masses took the reins of opposing the war in Iraq, with no tangible involvement by Arab intellectual leaders. Why, he asked, had the intellectuals been silent?

    His question touched an aching wound in me. I have not written a thing since the days leading up to the war, simply because I can write only when there is something I believe in. I am caught in my ambivalent feelings about the war. The silence torments me.

    I woke one night startled to find myself in tears. I was crying in my sleep, dreaming about Ali, the Iraqi boy who lost his family and had to have both arms amputated because of a missile attack on his house. I had seen him on TV in Saudi Arabia, crying, a woman wiping away his tears. In my sleep, I had become conscious of the tragic reality that this child could no longer wipe away his own tears. He had no arms. The most simple thing, wiping your own tears, he couldn't do.

    The dream was a revelation. This boy represents to me what has happened to the young generation of Iraqis and the rest of our Arab world. Unable to do anything for itself, it has been disarmed, literally.

    We are not raising our children to feel free to think and be creative, encouraging them to add their own achievements to those of the past.

    Instead, we continue to glorify the past with rhetorical speeches about the historical achievements of our civilisation. Wars whet our appetite for angry shouting. Crowds filled the streets in virtually every Arab capital to protest against the Iraq war, chanting slogans I have been hearing for quite a while: it is a war on Islam; this is a call for a united front against Western invasion and against America's foreign policy double standards and bias against Arabs.

    But the reality in Iraq before the war was shameful to the whole Arab world. A tyrant embodying the utmost of sadism and inhumanity was able to torture his people for three decades, right down to rape and killing, mutilating and torturing family members. Thousands vanished in prisons. Iraqis had reached a state of mind where they were scared even of their shadows.

    The Arab media treated this as an internal Iraqi matter, not for coverage or discussion. Then, after all this time, the United States, whatever its real motives, stunned the world with a war to "liberate" the Iraqi people.

    In every Arab heart, feelings of relief at the prospects of an end to Iraqi suffering collided with feelings of anger, and perhaps shame, that it took a Western power, driven by its political and economic interests, to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

    Are the Arabs a nation that can only glorify the past, while screaming against real and imagined enemies and applauding leaders, no matter what crimes they commit or what degree of tyranny they reach?

    We were a great civilisation, but we are not now, and if we keep looking at the past we never will be again. There are some of us who know this. Will we hear their voices now that the reality of the Arabs' pitiful situation has been exposed?

    Arab intellectuals found themselves torn over the war, facing an irreconcilable gap between the unconvincing statements of the political leadership and the emotional frenzy of the street protesters, rooted in national and religious convictions.

    The educated Arab sees both sides and understands both sides, but with whom does he stand? It is a catch-22.

    Our political leaders cannot make a suicidal decision for both their regimes and their people by opting to resist the world's only superpower. Yet we cannot but feel sympathy with the pain and anger of the crowds, armed only with their shouts.

    We understand that we have neither the armies nor the weapons to win against America. But, then, should we be rejoicing at being freed, or ashamed that we had something really rotten right in our backyard?

    A friend, an Iraqi intellectual, called me from Paris, where he has been settled with many other migrants for two decades. Sadness choked me when he said: "We are happy that Iraq is freed and that we can now visit our families." This is the Iraqi present: joy at the most minimal of human rights.

    The hope remains that the change in Iraq, which has exposed the inadequacy of our theorising and slogans, will remove the blinkers from our sight and our insights. Then many more of us will understand that there is no hope of survival for a nation that does not see the need to progress with the times and deprives its youngsters of the ability to participate in the growth of human progress.

    No matter how many speeches and poems he hears, that Iraqi boy will not regain his lost arms. This can occur only with a miracle brought about by science and medical technology.

    To be armed with education and advanced technology: this is the only position that a true and loyal intellectual can advocate for his people.

    Thurayya al-Urayyid is a columnist for Saudi Arabia's Al-Hayat newspaper, a business consultant and a poet.
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