Nov 07 2003

‘The best answer is Arab nationalism’

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has publicly asked for help by calling for ideas to defeat the enemies of America. Here is one idea: Arab nationalism accomplished through democracy. We all know what the US is against in the Middle and Far East. What we are not sure of is what it is in these areas it agrees with. President George Bush tells us day after day that America stands for freedom and democracy in Iraq and the rest of the world. Great! So that satisfies one half of the equation. Now, if people were to choose democracy, as any free people would, what would be the political nature of the regime they are most likely to choose?

The Sept. 11 attack on America was the product of Islamic fundamentalism, while the Anglo-American attack on Iraq was initiated largely because of the autocratic nature of the Saddam regime. The Bush administration is clearly anti-Islamic terrorists and anti-Saddam-like dictators.

Despite attempts to connect Saddam with Islamic motivated terror, the consensus, even in Washington, is that Saddam’s secular regime had nothing to do with Osama Ben Laden and his Al Qaeda movement. The Baath ideology, which Saddam superficially espoused, is the enemy of Islamic fundamentalism. Many in Iraq and outside believe that Saddam used the Baath ideology to achieve power and then twisted it to fit his designs.

One of Saddam’s most obvious sins was that he considered his Baath ideology to be the sole ideology to rule his country and the larger Arab national movement. Even fellow Baathists in nearby Syria were persecuted and violently opposed because they did not adhere to Saddam’s version of Baath ideas.

In its original form, the Baath ideology seeks to unify the Arab world under the slogan of “A single unified Arab nation”. As such, the Baath Arab nationalism, a secular movement for all Arabs, was and is the strongest opponent of Islamic fundamentalism. Michel Aflaq, the founding father of the Baath ideology, and whose grave is reported in the Arab press to have been bulldozed by American troops, like many other Arab nationalists is Christian. Many Arab Christian leaders had key roles in the Arab nationalist movement that led Arab countries to independence.

Azmi Bishara, the Christian Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, is a strong believer in Arab nationalism. “The Arabs have much more in common among them, in terms of culture, civilization and political aspirations, than the Europeans have,” he recently wrote on the Arab Media Internet Network (

“However, Arab nationalism will have no chance of survival without democracy, regardless of the extent to which it thrives in the minds and hearts of the people. Once the sense of Arab identity, which is shared by the vast majority of people in every Arab country, converges with a democratic project, it will be able to contribute, alongside the state, to the process of nation building.”

One of the mistakes the US occupying force made once the hostilities in Iraq were over was to delegitimize the Baath Party. If the United States is indeed in favor of a democratic solution for the situation in Iraq, they must not only try to allow the Baath Party to reemerge, provided it follows democratic principles, but Washington must embrace Arab nationalism throughout the regime as part of its war on terror.

The question that many Arabs ask themselves all the time is whether the US commitment to democracy is conditional. The great fear in the Middle East is that the United States is not necessarily in favor of genuine democracy if it will produce Arab nationalism. Such an outcome is not favored by many in the Pentagon and the White House, whose vision of an Arab democracy is not as strong as the Arab nationalists’. They fear that if the goal of Arab nationalism to truly unite Arabs is successful, their century-long calling the strategic shots in the various Arab capitals will be coming to an end.

What is more troubling to many in Washington is that if democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world does produce a strong Arab nationalist movement, the days of the strategic imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs will also come to an end. Warmongers in Washington will try to paint a picture of a strong Arab nationalist movement that seeks the annihilation of Israel. That will not be true. A democratic Arab world that freely chooses to unite will be tolerant and stable enough to accept a reasonable compromise on the issue of Palestine, one that is based on international law and the exchange of land-for-peace.

If, as Rumsfeld believes, the real choice in Iraq is that of ideas, then Arabs have no problem with choosing democracy over dictatorship. But if Arabs in Iraq and elsewhere are truly given a choice, they will choose Arab unity over disunity. And if the ideological focus of America’s war on terror is Islamic extremism, then Washington’s only antidote is to allow Arabs to fulfil their aspirations of national unity.

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