Mar 23 2016

Is the Arab world losing its diversity?

Published by at 3:03 pm under Arab Issues,Articles

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By Daoud Kuttab

The airlifting of a dozen-and-a-half Yemeni Jews to Israel last Monday received wide coverage. The action to evacuate 19 Yemenis to Israel is said to have included four stops and was done in cooperation with the US State Department.

What happens to these Yemeni Jews, as well as what happened to the earlier Yemenis who came to Israel, is not the focus of this article, although one can talk a lot on that issue.

The real concern is the effect the departure of these few remaining Yemeni Jews does to pluralism and diversity that has for so long been a hallmark of Arabs.

The golden years of Arabs in Andalusia were successful precisely because of the plurality, of the tolerance for people of different faiths.

People leaving during times of war and economic difficulty is not new. It is possible that people with connections to more stable and prosperous countries tend to benefit from these connections to get the needed permission to emigrate.

The more worrisome cases, however, are those that happen during times of war, which is the case of Christians in Iraq and Jews in Yemen, when violent conflicts result in unhealthy and destructive emigrations. No one can blame people under stress and violence for wanting to have a better future for themselves and their children. Society as a whole, however, suffers greatly when important and productive sectors of the society are plucked out and leave permanently.

While the key to all these problems is an end to violence and reaching understandings that can usher in stability and prosperity, every effort to avoid the loss of the various elements that make up the fabric of a society is extremely important.

In years past and during an Arab summit, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi once suggested that all Arab Christians leave. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, however, stood up to him and said that the Arab nation is a beautiful garden and Arab Christians are its most gorgeous flowers.

Whether it is the Yazidis or Christians of Iraq, the Jews of Yemen and most recently the Christian Palestinians of Gaza, the departure of these communities is a huge loss for the Arab culture and civilisation, while it is no doubt a plus to the countries that will welcome them.

Local, regional and international organisations spend money and efforts trying to preserve and maintain buildings and locations made up of stone and clay.

These world heritages are protected by international treaties, and inter-governmental agencies such as UNESCO go out of their ways to help preserve these important vestiges of civilisation. But while so much effort is given to protect and showcase these stones, little serious effort is exerted to help preserve the living of our region. Pluralism and diversity are the most basic ingredients to keeping our communities and countries healthy in more ways than one.

The future of our societies depends so much on our ability to defend and even encourage the diversity and pluralism that make civilisations different and progressive.

Monitoring the Friday sermons in some mosques, one hears at the end a list of curses of different issues and people. These defamations often includes members of one’s own society or followers of faiths that are respected by the faith of the religious leader saying otherwise.

These attacks are often decisive in making some people want to emigrate once they get a chance.

We need to fight these promoters of hate speech and build on the richness that our diversity provides.

The problem of isolation and separation, as well as monopolising all issues through one religion or one colour is extremely destructive.

We must protect ourselves and our future generations from the danger of intolerance that is eating away our ability to be part of a global community of nations that has embraced these features and is proud of them.

When travelling in some planes, the captain proudly informs passengers of all the different languages that the crew speaks. The airline, then, takes advantage of the plurality of languages rather than shunning it.

We need to show pride in the members of our own society that add to the mosaic that our region has been famous for over the ages.

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