Arabs must take a long, self-critical look in the mirror
Monday, April 7th 2008, 4:00 AM
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There was a time centuries ago in Arab countries when intellectual introspection was common and the culture produced searching, self-critical scholarship in various arenas.
That time is gone. Today, brave and questioning souls like Irshad Manji, who calls for an Islamic Reformation, receive death threats. Without the ability to look inward, Arab blame for problems is projected outward – meaning, at Israel and the U.S. That is very dangerous for the world.
As an Arab-American, recent events have reminded me in very stark terms why introspection needs to return to the Arab world in a big way, as quickly as possible, as a prerequisite for anything resembling peace, in the Middle East or elsewhere, to be a real possibility.
First, look at what Fatah just attempted to do regarding American victims of Palestinian terrorism. Because of the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, numerous lawsuits have been brought against Fatah and other Palestinian terrorist groups that have injured or killed Americans while in Israel. Recently, the State Department decided it might intervene in some of these judgments, which had found in favor of the defendants and held Fatah and other Palestinian groups liable for millions of dollars in damages, because Fatah had complained that these judgments would bankrupt them and that this in turn would hurt the peace process.
Yes, you heard right. Fatah complained that they were being held financially liable for injuring and killing Americans in Israel, acts for which they had previously claimed responsibility!
And our own State Department wanted to support them in this complaint, supposedly in the interest of peace, by having these judgments nullified. Joseph Heller, the author of “Catch 22,” couldn’t have come up with a more surreal scenario.
Fortunately, advocates like the Endowment for Middle East Truth, made noise, and as a result of that pressure, the State Department has backed down for now.
But where is the proper sense of shame that might stop a group like Fatah from lodging such a complaint to begin with?
The only explanation is that by having such a pathological, externally focused sense of blame, aimed exclusively at Americans and Jews, no such sense of reasoning or decency applies.
The recent massacre of the Yeshiva students in Jerusalem by a Palestinian Muslim fits the same pattern. Gaza celebrated – yes, celebrated – the cold-blooded and ethnically motivated murders of these religious students, most of whom were teenagers.
Let me say unequivocally that I am ashamed. And I am angry. Nothing, nothing in the world justifies these sorts of actions. Tell me, when have you ever heard of Israelis celebrating the killing of Palestinians?
Yes, there are a few glimmers of progress. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has issued a call for interfaith dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims. And The New York Times actually called Hamas out on its murderous, anti-Semitic rhetoric.
But these are drops in the bucket, not a rising tide.
The centuries-old downward spiral of tyranny, poverty, fanaticism and finger-pointing is the rule, not the exception in most Arab countries.
At this point in Arab history, we must finally renounce these fatally flawed tendencies to blame everyone but ourselves. As Arab-Americans, we must lead the way, away from groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which consistently claims big, bad America is the oppressor and poor Arabs are almost always the hapless victims.
Let us begin anew the path toward our own glorious Renaissance abandoned long ago, and pursue the higher road that will be ours when we finally look more deeply and critically at ourselves.
Dabul is a novelist and commentator on Middle East issues.