August 6, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 759

An Arab Nationalist Attack on the Arab Progressives

August 6, 2004
Special Dispatch No. 759

The Arab progressives, whose voices have increasingly grown stronger since September 11th and who use the Internet as their main pulpit, are under constant attacks from their Islamist and Pan-Arab nationalist opponents. In his weekly program on Al-Jazeera television, the moderator Dr. Faysal Al-Qassem summarized the main criticisms against them: "I wish we had never scolded the traditional Arab liberals… At least they were nationalists, while the new Arab liberals stand to the right of Fascism and Zionism… Are they not closer to the neo-conservative Americans who are destroying the world, than to the real liberals…? Are they not part of the enmity to Islam, Arabism, nationalism, the [armed] resistance, and all the noble Arab and Islamic values? Why do they lean blindly toward anything Western? Why do they praise and extol normalization with Israel…? Why do they depict America as a benevolent angel who has come to save us from our evils…? Why do they absolve the enemies from being responsible for the backwardness of the Arab world? Why do they despise the nations that embraced Arab and Islamic values? How is it that the neo-liberal Arabs call for tolerance while taking the lead in accusing [others] of heresy? Doesn't liberalism advocate acceptance of others and interaction with all factions? Why do they call for uprooting the Islamists and the proponents of Pan-Arabism? Aren't the neo-liberals more fundamentalist and radical than Osama bin Laden ? Why are they antagonistic to anyone who opposes them? Is this Liberalism or a repulsive Fundamentalism? Are they anything more than a fifth column…?" [1]

Throughout his TV program, Dr. Faysal Al-Qassem has supported the views against the Arab liberals, and ten days later he published his opinions in an article in the pro-Saddam London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi. In his article he makes a distinction between "the real liberals," whom he calls "the nationalist liberals," and the "neo-liberals," whom he condemns. The progressive commentator in the program, Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, also wrote an article explaining his point of view. It was published simultaneously by the liberal Internet site and the daily newspapers Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), Al-Mada (Iraq), and Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribiya (Morocco). The following are excerpts from Al-Qassem's and Al-Nabulsi's articles:

Dr. Faysal Al-Qassem: The Nationalist Arab Liberals – a Model for Integrating the Struggle for Democracy with the Struggle for Nationalism and the Safeguarding of Arab Interests and Values

"First, I have to admit that Arab liberals come in different types and that it is unfair to put all of them in one basket. Among them are total nationalists who are not intoxicated by Western culture and ideologies, and believe in finding internal nationalistic remedies to the political, economic, and cultural Arab maladies and problems. They raise thousands of questions about the American plans and initiatives whose alleged goal is to bring reform and democracy to the region. Furthermore, they oppose America and its goals, they reject any reforms from without, and they refuse to cooperate with anyone who claims to bring [reforms from without] to the Arab countries. They promise to spearhead the battle against any Western force that may attack an Arab country, and sometimes they accuse those who cooperate with foreign powers in the guise of implementing democracy and getting rid of despotic leaders in Arab countries of being traitors.

"This brand of Arab liberals is also characterized by its support for the struggle in all its manifestations, even when they have ideological disagreements with [those who carry out] the struggle… They welcome the acts of the struggle's movements because they are fulfilling a national duty worthy of respect and appreciation, which means that they are partaking in the battle for freedom and opposing any normalization with Israel. At the same time, this brand of liberals valiantly fights for the emancipation of the Arab countries from reviled despotism and tyranny and fights for upholding human rights, even if it results in their imprisonment.

"Those 'nationalist-liberals' are a small minority and they have a weak voice in comparison to the loud voice of the Arab liberals who imitate the Americans and dance the Debka [an Arab folkdance] in a Yankee rhythm… They fill Internet sites and some of the liberal press with a rising tide of liberal cacophony and reject anything that is Arabic, nationalistic, and Islamic. Furthermore, this brand of liberals, which imitates the Americans, does not hesitate at times to equate their fellow nationalist-liberals with Islamists and Pan-Arabists, just because they are nationalists who refuse to throw themselves into the arms of foreigners.

"I believe that we urgently need this brand of free Arabs who amalgamate the struggle for democracy with the struggle for nationalism and with safeguarding the Arab values, interests and rights."

The 'Neo-Lib Arabs' - an Amazing Resemblance to the Neo-Cons in the U.S

"In contrast to this stands the more vocal and more prominent liberal trend… It is dominant and attracts obvious interest in the electronic media, the press, journals, and Arab media, which are supported by the U.S. and claim liberalism. I underline the word 'claim' because liberalism in its true meaning is completely innocent of this type of Arab liberalism, since liberalism in its Western definition means that a person believes in progress, reform, enhancement of the individual's human rights, and the propagation of tolerance and emancipation. Such values are lacking in many of the supporters of neo-lib Arabs.

"'New' doesn't necessarily equal good. It could also be the ultimate in repulsiveness, filth, vileness, and depravity. The neo-cons in the U.S. are a clear example for that. Their name is linked to everything that is appalling in the U.S. They planned the invasion of Iraq and the exploitation of that defeated country; they ferment religious strife, attack other countries, turn America into a dictatorship, and disregard international values, laws, and customs. They are full of fanatical ideologies and scorn other nations and democracy…

"It seems that the 'neo-lib Arabs,' who often are praised by Zionist circles, found their match in the American neo-cons. There is an amazing resemblance between the two camps as far as dressing nice values such as liberalism and political conservatism in new and ugly garb… Just as the [American] neo-conservatives target Islam and hatch devilish plans to strike it at its core … [so are] the neo-lib Arabs, who in these days have no other goal but to slander Islamic culture and religion in various ways and to paint its leaders as the source of every evil, backwardness, and decay.

"It seems that no article published by the supporters of this movement is free of poisonous arrows aimed carefully at all that is Islamic, to the point that one of them described, in a loathsome manner, the veiled women in the streets of Cairo as 'moving tents.' There is a great amount of loathing to everything Islamic in what they say. Another neo-liberal Arab did not hesitate to describe the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of Hamas, as a degenerate terrorist sheikh who dragged the whole region into an abyss that no one knows what lies at its end…

"Even the Pan-Arab ideology did not escape the neo-liberals' arrows, since they consider it a backward chauvinistic idea that should have already been buried yesterday… I am sure that the writers who belong to this trend will attack me harshly for the mere uttering of the word principles, for in their eyes this is a dirty and evil word that does not exist in Arab and Islamic culture. The most alarming and troubling issue for the neo-libs is the use of the term Arab or Islamic 'nation'. This too, in their eyes, is a hideous term that does not exist, although they know that their beloved Samuel Huntington, author of the clash of civilizations theory, is a die-hard supporter of his own Western nation to the extent that he dreads other cultures.

"I do not see a difference between their position toward Islam and Arabism and that of the arrogant Zionist writers. As a matter of fact, some of the neo-lib Arab writers may be found to the right of Sharon, Mofaz, and Netanyahu in their hatred and disdain to Islam and Arabism. They are removed from liberalism in its true meaning that does not espouse targeting other ideologies and crushing them. Certainly there is no harm in demanding improvement and oversight of an ideology, as long as it does not lead to a call to uproot it, the way the neo-liberal Arabs are doing in their writings about Islam, Arabism, and nationalist ideas."

The Neo-Liberal Opposition to the [Armed] Resistance

"The [armed] resistance is [also] a vile, despicable, and degenerate word in the lexicon of the neo-libs. Anyone who mentions it is forever accursed and loathed. I have not heard one person among the neo-liberals saying one good word about Hizbullah or the Palestinian Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad movements. And if they did – it was just as a precautionary measure [to camouflage their true opinions].

"Numerous are the curses that they hurtle at the Palestinian martyrs [i.e. suicide bombers] who have only their bodies left to defend their motherland and free it from the hands of the usurpers. They maintain that the Iraqi resistance is nothing more than acts of terror and sabotage and that the culprits should be uprooted … because they are hurting their Anglo-Saxon and Frank masters.

"In addition to their contempt of Arabism, Islam, and the national struggle we find that our neo-liberals … yearn for Tel-Aviv, even if they try to conceal it. Therefore, it is no surprise that they are among those who espouse normalization and reconciliation with the Israelis using false pretexts that are hard to digest. When they cite renowned writers they find only Hebrew and Western names such as Shlomo, Mordechi, Oz, Shahak, and Michelle, as if the Arab and Islamic culture is devoid of illustrious people in literature, politics, and culture…

"Possibly, the most distinct characteristic of their analysis of the Arab and Islamic situation is that they always put the blame for whatever happens on the Arabs and Muslims, and absolve foreign elements, such as imperialism and its prodigal daughter Israel, from the disasters that afflicted the region…"

The 'So-Called Democracy' of the Neo-Libs

"The most amusing thing in the writing of neo-liberal Arabs is their disdain of our minds, as if they are the only ones who understand democracy. They exhausted us with their calls to rely on the people in elections and critical decisions, because they are the ones who confer legitimacy on regimes and leaders, but when the people support Islamic and Pan-Arab parties, they condemn and disavow them.

"For example, the Algerians who elected the 'National Islamic Salvation Front' are [in their minds] ignorant people, [just] because they voted for the foes of neo-libs. The Egyptian people, who voted for Islamists in parliamentary elections, do not deserve respect also because they vote for what they [the neo-liberals] consider a misguided party… The people who hate America, are in their eyes, stupid and immature… What could be more hypocritical than this so-called democracy? Doesn't democracy mean the acceptance of the majority's positions, even if it is wrong? We do not hear them talk about the shortcomings of democracy and how it brought someone like Hitler to power except when the Arab peoples vote for parties or ideologies that oppose the neo-libs…

"For a long time we have been hearing our neo-liberal brethren curse Osama bin Laden and his supporters because they are engrossed in extremism… How different are they from bin Laden and his likes, the extremists and radicals? Don't they [also] classify the world into the category of those who agree with them and those that don't…? Can't that be defined as disgusting liberal fundamentalism? They refuse to entertain any idea suggested by their fundamentalist and Pan-Arab enemies, based on the adage 'no freedom for the enemies of freedom'…

"Doesn't liberalism, in its linguistic definition, urge us first of all to be tolerant toward opposing views and discuss them rather than to call for their utter eradication? Didn't Hitler and other fascists strike anyone who opposed their ideas and beliefs? How are the neo-liberal Arabs any different from the fascists whom they shower with criticism and curses in their writings…? And after all this, they boast about being liberals. By Allah, with such liberals, who needs Zionists and fascists?" [2]

Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi: the 'Neo-Liberals' are a Continuation of an Enlightened Movement from the End of the 19th Century

"The Arab liberal movement, or the enlightened rational movement, was introduced at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries by two generations of progressive thinkers. Among the members of the first generation were Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abdu, Rasheed Ridha, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Kawakibi, Shibli Shameel, Farah Anton, and others. The second generation appeared early in the 20th century and included Taha Hussein, Qassem Amin, Muhammad Hassan Al-Zayyat, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Muhammad Hussein Haikal, and others. All of them belonged to a political ideological trend that espoused the following principles: Complete freedom of thought, complete freedom of belief, freedom of women and equality between men and women in rights and obligations, political pluralism, religious reform, political and educational reforms, separation of church and state … subjecting sacred values and traditions to scientific scrutiny, and the implementation of democracy.

"The second half of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of a liberal progressive movement led by large groups of intellectual Arab elites… This elite embraced the ideologies of the enlightened Arabs of the 19th and early 20th centuries and added to them the following: war on the ruling military, tribal, and partisan dictatorships that emerged following the [Arab] independence era of the second half of the 20th century and created what we call 'the catastrophes of independence;' a demand for civil societies; reviving the call for religious reforms; and underscoring secularism and the separation of church and state.

"At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, and especially following 9/11, which has become an historical defining event for the Arab world no less than it is a defining historical event for the U.S., a new generation of liberals emerged and was named 'neo-libs' by the Arab media. They called for a new era of enlightenment… They adopted the principles of the progressive thinkers of the 19th and the 20th centuries and added new principles that constitute the outline of the neo-liberals' manifesto."

The Neo-Liberal Arab Manifesto

Al-Nabulsi counted twenty-five principles that guide the neo-libs. He raised fundamental demands regarding religion: A persistent demand to reform religious education "in light of the domination of religious terror;" a call for fighting "all types of armed and bloody religious and political Pan-Arab terrorism;" the emphasis on "subjecting the prevailing sacred values, traditions, legislations, and moral values to in-depth scrutiny; considering religious hostility towards others as "a position that emanated from specific political and social circumstances that existed 1500 years ago. These circumstances do not exist any longer and therefore the religious positions that were expressed in the Koran should not be used at all today to attack others and shed their blood;" regarding the laws of the Shari'a as "having been legislated for their specific time and place, and not as laws that cut through history as the clergymen claim;" the understanding that "the religious ideologies, which are the ideas formulated by clergymen and jurisprudents and not the religion that was given by the Prophet himself, are an obstacle to free thinking and its development and a hindrance to the birth of scientific reasoning."

The neo-liberals are not completely committed to the past but re-examine its values "in order to understand the present." They realize that "weakness, ignorance, and scientific and rational paralysis make people seek the past in order to build the present, and this is a very bad choice, since the past applies only to the past, and not to the present…" They also maintain that "history is governed by laws and not by people's passions, delusions, or dwelling on their past. No nation can forge its history at will by going backwards, embracing [past] glories, and restoring bygone culture and civilization." Therefore, the neo-libs call for "liberating the Arab soul from its past and from the dominance of the forefathers."

Al-Nabulsi explained that the neo-liberals are compelled to raise all the questions that have not been asked by their predecessors in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. They endorse self-criticism and the emancipation of the Arab soul from the "delusions, sorcery, amulets, and illusions that envelop it." They understand that "there is no absolute knowledge and that one should [always] be open to the truth," and they seek to create "a new Arab personality that moves away from violence, subservience, irrationality, tribalism, and racism to become rational, realistic, scientific, nationalist, but not racist." Thus, they call upon the Arabs to give up the fantasy ideal that, out of supremacy, they imagine to be representing.

As for the controversial question of whether to seek help from without in order to affect the desired change in the Arab world, the neo-libs adopt a clear position, according top which, "there is no harm in asking for assistance from outside forces to defeat the arrogant tyranny, to completely eradicate the virus of despotism, and implement Arab democracy in light of the inability of the domestic elite and the fragile political parties to defeat this dictatorship and implement such democracy. History has witnessed this before: Europe was helped by the U.S. in defeating Nazism and the Japanese military fascism in WWII, and the U.S. freed Europe just as it freed Kuwait and Iraq; there is nothing with reform coming from without… The most important thing is that it does arrive, be it on the back of an Arabian camel, a British tank, an American warship, or a French submarine…"

On the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the neo-liberals support a peaceful solution through negotiations. According to Al-Nabulsi, "there is no solution to Arab conflicts with others, be it in Palestine or anywhere else, except through dialogue, negotiations, and peaceful solutions in view of the imbalance in military, scientific, economic, and rational capabilities between the Arabs and their enemies." Therefore, the neo-libs believe in "political and cultural normalization with the enemies and acceptance the political reality … without burying [our] heads in the destructive, scorching, Arab desert sand… Normalization and cross-pollination among nations and cultures are the way to a lasting peace in the Middle East. Peace agreements [with Israel]… should turn into agreements among nations, instead of being mere agreements between states without any links to the peoples themselves…"

Economically, explains Al-Nabulsi, the neo-libs support globalization, considering it "one of the ways that lead to Arab economic modernization, which may bring about political and cultural modernization." They also call for embracing "a total Arab modernization, distinguished from Western modernization, on the premise that it will lead to freedom."

As for women's rights, the neo-libs demand total equality between men and women in rights, duties, work, education, inheritance, and giving evidence in courts of law. Al-Nabulsi urges "to adopt the Tunisian legislations of 1957 pertaining to personal status rights, which are considered the best Arab example of the emancipation of Arab women without having to embrace Western values…"

There is No Ideological or Political Link between the Arab Neo-Liberals and the American Neo-Conservatives

After detailing the guiding principles of the neo-liberals, Al-Nabulsi refuted the claim about ties with neo-conservatives in the U.S.: "There is no political or ideological connection between the American neo-cons and the neo-libs in the Arab world, except in three areas: The American challenge to dictatorial regimes; the enhancement of political reforms and free markets in the world; and accepting the notion that the principles of freedom, democracy, and free markets are not the domain of one nation at the exclusion of others.

"Otherwise, the two movements are different. The neo-conservative movement holds the reins of power and is the decision-maker, while the neo-liberal movement is a group of unorganized intellectuals who are not affiliated with any political or cultural organization, they are not inter-connected financially, they have no leader, commander, Sheikh, or prince, and they don't make political decisions.

"Furthermore, the neo-liberals differ from the neo-conservatives in the following: Unlike the neo-conservatives … they embrace modernism and consider it the real key to progress and to eliminating backwardness; they reject the neo-conservatives' propensity to use religion to control the masses; they maintain – contrary to the neo-conservatives – that diplomatic, economic, and political methods are more effective than military force in ending conflicts and tyrannies… Example of that are the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall – the two symbols of dictatorship during the Cold War – without spilling one drop of blood or firing one bullet. Contrary to the neo-conservatives they believe that a continuous war does not lead to stability; they maintain that peace is the desired solution, while the neo-conservatives doubt the peace process; they support the re-building of countries that were destroyed in political battles, while the neo-conservatives oppose that…" [3]

[1] Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar), June 15, 2004.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 26, 2004.

[3] The article was published on June 22, 2004 by the liberal Internet site Elaph, the dailies Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), Al-Mada (Iraq), and Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribiya (Morocco).

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