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memri
May 18, 2007 No.
1590

Syrian Liberal Nidhal Na'isa On the West, Pan-Arabism, Islamism, and Al-Jazeera

Syrian liberal author Nidhal Na'isa began his career in journalism as a teenager, at the government dailies Al-Thawra and Syria Times,[1] but today he is a vocal opponent of the Arab regimes and the pan-Arab ideology, as well as of Islamism and Islamist terrorism. He has written that due to the Islamist "tsunami," the Middle East could be declared an "intellectual disaster zone"; that if one were to try to sell pan-Arab identity to "the bushmen and the cannibals" they wouldn't buy it; and that the pan-Arab media is "a harbinger of ill, pain, and destruction." In contrast, he praises the West for its humanism and its respect for the individual, and writes that, given the current state of affairs in the Arab world, the real question is not "why does the West hate us?" but rather why it does not.

The following are excerpts from some of Nidhal Na'isa's recent articles:

"We Could Declare [The Middle East] an Intellectual Disaster Zone After the Surging Fundamentalist Tsunami Swept Through"

In an interview published April 23, 2007 on the liberal Arab website Aafaq, Na'isa discussed the Islamist phenomenon:

"The world is swept up in globalization, whereas our unfortunate regions are being swept up everywhere by fundamentalism. We could declare [the Middle East] an intellectual disaster area after the surging fundamentalist tsunami swept through it.

"This is a wave that came after the slaughter, on the debris of the failure and disintegration of the leftist pan-Arab projects, [when] their intellectual hollowness and the superficiality of their proposals… became evident…

"Fundamentalism is a notion that disturbs the sleep of everybody concerned with the present and the future of this region. All of us are fundamentalists, when fundamentalism is taken in the sense of tenacious clinging to [our] opinion and rejection of the other. I see fundamentalism on the faces of all, in their thoughts and proposals. Nobody comes to terms with the other; no one pays attention to anyone else. In my view, this is fundamentalism in its more important and fuller meaning…"

"In Our Totalitarian Societies… Leaving [the Fold of] Collective Thought is Considered Error, Heresy, and Atheism"

When asked about the phenomenon of increasing religiosity in Syria, Na'isa said that it was part of "the spread of the culture of the herd and 'group' thinking, which means the negation of the individual and the individual's importance in creation, development, and originality."

He continued: "Western civilization was founded on unleashing individual initiative and glorification of individual reason – and not collective reason, which is generally emotive and not of sound judgment.

"In our totalitarian societies, the collective 'I' prevails over the individual 'I,' and all become equals under the podiums of the [Islamic] jurisprudents. Leaving [the fold of] collective thought is considered error, heresy, and atheism…"

Na'isa's praise for the West does not, however, extend to current U.S. policy in the region, which he feels has been counterproductive and has fed extremism: "Much of the religiosity in our societies is based on the principle 'not out of love for 'Ali, but in order to spite Mu'awiya,' [i.e.] in order to spite the current regimes, and in order to goad George Bush and the U.S., which acts in a reckless, thoughtless, and foolish manner, and, through its policies, increases the strength of this [fundamentalist] current…

"So long as the [Syrian] nationalist opposition forces remain repressed and banned, and religious activity is the sole [kind of activity] permitted and tolerated, many will see in it a shelter for the expression of… their identities as [people who] reject the Arab constellation of despotism…"

The Syrian Media is "A Mongoloid Child, Retarded and Underdeveloped"

In the interview, Na'isa draws a clear distinction between past heroes of resistance to colonialism and those whom the modern Arab media crowns as martyrs:

"It goes without saying, and is clear to anyone with eyes to see, that there is a distinction between [on the one hand] someone who ends a life full of human giving and sacrifice… and who worked for a noble and lofty goal, and [on the other hand] someone with a black history… The lying pan-Arabist, Islamist-propagandist media will never succeed in creating saints and martyrs out of slaughterers, butchers, and hired killers…

"The hypocritical pan-Arab hissing [i.e. the pan-Arab media]… has poisoned our lives and turned them into a cheap lie.... The viper, before it bites, emits a hissing sound, which is a harbinger of ill, pain, and destruction."

Na'isa said of the Syrian media in particular that it is "a mongoloid child, retarded and underdeveloped."[2]

"In Truth, I Think That Those Wicked 'Infidels' Love Us More Than We Hate Them"

On April 22, 2007, Nidhal Na'isa published an article on the liberal Arab website Elaph titled "Why Don't They Hate Us?" in which he lampooned the Islamists' anti-West discourse:

"A great part of the fiery, devout, [Islamic] revivalist discourse… is based on [the claim] that the 'infidel' West is our mortal archenemy, that it hates us with the greatest hatred, and that it does not let any opportunity pass for hatching conspiracies and striking at us.

"[It is also based on the claim] that all of the backwardness, misery, deterioration, decline, defeats, and baseness currently present in the Arab and Muslim worlds are due to an uninterrupted flood of machinations on the part of those evil infidels. [The claim is] that they target our religion and our being because they have no religion, and because we are better than them in Allah's view, and that they envy us for this very reason.

"[The Islamists claim] that we are a great source of concern for [the West], and that we are their sole preoccupation and fear, and that the green [i.e. Islamic] 'giant' is ambushing them with its extraordinary capabilities of poverty, hunger, corruption, despotism, ignorance, prisons, delusion, superstitions, and preachers.

"[According to the Islamists, Islam] is, for this reason, the only one capable of destroying Western civilization, defeating it on its home ground, and wiping it out of existence through 'a few explosive belts' that do nothing other than kill and target Arab and Muslim children and their innocent blood.

"[They say that] the mother of all decisive [battles] – the fateful war with the atheist, sinful infidels – passes by way of those innocents, and that if it were not for accursed Israel, wicked America, the infidels, and the descendants of apes and pigs that lie in wait for us night and day, our countries and homelands would be like Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Oslo… When Allah rids us of those wicked, accursed people, we will live in tranquility and bliss, and live happily ever after, and we will have offspring, and girls whom we will dress in chadors, veils, and hijabs.

"But in truth… I think that those wicked 'infidels' love us much more than we hate them. If it were not for them, life would be transformed into hell and fire."

"London Has Become a Safe Haven for Fundamentalists Fleeing the Hell of Middle Eastern Despotism"

"[The West] has contributed greatly – through material aid, technical expertise, and advisory assistance – to many of the amenities of life we enjoy. Tens of millions of humans have benefited from the West's achievements in the sciences, and Western universities have opened [their doors] to the multitudes of students arriving from all countries of the world.

"They have granted citizenship and inducements – material and other – to all of the outstanding, the gifted, and the creative to live in those countries – and even to those who were chased out of their own countries. For instance… London has become a safe haven for fundamentalists fleeing the hell of Middle Eastern despotism. They release, from London, their fiery communiqués for the destruction of the infidel West …

"The prophecy has been fulfilled, and [these Islamists in London] have, in fact, become the only group to be redeemed from the inferno of tyranny, the hell of oppression, and the fire of despotism.

"It was the infidel West, for instance, that extracted oil from the Arabian desert, and turned it into a green paradise and expansive oases full of vitality. [In these oases,] various kinds of economic, intellectual, athletic and artistic activities flourish, and conferences and conventions are held to revile the infidel West and to accuse [other Arabs] of treachery, in the intoxicating atmosphere of the heart of the desert.

"If it were not for this massive technological aid, those countries would be living now as [they lived] in the earliest period of that great, time-honored history of theirs, before there was a West and before there were infidels.

"In addition, this infidel West dedicated its utmost efforts and thinking… to the medical sphere, and eliminated many of the contagious, infectious diseases that used to be predominant in the world. And it is this same West that gives [the Arabs] electricity with which to desalinate water…

If the West Were To Reciprocate the Enmity of the Arab Satellite Stations, "It Could Turn Their Lights Off and Send Them Back to the Early Camel Age"

"And it was [the West] that launched satellites 'that float in the sky'[3] [that made possible] the [Arab] satellite TV stations which show up every day on the [TV] screens, and which sprinkle their unique 'masterpieces' over mankind. If the West wanted to, and if it were to act with the same logic of unveiled enmity [as the Arab satellite stations do], it could turn their lights off with one push of a button and send them back to the deep black depths and the Early Camel Age…

"I believe that applying oneself to putting forward all of the overwhelming conclusive arguments concerning the humanism of the West, the loftiness of its endeavors, and the nobility of its intentions, would be… a pointless linguistic digression. The general concept can be summed up by [the fact] that the West has not been grudging in [sharing] its humanism and its civilization with others, and it demands of them only a bit of quiet – if there is to be no good faith, recognition, and return of the favor…

"The world has become a narrow lane in a small global village. It listens, follows [developments], thinks, contemplates, and analyzes – and it cannot at all fathom the motives and the goals of this hostile and vicious discourse of incitement that some tirelessly market, exploiting their alliance with despotic regimes.

"One painful conclusion can be drawn from all of this… [and it is] that the more logical question… is not 'why do they hate us?' – if there is indeed some degree of hatred – but rather 'why don't they hate us?'…[4]

Al-Jazeera Talk Shows as A Window on Arab Society

In an April 15, 2007 article on Elaph.com, Na'isa took issue with those who criticize the popular Al-Jazeera talk show "The Opposite Direction." In a rather backhanded compliment, he "praises" the confrontational show as an accurate, if pale, reflection of the conflictual state of contemporary Arab society:

"I don't understand why many criticize 'The Opposite Direction'… and call it… a cockfight, or a boxing ring, or a dialogue of the deaf.

"All the aforementioned program does is to pass on, through its participants and its unaffected interviews, some random aspects of a head-butting, fragmented Arab reality…

"'The Opposite Direction' is a microcosm of the larger 'opposite directions' that are to be found in every home, in the street, within every institution, group, and political party, and in every small gathering, even those around a hookah and a backgammon table in a popular café, or in an out-of-the-way village.

"In fact, relatively speaking, ['The Opposite Direction'] is far less violent than what goes on in reality: the deafness, the anger, the resistance, the mutual shoving and head-butting. It often seems to me as though no one understands the other, and no one wants to listen to the other.

"If Allah, may He be praised and elevated – and the fact that he has not done this is [due to] His great wisdom – [but] if Allah were to bestow upon us weapons of mass destruction, we would destroy one another down to the last man… And then we could rest, and give tortured humanity a respite from our long and wearying problems, discussions, and talks.

"Hopefully our discussions will remain at the level of the 'The Opposite Direction' – a 'bit' of yelling and vituperation… and will not transform into a deadly hell and tremendous bloodshed…

"So first off, I would like to sincerely thank all of the participants… in this program, because they express, in a true and spontaneous manner, the nature of our societies, their innermost being, without any 'touchup'… These are our people and our peoples. This is how we are. This is what we have to offer…"[5]

On the Arab Media's Version of "Arab Identity"

In an April 26 article on Elaph, Na'isa wrote: "The charlatan… propagandistic media glories in the bombastic term 'Arab identity,' and it extols it and promotes it as the heavens' gift to those sinking into a morass of backwardness…

"In truth, I tried hard, exhausted with fatigue and worn down by sleeplessness, and I [still] am trying, to define the basic characteristics of this identity vaunted by the Arab nationalists, professional pan-Arabists, and the Islamists, [thinking that] perhaps I could find a single reason or convincing explanation as to the uniqueness of this gift of nature that they dote on night and day.

"[I thought that] perhaps I could stumble on just one find by which I could advance a single proof concerning the enigma of the Zionist, colonialist, Burmese, Bengal, and Nepalese conspiracies to make this identity disappear from existence…

"I couldn't find any convincing reason [to make] people cleave to this identity, apart from a wicked and obscure desire, not free of bad intent, to take revenge on them, deceive them, and keep them in their state of misery, decline, and in their humiliating position.

"This identity has come to mean… oppression, despotism, coercion, repression, prison, mass graves, security chases, exploitation, persecution, the organized plunder of national resources, odious racist discrimination against minorities and women, monopolization of thought, talent, and creativity, and the punishment of the free. It contains many distinguishing characteristics, such as: corruption, fragmentation, wars, tribal conflict, clannishness, blood feuds, and deep-rooted hostilities that never had any basis in the first place.

"[In the Arab world] the ruler is the army boot…, dictatorship, demagoguery…, military coups, and deification of the leaders. Without these unique characteristics, Arab identity loses its… customary and familiar luster and glamour…

"In light of all of these saddening and oppressive facts, if we were to put this identity… up for sale – to the bushmen or the cannibals in the jungle, to outcasts or refugees, to gypsies or to vagabonds – would any of them agree to buy it?..."[6]

Endnotes:

[1] www.aafaq.org, April 23, 2007.

[2] www.aafaq.org, April 23, 2007.

[3] Paraphrase of Koran 21:33.

[4] www.elaph.com, April 22, 2007.

[5] www.elaph.com, April 15, 2007. Several weeks after publishing this article, Na'isa himself was invited to appear on "The Opposite Direction" on Al-Jazeera; see MEMRI TV Clip No. 1448, May 8, 2007: http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1448.

[6] www.elaph.com, April 26, 2007.