Arab Nationalism

Why Islamists hate Arab nationalism? | Books on Trial

Arab Nationalism asserts that Arabs are one nation, bound by a common language, religion and culture, and should unite. Its heyday was the 1960s when Arab nationalists overthrew the corrupt monarchies of the Middle East, but its popularity waned after their defeat in the Six Days War.

Key figures: Gamel Abdel Nasser, Yasser Ararat, Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein

Tenets: Republicanism, secularism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, socialism and pan-Arabism

Like Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists seek to reclaim the glory of ages past and defy the Western powers who stand before that dream. Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists are secular. Islam may be important, but Arab identity is the ultimate guiding principle – transcending differences between Sunni, Shia and Christian. Its colours are red, black, white and green.

The Ottoman Turks ruled the Arab world until 1918. The British and French who defeated them drew up the new borders. Rather than granting a single state, they split up the Arab territories into borders that suited their interests and appointed pro-Western kings out of touch with the people they ruled. Of particular frustration was the creation of Israel – a Jewish state on Arab land.

Egypt announced revolutionary new beginning today | Gamal ...

In 1951, Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of like-minded young officers overthrew King Farouk of Egypt. Charismatic and driven, Nasser dreamed of uniting the Arab world into one state. Ending British and French influence and reclaiming Palestine from the Israelis required Arab unity. In 1956, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canel and defied the Anglo-French-Israeli force who tried to reclaim it, instantly becoming the hero of the Arab nationalist cause.

Nasser’s triumph inspired nationalist coups in Iraq (1963), Algeria (1963), Libya (1969) and Sudan (1969). Arab nationalists established presidential dictatorships based on socialist principles and aligned with the Soviet Union against Israel and the West. In 1958, Syria and Egypt united into a single country – the United Arab Republic – until Syria seceded in 1961.

Baathism is a form of Arab Nationalism which grew out of the Palestinian struggle and Syrian intellectual circles that favoured a strong vanguard party. Syria under Hafez Al-Assad and Iraq under Saddam Hussein were Baathist states.

Arab Nationalism failed to catch on in the oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf. To this day, most remain in the hands of pro-Western monarchies.

The Six Days War of 1967
crushed the pan-Arab dream. Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan and ended hopes of a united front. Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970, and the movement split between different factions. Local rulers gave up on pan-Arabism and focused on maintaining power. In 1977, Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Many Arab nationalists and their successors ruled until the Arab Spring of 2011.

The Saudis had rejected the socialist and revolutionary aspects of Arab nationalism and championed Islamic fundamentalism instead. From the 1980s onwards, Jihad took over as the main ideological struggle against Israel and the West. Fatah, who rules the Palestinian West Bank, is an Arab nationalist movement, while Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip, is fundamentalist.

Moses

Biography of Moses, Leader of the Abrahamic Religions

Moses is the prophet who wrote the Hebrew code of laws. He is Judaism’s most revered figure and is mentioned in the Quran more than any other person. According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

  • Hebrew: Moshe
  • Arabic: Musa

According to the book of Exodus, which Moses allegedly wrote, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt at the time of his birth. When the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys to quell their population, Moses’s mother hid him in the bullrushes of the Nile. Here the pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court until discovering his true parentage. He murdered an Egyptian slave-driver and fled to Midian, where he met his wife, Zipporah. 

Instructed by a burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt. He promised the Hebrews a ‘land of milk and honey’ if they submitted to Yahweh, the God of Israel and demanded the pharaoh release his people. He refused, and ten plagues then befell his country. Forced to comply, the pharaoh freed the Hebrews but then sent his army against them, trapping them against the Red Sea. Moses parted the sea and allowed the Hebrews to cross. It then closed and drowned the pharaoh and his army.

God spoke to the Hebrews through Moses, who could see and hear him, atop Mount Sinai and dictated his laws – the Ten Commandments, an eye for an eye. Moses slaughtered the 3,000 who worshipped a golden calf instead then led the Hebrews through forty more years in the wilderness. When the Midianites tried to turn the Hebrews from their god, Moses ordered their destruction. He died on Mount Nebo by the banks of the Jordan River.

 The Quran affirms the Exodus narrative, adding the following details:

  • The pharaoh’s wife, not his daughter, raised Moses
  • Moses offered salvation to the pharaoh through worship of Allah 
  • Moses spoke to Muhammad in heaven

Was Moses real? The Torah claims Moses lived around 1100 BC, but historians have found no evidence in archaeology or contemporary Egyptian records. Most consider him a mythical figure, believing the Hebrews grew out of Canaan’s indigenous population. If a component of their people came from Egypt, their numbers were small. 

‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) by Sigmund Freud claims the prophet was an Egyptian nobleman who supported the heretic Akhenaten. This pharaoh had tried to replace the Egyptian pantheon with a single deity named Aten, but when he died, the priests of Egypt destroyed his cult and restored the old gods. According to Freud, Moses escaped the purge and brought his Egyptian god to Israel. There Aten became Yahweh. While mythologist Joseph Campbell embraced Freud’s theory, both theologians and Egyptologists reject it.

According to some Islamic traditions, Moses is buried in Nabi Musa in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sources: King James Bible, World History Encyclopedia

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Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari ...

‘Seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction.’

The final paragraph of the final chapter offers a fitting summary to Israeli professor Yuval Noah Harari’s magnum opus. ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ (2014) traces the human story, from our humble beginnings to our exceptional rise, by identifying a series of key biological, social and technological developments that shaped the world we know today. Harari explains why and how homo sapiens are, illustrating the big picture with pertinent and oft amusing historical anecdotes. In the spirit of Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’, it provides a scientific perspective on world history.

Sapiens has four parts:

  • One: The Cognitive Revolution –sentience and self-awareness, language, hunter-gatherers and our role in the Pleistocene Extinction.
  • Two: The Agricultural Revolution – farming, hierarchies and the stories which underpin them, writing, prejudice and injustice.
  • Three: The Unification of Humankind – global civilization, money and commerce, empire, religion and ideology.
  • Four: The Scientific Revolution – the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, capitalism, happiness the state of the modern world and our possible future

Harari’s premise is the impact of ‘shared fictions’: societies’ beliefs and values, the way we view the world, the ideologies we share and the stories and myths which uphold them. A corporation, a nation, a higher power or even money itself, is not real in the tangible sense, yet through shared belief in the system, it holds sway over our daily lives, unifies peoples and upholds social structures. In Harari’s view consumerism and liberal humanism – the dominant ideologies of today –  are just as much ‘religions’ as Buddhism or Islam, for they shape how we view and interact with the world and our fellow man.

Released in 2011 in Hebrew and 2014 in English, Sapiens was immensely successful. It sold over a million copies and catapulted Harari from an insignificant history professor to one of the world’s leading intellectuals. Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Jared Diamond and Mark Zuckerberg are fans. While Sapiens deals with our human past, his newer books Homo Deus (2016) and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) deal with the future and present, respectively. I have not yet read them.

Despite his heavy-hitting concepts, Harari writes in an eloquent and accessible manner. His prose is thoughtful, punchy and descriptive, his content insightful and often provocative. This book will change how you view the world.

I don’t think I’ve ever had so many ‘aha’ moments in so short a time. It might be the best nonfiction I’ve ever read.

Yuval Noah Harari is a professor of world history at Hebrew University. He lives with his husband on a cooperative farm near Jerusalem and is an ardent vegan. He meditates for two hours every day.

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White Helmets

Image result for white helmets logoThe White Helmets are the largest humanitarian organisation in Syria. Founded in 2014, their 3,000 members risk death to aid and rescue civilians in the ‘most dangerous places on earth’.

According to the White Helmet website:

‘Our mission is to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimise further injury to people and damage to property.’

When the vicious realities of the Syrian civil war caught the world’s attention in 2012, international aid agencies and NGOs offered to help Syrian civil defence volunteers. The Turkish charity AKUT and the British Mayday Rescue Foundation provided training in first aid, rescue and trauma care to Syrians across the border.  In 2014, these volunteer groups formed Syria Civil Defence or the ‘White Helmets’. Though externally funded, their ranks comprise of Syrians.

Syrian rebel territory, particularly dense urban zones like Aleppo, is subject to mortar fire, aerial bombardment, barrel bombs and chemical nerve agents.  Unarmed White Helmets rescue civilians from the rubble, tend to the wounded and maintain water and electrical services. They claim to have saved over 114, 131 lives since the war began.

Image result for white helmetsSyria’s regime and their Russian allies consider the White Helmets enemies. Saving lives and rebuilding infrastructure in hostile territory is not in their interest, as doing so prolongs surrender. Assad claims the White Helmets are both members of Al Qaeda and agents of US imperialism.  Sputnik, a Russian news agency, describes the White Helmets as ‘busy cooking up lies instead of protecting the human rights of the Syrian people”, stressing that liberal bogeyman George Soros is a major donor. Kremlin propaganda also pushes a conspiracy theory claiming the White Helmets are American spies who conducted the 2018 sarin gas attack as a false flag operation.

The White Helmets are not without Western detractors either. Blogger Vanessa Bailey, known for her coverage of Israel and Syria, anti-Israel academic Max Blumenthal, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd are among the best known, as well as the usual cohort of American alt-right figures who buy into Russian propaganda. They claim the White Helmets:

  • are anti-Assad
  • operate mainly in Jihadist territory
  • are funded by foreign governments
  • want foreign governments to intervene against Assad

All true. However, if volunteers are saving lives does it really matter what banner flies over them? The White Helmets are merely unarmed medical workers. Even so, if you witnessed the ravages of Russian bombardment firsthand, you would probably be anti-Assad too. Maybe you’d even favour intervention. During the height of the siege of Aleppo in 2016, the White Helmets and three other charities accused Russia of war crimes.

Meet the White Helmets: Syrian volunteers risking their lives every dayOnly in rebel territory are innocents bombed day and night by Russian warplanes. Only in rebel territory are the White Helmets allowed to operate. Before her murder at the hands of a far-right terrorist, British Labour MP Joe Cox nominated the White Helmets for a Nobel Prize. If you ask me they are heroes.

In April 2018, President Trump halted US aid to the White Helmets.  In July, when regime forces took the regions of Deraa and Quintera, over 800 White Helmets and their families were stranded on the Israeli border. Israel evacuated 422 of them through the Golan Heights to Jordan. Now Syria’s remaining White Helmets are stranded in Idlib province, the last territory still fighting Assad.

Sources: BBC, The Conversation, The Guardian, Russia Today, New York Times, The Nation, Sputnik, Syria Civil Defense

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