Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
A Neoconservative 'Shock and Awe':
The Rise of the Arabs
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, March 21, 2011
A pervading sense of awe seems to be engulfing Arab societies
everywhere. What is underway in the Arab world is greater than simply
revolution in a political or economic sense– it is, in fact, shifting the
very self-definition of what it means to be Arab, both individually and
Hollywood has long caricatured and humiliated Arabs.
American foreign policy in the Middle East has been aided by simplistic,
degrading and at times racist depictions of Arabs in the mass media. A whole
generation of pseudo-intellectuals have built their careers on the notion
that they have a key understanding of Arabs and the seemingly predictable
pattern of their behavior.
Now we see Libya - a society that had
nothing by way of a civil society and which was under a protracted stage of
siege – literally making history. The collective strength displayed by
Libyan society is awe-inspiring to say the least. Equally praiseworthy is
the way in which Libyans have responded to growing dangers and challenges.
But most important is the spontaneous nature of their actions. Diplomatic
efforts, political organization, structured revolutionary efforts and media
outreach simply followed the path and demands of the people. Libyans led the
fight, and everyone else either obliged or played the role of spectator.
There is something new and fascinating underway here – a phenomena of
popular action that renders any historical comparisons inadequate. Western
stereotypes have long served an important (and often violent) purpose:
reducing the Arab, while propping up Israeli, British and American invasions
in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’. Those who held the
‘torch of civilization’ and allegedly commanded uncontested moral
superiority gave themselves unhindered access to the lands of the Arabs,
their resources, their history, and, most of all, their very dignity.
Yet those who chartered the prejudiced discourses, defining the Arabs to
suit their colonial objectives – from Napoleon Bonaparte to George W. Bush –
only showed themselves to be bad students of history. They tailored
historical narratives to meet their own designs, always casting themselves
as the liberators and saviors of all good things, civilization and democracy
notwithstanding. In actual fact, they practiced the very opposite of what
they preached, wreaking havoc, delaying reforms, co-opting democracy, and
consistently leaving behind a trail of blood and destruction.
the 1920s, Britain sliced up, then recomposed Iraq territorially and
demographically to suit specific political and economic agenda. Oil wells
were drilled in Kirkuk and Baghdad, then Mosul and Basra. Iraq’s cultural
uniqueness was merely an opportunity to divide and conquer. Britain played
out the ethno-religious-tribal mix to the point of mastery. But Arabs in
Iraq rebelled repeatedly and Britain reacted the way it would to an army in
a battle field. The Iraqi blood ran deep until the revolution of 1958, when
the people obtained freedom from puppet kings and British colonizers. In
2003, British battalions returned carrying even deadlier arms and more
dehumanizing discourses, imposing themselves as the new rulers of Iraq, with
the US leading the way.
Palestinians – as Arabs from other
societies - were not far behind in terms of their ability to mobilize around
a decided and highly progressive political platform. Indeed, Palestine
experienced its first open rebellion against the Zionist colonial drive in
the country, and the complacent British role in espousing it and laboring to
ensure its success decades ago (well before Facebook and Twitter made it to
the revolutionary Arab scene). In April 1936, all five Palestinian political
parties joined under the umbrella of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), led by
Haj Amin al-Husseini. One of the AHC’s first decisions was to assemble
National Committees throughout Palestine. In May, al-Husseini summoned the
first conference of the National Committees in Jerusalem, which collectively
declared a general strike on May 8, 1936. The first joint Palestinian action
to protest the Zionist-British designs in Palestine was non-violent.
Employing means of civil disobedience, the 1936 uprising aimed to send a
stern message to the British government that Palestinians were nationally
unified and capable of acting as an assertive, self-assured society. The
British administration in Palestine had thus far discounted the Palestinian
demand for independence and paid little attention to their incessant
complaints about the rising menace of Zionism and its colonial project.
Palestinian fury turned violent when the British government resorted to
mass repression. It had wanted to send a message to Palestinians that her
Majesty’s Government would not be intimidated by what it saw as
insignificant fellahin, or peasants. The first six months of the uprising,
which lasted under different manifestations and phases for three years, was
characterized at the outset by a widely observed general strike which lasted
from May to October 1936. Palestine was simply shut down in response to the
call of the National Committees and al-Husseini. This irked the British, who
saw the “non-Jewish residents of Palestine” as deplorable, troublesome
peasants with untamed leadership. Within a few years, Palestinians managed
to challenge the conventional wisdom of the British, whose narrow
Orientalist grasp on the Arabs as lesser beings with fewer or no rights – a
model to be borrowed later on by the Zionists and Israeli officials – left
them unqualified to ponder any other response to a legitimate uprising than
The price of revolution is always very high.
Then, thousands of Palestinians were killed. Today, Libyans are falling in
intolerable numbers. But freedom is sweet and several generations of Arabs
have demonstrated willingness to pay the high price it demands.
Arab society - whether the strikers of Palestine in 1936, the rebels of
Baghdad of 1958, or the revolutionaries of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt of 2011
- remain, in a sense, unchanged, as determined as ever win freedom, equality
and democracy. And their tormenters also remain unhinged, using the same
language of political manipulation and brutal military tactics.
studious neoconservatives at the Foreign Policy Initiative and elsewhere
must be experiencing an intellectual ‘shock and awe’, even as they continue
in their quest to control the wealth and destiny of Arabs. Arab societies,
however, have risen with a unified call for freedom. And the call is now too
strong to be muted.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.
My latest book: My Father Was a
Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story is available at
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