Thursday, March 13, 2008

Israel has a full role to play in a new Middle East

In this must-read article in the Turkish Daily News, the bright, young Egyptian political scientist Masri Feki articulates a new vision for the Middle East - one which is neither Arab nor Muslim, but where Israel takes its rightful place alongside Arab moderates and minorities.

Pan-Arabism — an ideology that is in ruins since the disappearance of Saddam Hussein's regime and with the weakening of Baathist Syria — did not lead to a project of construction because it did not take into account the diversity of the region, the specificities of its various identities and the communitarian preoccupations of its minorities. The complexity of national construction cannot be limited to the simple use of a single tongue, but also and necessarily reposes on the convergence of a number of political preoccupations and common interests. Its arbitrary conception of the nation —requiring one to be Arab whether one wishes or not, for the simple reason that one uses Arabic — has ignored legitimate national demands in the midst of a Middle East that, in its majority but not exclusively, speaks Arabic.

Like Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism is an exclusivist ideology. By rejecting the modern conception of citizenship, it rejects the idea of non-Muslim civilian participation. Its constitution is immutable (divine right), its program cannot be contested since it originates in the Creator of the world. Absolutist by nature, its discourse excludes non-believers and, consequently, non-Muslims, which explains why the flame of Pan-Arabism was often borne by Christian Arabs, uneasy about the hegemonic designs of political Islam. Finally, the transnational and militant nature of its action rapidly made it clandestine, in relation to existing governments.

In spite of the diplomatic blackmail that some authoritarian Arab regimes use by brandishing the Islamic threat (“It's me or the deluge”), this ideology has no future because it is devoid of a realistic or coherent project.A third and final regional framework is progressively taking shape, with the slow decline of the former two. It is “Middle Easternism”. Israel, that represents the region's only non-Arab and non-Muslim minority, must orient its diplomacy in this direction today. Non-Muslim Arabs (Christian Arabs, Druses, etc.) excluded from the pan Islamic club, still have an honorable place within Pan-Arabism. And non-Arab Muslims Turks, Iranians, Kurds), excluded from the Pan-Arab club can still join pan Islamism. But the Israelis, being neither Arabs nor Muslims, are doubly a minority.

The Jewish state is not an intruder in the Middle East. It is the extension and the representative of one of the most ancient civilizations of this part of the world. Everything links Israel to this region: geography, history, culture but also religion and language. The Jewish religion is the primary theological reference and the very foundation of Islam and Oriental Christianity. Hebrew and Arabic are as close to each other as two languages of Latin origin. The contribution of Hebrew civilization to the peoples of this region is undeniable.

To claim that this country is Western is synonymous with denying the legitimacy of its existence: Israel's salvation can only come from its uprooting. The Middle East is the only regional “club” the Jewish state can belong to. To support this membership is tantamount to moving closer to the more moderate elements in its Arab neighborhood and, in the first place, the minorities. To reject this option is to accept isolation and disappear. Israel has no choice.

Read article in full

More about Masri Feki

Crossposted on Harry's Place (13 March 2008)

6 comments:

Phil Sumpter said...

This is a fascinating post, as are many of the posts on this blog. Thanks, keep them up!

bataween said...

Vielen dank!
Bataween

Anonymous said...

"The Middle East is the only regional “club” the Jewish state can belong to. To support this membership is tantamount to moving closer to the more moderate elements in its Arab neighborhood and, in the first place, the minorities. To reject this option is to accept isolation and disappear. Israel has no choice."

Other than exhorting Israel to make friends with its neighbours, this is an great article. Currently, Israel cooperates on a number of projects with moderate, neighbouring Jordan and has some unoffical trade with a few Gulf states. But what other moderate partners for peace do they have? If Israel has not attempted to become part of the "club", it's not for lack of desire so much as the focus on security and the absence of a forum. What existing organization could they join -- the Arab League?

bataween said...

I don't think Feki has alliances with existing moderate states in mind. He means Arab moderates - democrats and reformists - and minorities - Berbers, Copts, Assyrians, etc. How exactly Israel can do this he does not say, but Israel and the minorities have nothing to lose by trying to establish an alliance. It has already happened with the Kurds.

Anonymous said...

Not sure exactly what you mean in your reference to the Kurds as there are significant Kurdish communities in several ME countries. Do you mean the provincial government in northern Iraq?

bataween said...

Yes