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I was getting ready to give a talk at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s conference (ADC), when a young Arab came up to me and said: “I hope you are not here to talk about Palestine!” My surprised answer was that in fact, I was there to talk about Palestine, the Golan Heights, the martyrs, the prisoners and all the tragedies that have beset Arab countries. Instead of talking about general Arab issues, like all other Arab officials, she wanted me to talk in details about my own country’s “issues.”
Like many others in the audience, the young Arab woman wanted to hear about the failures and faults of Arab countries. That would help justify the crimes committed against Arabs in Iraq and Palestine, by blaming the chaos on them. By depicting Arabs as incapable of enjoying freedom and democracy, it makes more sense that other countries should have custody over their lives and their natural resources.
At the ADC conference I also met many Americans who were courageously critical of Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians, and the tragic situation in Iraq, brought about by the American occupation. Some were journalists, others active intellectuals and concerned citizens of the world.
That same morning I was reading about Mahmoud Rafe’e in Lebanon who confessed to the assassination of members of the Lebanese resistance, the brothers Nidal and Mahmoud al-Majzoub, as well as Ali Hasan Dib, known as “Abu Hasan Salameh,” Jihad Jibril, and Dib Saleh; not to mention the other failing bombing attempts he carried out. Yet, some of my audience would rather hear about democracy and human rights in the Arab world, than ponder with me the question of why crime against national resistance and liberty falls to the side lines.
We have been plagued with two kinds of infiltration. The conventional one is the likes of Mahmoud Rafe’e and the Southern Lebanon Army. The other is intellectual. It is adopting the antagonistic logic of the Israeli government. Defending Arabs and Muslims has become a liability of its own. To stand clear of accusation, one has to drop Palestine, Iraq, Darfour, and the suffering of their peoples out of the conversation. Instead, focus should be on the differences between Arabs and African Arabs and between Sunni and Shiaa.
To those who are victims of that kind of intellectual domination, without even realizing it, I would say that the democracy exported by the West to the Arab world is drastically different from Democracy in the West. Western democracy is the crown of western social and economic development. Democracy in the West brings more equity, more employment, and better social security and health services. It brought economic integration and unity. In Iraq and Palestine, Western democracy only brought destruction, insecurity and ethnic and religious strife to the Arab world; it brought disparity and disarray.
Integration and openness between Arab countries are two vital conditions for establishing durable democracy and sustainable development. Until this is possible, we should join forces with all the free consciences in the world that are consistent in their stand beside what is right and just. As for the young Arab who did not want me to talk about Palestine and her peers, it is important to realize that drowning in the details of individual Arab political ailments is only the means to stop us from talking and thinking about Palestine. There is definitely so much to be done in each country of ours. Maintaining such work in a larger Arab perspective, however, is the key to finding enduring solutions.
Dr. BOUTHAINA SHABAN is the Syrian Minister of Expatriates.