Narrow conceptions and caricatures of Arab identity are deeply rooted in Hollywood. The hijacker and the terrorist, the opulently wealthy oil sheikh and the oppressed and over-dressed woman, among others, comprise the most prominent depictions of Arab identity in film and television.
On October 10, 2015, over 100 Turkish activists were killed by twin explosions at a peace rally in Ankara, the country’s capital. Three months later, 10 were killed in a popular tourist area in Istanbul. Then 28 in a military convoy. Then 37 in a public square. Then 4 in Istanbul. Then 11 in Istanbul. Then 45 in Istanbul.
The most significant moment of the Democratic primary debate in Brooklyn -- and perhaps any presidential debate this season -- came when Bernie Sanders challenged Hillary Clinton over her refusal to criticize Israel's excessive use of force against the Palestinians in Gaza. For the first time in memory, a major American political figure insisted publicly that the Jewish state and its leaders are "not always right" -- and that in attempting to suppress terrorism, they had killed and injured far too many blameless human beings.
We are well into the start of the sixth year since uprisings and revolutions rocked parts of the Arab world in January-February 2011, and the balance sheet of achievements is very mixed, and mostly disappointing, beyond Tunisia’s fragile move into the world of constitutional, pluralistic democracies. The two most troubling aspects of what is going on in the other five countries that erupted into major street demonstrations and regime counter-attacks are the lack of any clear national consensus on how to govern the country, and the deep, militaristic interventions by foreign countries, including Arab, Iranian, Turkish, Russian, American and other powers.
Along with the five Arab uprisings countries of Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain, we should also add Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq to complete the list of eight Arab states that now face serious domestic challenges across every major dimension of life: political policies consensus, constitutional governance, economic growth, peaceful and tolerant pluralism, environmental viability, basic security, and — most importantly — genuine sovereignty that allows the citizens of a country to manage their own affairs without external interference.
The easy and simplistic analysis one encounters across the world, especially in the United States, is that Arab lands are hopelessly caught in their own self-made sectarian wars waged by ethnic, national and religious communities that are unable to live together peacefully. This strikes me as exaggerated, and insufficient to explain the profound problems these countries have faced for decades in every aspect of life, such as education quality, environmental ravages, economic mismanagement, corruption, crony capitalism, rule by security forces, widening disparities and inequalities, and a proclivity to allow foreign powers to manipulate us. These problems ravaged our societies well before any serious sectarian clashes occurred, so we should seek an explanation for our troubled condition much further back in our history.
In almost all Arab countries that suffer serious internal conflicts, political violence, and ideological, ethnic, sectarian or socio-economic stresses that have come to the fore in recent decades primarily, their common basic weakness is that they never credibly found a way to achieve an agreed, organic relationship between the rulers and the ruled. The exercise of power and public authority have always been defined by small groups of men — usually anchored in military establishments — who seized and sat in the seats of power. The exercise of responsible citizenship, in terms of duties performed and services enjoyed, has never been fully clear to the citizens or the rulers. The result has been either harsh authoritarian rule deeply backed by foreign powers or national fragmentation and bouts of chaos, incivility, civil wars, state collapse, and large demographic shifts, like internal displacement, ethnic cleansing, forced exile, or emigration at any cost.
So we see today in Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Iraq very unsettled conditions that include active warfare, control by external powers, or political authoritarianism that only exacerbates weak citizen-state links and further erodes the socio-economic foundations of the state. Remarkably, some countries like Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Yemen still engage in some sort of formal political process that seeks to create and ultimately validate a national governance system that is acceptable to all the key domestic and foreign parties.
That is by nature a very difficult task when external powers are directly involved in local decision-making, as is the case in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. The task is made easier if the external parties (like the United States and Russia, or Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) should agree on the main issues in play, but this rarely happens. This is made all the more difficult today when we see both regional powers and global ones involved in these countries at the same time.
The sad reality for the moment, at least, is that most of these Arab countries have not only lost their relative stability and calm, they have also forfeited most of their sovereignty to external regional and global powers, or to strong internal forces that share and contest power with the government (like Hizbollah, Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, Muqtada Sadr’s movement in Iraq, and others).
This troubled common condition across most of the Arab world reflects issues that go far beyond neat but simplistic sectarian rivalries. Instead it is anchored in the Arab states’ failures in three critical and continuing realms: their refusal to allow their own citizens to define national policies, values, and priorities and validate statehood itself; their incompetent inability to manage their national human and mineral wealth in a manner that would achieve sustained wealth, social equity, and national viability; and, due to the structural weaknesses generated by the above two factors, their willingness to allow foreign powers to come to their rescue and thus to dilute or effectively eliminate their sovereignty.
The widespread political condemnation of Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and for surveillance of mosques was pretty great yesterday. American leaders left and right said that such policies are unconstitutional and counter to U.S. values. “Donald Trump is a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot,” Senator Lindsey Graham said emphatically.
The following is an excerpt from the new book Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice by Raja Shehadeh (OR Books, 2015):
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are reportedly facing a serious backlash from top Hollywood executives following their support for Gaza, which saw the couple sign an open letter condemning the actions of Israel as tantamount to "genocide."
The New York Times’ reporting on Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has been a rollercoaster. Unfortunately the high points have been few, short and quickly followed by dizzying and prolonged plunges back into a morass of lazy, credulous recitations of Israeli government talking points, and efforts to portray balance and symmetry in a dramatically unbalanced situation, all permeated by an absence of skepticism and critical analysis, and a failure to explain context. Though Israel has slaughtered over 1000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and only three civilians have been killed in Israel, in The Times’ upside down world, every Palestinian weapon is a major threat, while Israeli weapons are either defensive or non-existent.
I texted my friend at 7:47am EST, extending well wishes for a "successful and prosperous race". Like the 23,181 runners who left Hopkinton dreaming about breaking the ribbon 26.2 miles away, my friend signed up for the 117th Boston Marathonexpecting anything but two bomb explosions waiting for him at the finish line.
The U.S. Elite's Favorite Television Show: Showtime's 'Homeland' Demonizes Arabs and Prepares Americans For Bombing Iran
The story of Arabs and Muslims and the Western and especially the American media has been told too many times before. The history of representations of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood films, in television programs, on network news, or in major and minor American print media has been studied, analysed, criticised, and defended in books, research papers, and media commentary for decades. This also applies to the more virulent Israeli Jewish racist representations of Arabs and Muslims, not only in the Israeli media, school curricula, and all cultural artifacts that Israeli Jewish society produces, but also by actual and ongoing Israeli Jewish policies towards Arabs inside and outside Israel.