Thursday, September 28, 2006

Democracy vs. Engagement!

In the aftermath of 9/11, democracy became a catch-word that was repeatedly enunciated by various American officials and commentators, from the President down, and brandished as some kind of magic weapon that can help make the differenced in the Global War on Terror. In the process though, Democracy was reduced to a single aspect of it, namely elections that, more often than not, produced undesirable results by empowering inherently non-democratic actors thus complicating the Administration’s push for greater political openness and reforms in the region.

This much has already been established, and criticizing the Bush Administration on these points is understandable, legitimate and necessary, especially considering the fact that we have still two more years to go in which much can still transpire, both positive, if new more nuanced approaches are adopted, or negative, if current tactics continue to be deployed unrevised.

But criticisms in this regard, however justified, will remain hollow and unproductive, if no clear and realistic alternate policy approaches are put on the table. To simply introduce a new catch-word on the scene, namely: Engagement, might make for some good sound-bites, and might indeed work within the context of the American electoral processes, and perhaps, Israeli ones, still, this is quite insufficient to help tackle the serious and critical problems involved in GWOT.

Indeed, engagement, with its current reduction to pure pragmatic containment, will likely prove even more naïve and disastrous than the democracy approach of the last 5 years, to the extant that muddling through using the current policies of the Bush Administration might make more sense.

How so?

Well, when engagement becomes all about containment, with no vision pronounced for addressing any of the real underlying issues in GWOT, the potential for empowering the wrong players and for abuse of the entire process of engagement becomes all the more likely, if not inevitable.

In order to understand how this might work, just consider what seems like the basic stand of the pro-engagement crowd, namely: their adamant dismissal of the very possibility that some sides may not be as engageable as we want them and need them to be. This opens the door for abuse of the process of engagement by dragging talks on and on without an end-game in sight. Meanwhile the regimes involved will be empowered to act as wantonly as they can get away with so long as they manage to maintain certain façades that will fool the pro-engagement crowd because they seem eager to be fooled.

For even before the talks are underway, engagement advocates have already conceded, in their various pronouncements, articles, op-eds and blog-posts, many of the basic demands of the regimes they want to engage without getting anything back in return, not even promises.

Take the Assads regime in Syria as an example of how the pro-engagement crowd proposes to do things. Indeed, in this case, the list of concessions seems to include: a readiness to bury the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination, and a willingness to see the entire country of Lebanon returned to the Assads’ control, in anticipation of the Assads’ help in disarming Hezbollah, controlling radical Palestinian groups and stemming the flow of Jihadi elements and funds to Iraq.

But the most important concession of all is the complete abandonment of any push for reform and democratization in Syria. The position of the Assads as the rulers of Syria will be legitimated, and all serious talk of reform will be consigned to that old “dustbin of history” that the allegedly socialist Assads are so fond of. Opposition members, human rights and democracy advocates, the critical position that most of them adopted vis-à-vis the Bush policies in the region and vis-à-vis their own country notwithstanding, will be decimated so thoroughly that the cause of modernization, democratization and secularization of the country will be set back for decades.

The impact of such a turnaround on whatever remaining support that the US still enjoys in certain reformist quarters around the region will be equally devastating of coursem, as other regimes follow the Assads' lead. The US will have no real friends left in the region, and only charlatans and blackmailers to deal with. For, this is indeed what the Assads are, in the final analysis, and this is what their policies have been all about for decades now. Even the pro-engagement crowd concedes that, as many of them continue to deploy Godfather analogies to the entire situation. Engagement advocates simply hope that engagement will encourage the Assads to change their spots, eventually, though they fail to tell us how the Assads can actually manage such an unlikely feat, and who will eventually emerge as the Michael Corleone, of the family (and let's bear in mind here that the Michael Corleone's project for legitimizing the family business failed, as he was continuously sucked back in) .

Meanwhile, those who call for engaging Syria but not necessarily Iran, try to justify their Syrian-engagement policy by claiming that it is necessary in order to wean the Assads off of their newly-recovered Iranian dependency and take a step towards isolating Iran and weakening its influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon. The possibility that the Assads might just be too weak at this stage to turn against Iran, that such a course might indeed be suicidal for them as it might lead them into an internal showdown and/or a conflict with Hezbollah (not to mention the radical Palestinian groups, including the radical wing in Hamas led by Khalid Meshaal, who now get the bulk of their financial support from Iran) for which they are no more ready than the Israelis have been, is simply not factored into the calculations of the pro-engagement crowd.

Little intelligence indeed seems to be factored into the calculations here and much faith. So how different is the pro-engagement crowd from their neo-con foes?

While the Democracy Faith seems to have been based on the assumption that authoritarianism and corruption in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region seem to play a role in encouraging international terrorism, the Engagement Faith is premised on the assumption that authoritarian regimes are much more capable of cracking down on terrorists than democracies can. The facts that authoritarian regimes, due to their endemic and gargantuan corruption and their mismanagement of the economy are actually driving their populations further and further into the folds of Islamist extremism, and that this state of affairs leaves the regimes involved only one realistic option to deal with this problem on the short run, namely: to export it to other neighboring countries and the world by allowing the radical elements to take their violence elsewhere, are, once again, not factored into the equation.

But so long as policymakers continue to base their calculations on faith, wishful thinking and unjustifiable expectations rather than intimate knowledge of the new complexity of the region and reliable intelligence, and so long as policymakers in the United States in particular continue to lay a nihilistic partisan game, despite the serious nature of threats involved with regard to the US interests on both the short and long runs (not to mention the interests of the peoples of the region), and so long as US policymakers fail to coordinate their plans and policies with their European and regional allies, at least through NATO, if not the UN (and NATO seems more preferable here), and so long as there is no acceptance, on part of one and all involved, of the reality that the challenge of terrorism requires longer term commitment and planning, then the region will simply move from one disaster to another and the impact of that will be felt all over the world through increased acts of terrorism and mayhem.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

War Cries!

Cool heads do not seem destined to prevail in the region these days. They are too few to begin with. In fact, I can only count one: Fouad Seniora. The hot heads, on the other hands, are too numerous to list in toto, but they surely include: Mahmoud Amhadinejad, Hassan Nasrallah and Bashar al-Assad. The first has just wasted his fifteen minutes in the UN by failing to offer anything of substance to advance his country’s cause. Grandstanding may get you a few laughs and applause (a la Chavez, I guess), but not understanding or support.

Meanwhile, the last two has just performed a bizarre sort of a Laurel and Hardy act by threatening UNIFEL and slamming all their opponents in Lebanon, accusing them of treason and of being agents for Israel, which is not only dumb, but very unimaginative on their part.

Still, what we see here is coordination in action once again, the Radical Alliance is upping the ante once again, and the ground seems set now for a Round Two of sorts with Israel. For, everybody wants to provoke the beast again. Everybody needs a distraction.

I wonder what sort of guise the provocation will assume this time!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

We, the Barbarians!

Have all leaders, religious and political, in the so-called Muslim World, become illiterate all of a sudden? Or are they intent on using every little opportunity that presents itself to prove in deed what they continue to deny in words, namely: that Islamic civilization and culture are dead, and that Muslims are adamant on continuing their head-long descent into barbarity?

Pope Benedict XVI did not write some long anti-Islamic treatise, but delivered a brief lecture, whose text number less than 3500 words, in which he referred to Islam in only two places, at the beginning and end of the lecture. Anyone who bothered to read the entire text should be able to see that the two references were not meant as some theological condemnation of Islam itself, but of the circumstances surrounding its historical emergence onto the scene, which indeed raise some important questions about the relationship between faith and violence.

In raising this issue, the Pope does not betray any signs of ignorance regarding Islam, as the early chorus of critics has contended, on the contrary, he is quite aware of the oft-quoted Qur’anic verse “there is no compulsion in religion.” But he is also aware of the fact that this verse appeared at a time when “Mohammed was still powerless and under threat,” and of the fact that, later, when Muhammad grew more powerful, new instructions appeared in the Qur’an concerning the obligation of holy war. He was also aware of the different treatments accorded in this regard to the “people of the Book” and the “infidels.” But, to him, that still does not excuse Muhammad’s command “to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” in the words of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II, as quoted by the Pope.

At a time when much violence continues to be wrought in the name of Islam, and at a time when Muslim jurists remain remiss in their duty to voice a unanimous and clear condemnation of this tendency, this is indeed a very legitimate issue to raise, especially within the context of the call that the Pope later made for conducting intercultural dialogue and for accepting the continued relevance of faith, in all its varieties, to the modern world. By simply attacking the person who raised this question, Muslims all over the world have shown that they are not ready for dialogue.

For if the only thing Muslims can do at this stage is to resort to violence and protests whenever their faith is criticized, whether by internal figures and reformers or external pundits, what sort of role or niche are they carving to themselves in this world?

Why can’t Muslims take a more proactive approach to these matters, and organize some sort of a periodic meeting where certain problematic issues, such as jihad, apostasy, freedom of conscience, academic freedom, relation between Islam and the state, not to mention the ever problematic issues of gender relations and sexuality, are continuously addressed and the Muslim positions on these matters is continuously refined?

True, there will be many dissenting voices, but if enough known scholars gathered and proposed a document that can be used as a reference point by states and regional and international organizations, then, Muslims all over the world will be in a much better position to present themselves as true partners in the making of contemporary civilization, rather than some troublesome relics and throwbacks.

We cannot just continue to give ourselves the right to criticize others for what they have done and continue to do us, without giving them a similar right to criticize us for what we have to done and continue to do to them. This is a simple corollary of the Golden Rule to which both Christians and Muslims subscribe, and it makes perfect sense in this case. But if we are to continue to blind ourselves to the realities of our history, and of its impact, real and perceived, on others, then, we will have no moral right to present our case vis-à-vis the injustices committed against us at this stage.

The Muslims were up in arms not too long ago when the Vatican apologized to the Jews for the way they were treated by the Church all through history. The Muslims immediately demanded that the Vatican issues a similar apology to them for the Crusades. Just like that, Muslim leaders and jurists were willing to forget all about their own occupation and Islamization of previously Christian lands. Many of them did not, and do not still, all attempts at explanation notwithstanding, see the embedded irony and contradiction in this stand of theirs.

Such is the level of our conviction in our own righteousness that we leave no room for any doubt to protrude into our minds and souls regarding the sacred nature of our history and our beliefs. We do not review anything. We do not revise anything. All intellectual analysis in our parts has ceased to exist a thousand years ago it seems. The sporadic attempts at reviving it throughout the last Century have come to naught. The few that are still being made today seem even more pitiful. The Islamic currents that exist today have no real intellectual component or analysis at its core, but mere assertions, usually expressed in the negative, that are better presented in the form of bullet-points.

As for the secular currents out there, they are indeed pure products of western ideologies. No real attempt has so far been elaborated to explain them within the context of the Islamic historical experience. Perhaps such an undertaking is indeed impossible at this stage, seeing that the cut-off between these traditions and whatever Islamic precedent in this regard might just be insurmountable. But, perhaps we really don’t need to tie these ideas and ideologies to Islamic precedents. Perhaps what we need to do is simply to elaborate them using our own unique voice, and on the basis of our own present and historical experiences. Perhaps we just need to learn how to think again even if from scratch, because, in some instances, especially when we are not dealing with the hard sciences, we really need to reinvent the wheel in order to better appreciate it.

So, perhaps the meeting I proposed above should be organized by liberal intellectuals instead, in cooperation with those Muslim jurists, such as Gamal al-Banna, who have shown enough courage, creativity and adventurism to become true partners in a new process meant to finally bring us into the modern era.

We cannot afford to be silent anymore. True, our protests have succeeded in getting the Pope to apologize and recant, and before that, we did manage to punish the Danes over the cartoon controversy, but that is not because we manage to earn any understanding or appreciation for our point of view, but because we have found a way to terrify the world.
We have become the barbarians of the modern world. People will fear us, but they will never respect us, or accept us as equals, or appreciate the legitimacy of many of our grievances, no matter how far and wide we spread our terror.

Moreover, our barbarism will give the civilized peoples of the world more excuses to dabble in our lives, ignore our just demands and needs, and impose their will upon us. For, as history has repeatedly shown, when barbarians are not able to be the destroyers of civilizations, either because they are not powerful enough yet or civilization weak enough yet to allow for that to happen, as indeed is the case at this point in time, then, they become the ultimate and unsympathetic victims thereof. Indeed, there is a high price to pay for the foolish pride we continue to harbor within us, because we have nothing to show for it anymore.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Don’t Be Too Quick to Thank the Assads!

Previous “Islamist” attacks in Syria have always looked suspicious, even staged, to most onlookers and analysts, their particular sympathies, be they pro-regime or anti-regime, notwithstanding. The reason for this was the choice of target, namely: empty buildings. Now, we have a seemingly more credible attack in terms of target selection, but the choice of methods and tactics is truly problematic.

For blowing up gas containers will not cause even a dent in the heavily fortified walls of the American Embassy, and the only people who are likely to be hurt in such an attack are the security guards outside, and the line of innocent bystanders, mostly Syrians, waiting to apply for an American visa. Moreover, the pictures we saw on TV indicate that the car exploded at the entrance of the narrow alley where people stand in line, near the iron gate that leads into the Embassy, that is, in the area of least people concentration and least likelihood of being affected by the explosion. Add to this, the fact that one of the cars used in the attack was a van.

The problem with this is latter fact is that everybody in Syria knows that vans are simply not allowed to pass through certain sensitive areas and neighborhoods, and the Malki and Abu Rummaneh neighborhoods where the US Embassy is located, alongside many other western embassies and the domiciles of so many diplomats and high level Syrian officials, including our Illustrious President (may Allah increase him in stupidity and cut his reign short), are definitely the prime areas in this regard.

As such, for a van to simply waltz into the neighborhood is not exactly something that will go unnoticed by security agents. Indeed, security vehicles will be dispatched within seconds of the initial sighting to intercept the hapless vehicle. So, we have a situation here where either the terrorist group involved is made up of a bunch of buffoons and nitwits who thought that they could somehow rush into the Embassy and blow it up with gas containers before anyone could stop them, or we have to conclude that the entire event was intended and set up to fail from the very get-go.

Naturally, I tend to favor the latter alternative, simply because the marriage between the Syrian intelligence apparatuses and certain Islamist elements and the way these elements are used to further certain interests and policies of the regime is well-established by now. In fact, the case of the Syrian Turkmen smuggler-turned preacher, Abu’l Qa’qa’, is a clear testimony to this effect.

Indeed, the man had operated quite publicly in the 2003-4 period and helped recruit and send young Syrian and Arab jihadists to join the “resistance” in Iraq as part of the semi-official campaign that was underway at the time. But, and when the stench grew too strong for the authorities and they came under increasing pressures to curb the flow of jihadi elements to Iraq, and whatever public recruitment activities that were taken place at the time, Abu’l Qa’qa’ changed his tune and reinvented himself as a businessman and a philanthropist, He even did a few public appearances and interviews with the semi-official press at the time, before he all too quietly disappeared from the scene. But taped lectures by him resurfaced a few months ago when the authorities raided a suspected Islamist cell in the aftermath of the attack on an empty security building near the headquarters of the Syrian public TV in Damascus, an attack widely believed to have been staged as well, as it coincided with ongoing attempts to rally public support for the Assads. The authorities said at the time that Abu’l Qa’qa’ had, very conveniently, slipped out of the country.

Indeed, throughout the last few years, Islamist activities, both in Syria and neighboring countries, have been very conveniently timed to suit the interests of the Assads. This one is no exception. At a time when the future of the Syrian regime is still being debated, a reminder of the potential role that the Assads can play in the war against terror might be useful, at least for those who are willing to believe in the impossibly ludicrous.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Of Historical Musts & Clashing Desires!

Perhaps, for people who never heard of democracy, passing through a transitional phase of enlightened despotism was necessary and perhaps even a natural part of their societal evolution.

But for people who have been exposed to democracy, not to mention modernity, no matter how indirectly or vicariously, and for people who know it through direct experiences and contacts, even if they do not completely appreciate its complexity and its demands on them, the task of achieving it through a necessary period of dictatorial transformations becomes that much more complex.

For those who crave democracy would not want to wait for generations to build the necessary cultural framework for it, and those who fear it would not want to establish any of the necessary reforms and framework for its introduction. Meanwhile, those who crave modernity would not want to wait until the society learns to appreciate it democratically and on its own pace and terms, and those who don’t would would want to resist it on a popular level, as they often have the greater share of popular sympathy and approval.

Can we really have both modernization and democratization as simultaneous processes that can reach an acceptable level of fulfillment in the span of a single lifetime to appeal to all those impatient souls out there?

The West had the luxury of experimenting and stumbling, though not blindly, for many decades and centuries until it worked out democracy and found itself embroiled in modernity. It all happened in fits and struts and then more fits and struts. We have no other choice to follow the same rocky path. But some of us would be lost in their yearning for a faster fulfillment of it all, for they cannot ignore the finished product that they can examine with their naked eyes and insist on reinventing the wheel from scratch when the whole truth of it is right there for all to see. Furthermore, they can also see how impossible and out-of-character it will be for the rest of the world to simply wait for us to catch up with it on our own pace and terms.

No, the world will not wait for us to learn and assimilate its new cherished truths at our own pace, just as we did not wait for it to learn and assimilate ours so long ago. There is no real malice, spite or design involved here, at least not a malice, spite or a design that is conscious of itself all the time, and of all the implications of the various horrendous decisions that gets made in the name of progress, the historical must and the plain greed that are part and parcel of it. What is involved here is the sheer folly that emanates from our own humanity and from the very structures and institutions that give our lives meaning and us a sense of belonging.

We, the sentient inhabitants of this earth, are a desperate and fractious lot indeed, a pitiful lot, an over-aspiring lot. Our interests, values, yearnings, beliefs, needs and desires will forever clash, and we will constantly walk all over each other, intentionally and not so intentionally, whenever the need should arise, all our principles and sense of humanity notwithstanding.

After all, the West did not have the luxury of working out its modernity and democracy unmolested. Neither shall we. Albeit the external dabbling which we have to endure is on a radically different scale than what that the West had had to endure with regards to both quantity and quality. And the pace of it all is maddening and merciless.

No, we, the peoples of this unfortunate region, seem destined to be more like the Native Americans in their fate – much of who we are will likely become extinct by the time we are modernized and democratized, whether we like it or not.

In fact, most of us don’t like it, and are, therefore, putting up quite the fight. That is indeed what lies at the heart of international terrorism, especially Islamist one. Oh, we, as a culture that is, will eventually go into that good night all right, terrorism notwithstanding, following the lead of our long dead civilization. But we won’t go gently. That’s the point. Death often has pangs, even when it is collective, no, especially when it is collective.

Most of us are simply too attached to the old ways to allow for a gentle fading away. They didn’t have time to see the wisdom of change, or appreciate its necessity and its potential benefits, or take part in making it so they can feel that they own it somehow. And they never will. Even if they did, enough of them will still hold out to share enough of their pain and frustration with an equally hostile world. It’s their belief system, after all, that is at stake here, it’s everything that they are, including in many instances, their very livelihood, and the world cannot accommodate it anymore, it cannot accommodate the particularities of their basic desires, wants and needs, not in practical terms any. In theory, accommodation is almost always possible. But in practice, we are just too human to let it happen.

So, we will indeed change in due course of time, and we will be changed as well. In fact we are already changing and being changed, though some of us at a faster pace than the rest. And some of us, though not always the best, will survive this. But most of us, though not always the worst, will die, at least in the cultural sense.

The survivors might still call themselves Arabs, Muslims, Kurds, etc., but the only thing that will be recognizably Arab, Muslim or Kurdish about them will be their assertions in this regard, and perhaps even their languages. This will more likely suffice most of the time, except for those few moments when a deeply buried nostalgia resurfaces, invoked, perhaps, by the sight of the few remaining vestiges or the few surviving holdouts who opted for a quieter form of rebellion.

An Afterthought

Does anyone think that the just despots of the West would have introduced any reforms, had they known that these reforms will eventually destroy the entire systems they have built or inherited, and would change the entire way of life with which they were familiar and which they, perhaps, revered?

I think that the main difference between the just despots of the Old West, and the current despots of the Middle East lies in the fact that contemporary Middle Eastern leaders know very well where reforms will eventually lead, which is why they can never be just.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Will We Survive?

Are peace and stability at any cost always good?

No, I am not posing this question, because I have an agenda in mind, or because I am seeking to advocate some sort of a violent action in the region. Rather, I am asking this, because I feel we are drifting closer and closer to more regional wars and mayhem in the next few months and years, both due to external and internal pressures. I just wonder whether this is necessarily a bad thing, or at least, whether this is the only bad thing.

For the peace and stability that all “realists” seem to be advocating for us are premised on purely political grounds, and is bound to deny us any possibility at seeking any kind of improvement in the situation of basic human and political rights across the region. It will thwart any possibility of establishing a more responsible and accountable form of government, as it is bound to put all democracy and human rights activists and political dissidents at the mercy of regimes that have traditionally showed them none.

As such, the peace and stability that are being proposed for us might work for all actors, including the ruling regimes and the powers-that-be, US, France, China, Russia, Israel etc. Hell, they might even put some food on the table for a short while as far as most people are concerned. But neither the liberal actors, nor the radical and extremist elements, most of all the jihadists, will be happy with this situation. For, none of them can advance their agenda in the shade of the kind of peace and stability that our illustrious regimes can produce.

But, and while the jihadists can always opt to rebel and work their mayhem, even if their numbers were small (and let’s not forget here that the number of Muslim Brotherhood members who opted or violence in Syria in the late 70s and early 80s, numbered only a few hundreds), the liberals cannot do that. For most, such violent rebellion would represent a betrayal of the basic ideals being advocated. But for others, the very few others who might contemplate violence, such rebellion requires a certain psychological and ideological conditioning that they simply seem to lack, at least at this stage. As such, they are more likely to turn suicidal than murderous.

Meanwhile, working on a nonviolence alternative in the hope of producing another color or flower revolution might simply be an impossible undertaking in countries where the civil society is well-nigh dead. Still, it represents the only hope that the liberals really have, if they are to remain true to themselves. But even should such a revolution take place, and albeit the liberals will most surely take an active part in organizing it, alongside other elements, including leftist and nationalist currents and moderate Islamists, no liberal will likely emerge as the leader in any of the existing states. The societies will remain too conservative to allow for that.

These are not opportune times for the liberals. But then, the times will never become opportune on their own. They need to be made so. The liberals need to earn their luck. If they cannot have much of a direct influence over how things are likely to turn out at this stage, and if they seem about to be sold out to the regimes even, the best that they could do is to try to conjure mechanisms for surviving and even growing underground.

For in the final analysis, both the peace and the stability of the realists, and constructive chaos of the neocons, not to mention the pure mayhem of the extremists and jihadists, spell doom for us, liberals. Lacking the ability to break the status quo as a result of our own independent initiatives, the best we can do at this stage is – survive.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Heretic & the Cross!

Throughout history and in our constant attempt as species to do what is right and heroic, we more often end up doing what is totally wrong and downright foolish, because we often confuse what is sensational with what is right, and what is purely selfish with the common good. In order to avoid this unfortunate pitfall, we have to constantly remind ourselves that doing right is more often a punishable crime, at the least in the societal if not the strictly legal sense, than a celebrate act of heroism, and that selflessness is often interpreted as stupidity and weakness and the selfless will more often become victim of his very penchant to do good.

Therefore, if we cannot do good for good’s sake, we will forever remain miserable as the wait for the eventual rewards could last a lifetime. Else, we will all too easily stumble into doing what is purely selfish, regardless of our original intentions. Good should always be its own reward, and heroism should more often be sought in the daily victories that one can achieve over his baser instincts and the chronic temptations of daily subsistence in the age of crass consumerism. And if salvation is to make an appearance in our life, and if it is indeed part and parcel of it, we should know that it will not be heralded by some heavenly trumpet calls, but will rather creep upon us at a pitiful pace and will never be the glorious affairs that we think it or want it to be. Heroism is more often lackluster and subdued, and the heroes are ordinary people that can be encountered every day, all around us, bearing no distinguishing marks but that of their goodness, if we are still willing to see it, that is, and have not grown too cynical about its all too real presence among us.

The souls of these heroes are often riddled with guilt and even a sense of defeat, for all the daily victories that they have accumulated. For, to them, every failure is a failure too many and the price of most victories is often too high. And what is accomplished will forever fall short of even their most modest expectations. This is the price for having a living conscience, I guess, and for striving hard to learn how to listen to it as closely as possible. This is also the natural price for having an inborn drive for achievement and for seeking to strike some sort of balance between the calls of it and the dictates of one’s conscience. The heroes might appear saintly to us, but they remain sinner to themselves. And so they should, lest they become megalomaniac and nullify the effect of every good they have done.

Does all this sound all too pretentious on my part? Perhaps it is. But then, which one of us does not really harbor such righteous pretensions within him/herself? We need these pretensions to keep on believing in ourselves and in our ability to distinguish right from wrong and to do some good in this world. True, these pretensions might be a bit overblown in my case, but then I never denied the reality of my Messiah Complex. But I also never used it as an excuse to ignore the possibility that I could be wrong with regards to almost everything I believe in. I go on because I keep on doubting myself, though hopefully at the right time, and I do not see in my ability to pull myself out of harm’s way in a timely fashion, or to recover so quickly after a mishap, any justification for what I do or believe in. I believe that I have always been lucky, but I long stopped taking my luck as some clear sign of divine favor. My inadequacies and mistakes are too numerous and I have become all too aware of them for me to believe in such a nonsensical notion anymore. My Messiah Complex has more often served to save me from me, because no one else will likely be so interested or inclined.

Yet, I am as interested in self-redemption as I am in the redemption of humankind, but I do believe that each one of us is ultimately responsible for making his/her own destiny. We can help each other, yes, and we should, but, in the final analysis, each one of us has to choose separately if he/she wishes to help or be helped. Our redemption as a species is both an individual and a collective responsibility, and is an all too human undertaking, and a never ending one. And yes, for all the oppression in the world, we do have a choice, and we do have the power to choose. But as to whether we have the courage, the will, the backbone, the moral fiber, the adventurous spirit, the principled stand, the knowledge base to choose, not to mention make an informed choice, well, this is a different matter all together. Unfortunately though, it is also quite relevant to the crisis at hand.

There are indeed too many clashing interests around, too much greed, too much ignorance, too little gumption, too radical and xenophobic visions, for anyone to accommodate anyone these days, for anyone to make any rational choice. Indeed, I seriously doubt that humanity has ever made a rational collective choice by design. It is always in the aftermath of a major disaster, in those few and rare moments of tragedy-induced sobriety that people and states can actually make some rational choices, albeit on the most limited scale imaginable. Too much reason dulls the human spirit it seems.

But to put things less cynically we should probably say that too much reason impinges on the enduring interests of the ruling regimes, strains the forever limited imagination of the masses, who will forever be preoccupied with their basic wants and needs, and disturbs the basic belief systems of the religious and intellectual elites, whose very neuroses will continue to be premised on the need to feel and be and claim to be, as vociferously as possible, righteous and right. As such, accommodation rather than acceptance is the best arrangement that can ever be achieved at any given time. And these are not very accommodating times.

So, what could people who suffer from a deeply-rooted Messiah Complex do in such troubled times? What they do in all other times, I guess - carry their crosses and plunge right ahead. What other choice for them is there really? Silence and quiet contemplation of the madness around them/us might work for the acetic but not for the heretic, for the angels but not for the messiahs, for the luminaries, but not for the tortured souls. I think the world needs both. And pretension or not, presumption or not, I think I know where I fit in all this. I always have.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Heretical Correspondences (Part 1)!

…If our leftwing intellectuals think of themselves as the walking martyrs of the modern Arab cause, and the last standard bearers of the values of true social justice and true cultural integrity, however they define truth and integrity, and if this stand of theirs should get them some popular sympathy someday, though I won’t hold my breath, we, the liberal intellectuals, I mean the really liberal intellectuals, the ones who are too secular even for socialist tastes and too concerned with individual rights to accommodate any faith, are simply-put the modern-day scarecrows and ghouls who will be despised by one and all long into the future even if, no, especially if time ended up proving us right.

We have become simply too cut off from our alleged cultural roots to be understood and appreciated. Indeed, people simply don’t understand why we insist on claiming that we are still Arabs, although, we no longer subscribe to that ethos of vainglory and victimhood that has long become part and parcel of modern Arab identity. To them, modern Arab identity is a faith, a very defined faith, with its own values system, its own moral code, its own esoteric teachings even that only the initiates can learn and appreciate through some sort of refurbished catechisms. There is no room for introspection here, only the illusion thereof. And we are damned because we can no longer share that illusion.

We have become too liberal to continue to remain victims to this particular illusion. We have become too liberal to fit in the national vision and plan of all the rest – the leftists, the Islamists, the regimes, the powers-that-be, and the powers-that-simply-can-never-be.

Meanwhile, it is clear that our own vision for the region, which, contrary to popular beliefs and perceptions, does not consist of a simple act of copy-and-paste of all things western, is in itself too esoteric to be fulfilled in our lifetimes. For modernity has already been exported/imported, in all its western glory, all that remains is for it to be thoroughly assimilated. Considering the state of the product being digested, and the very state of our digestive system these days, the process is bound to be quite difficult and painful.

So, the best that we can ever be at this stage is to be the perennial fly in the ointment of all the rest, and hope that by sheer sweat, and some blood perhaps, we can start some new fermentation process that can spark the advent of it all. And we might just end up being the true awaited messiahs. Indeed, we can never be too liberal for the Messiah Complex, and that is why we still care about the region, and that is why we are still Arabs, the new Arab faith notwithstanding.