Embracing Arab differences

Arab countries are too preoccupied with commonalities rather than differences, which is one reason why few nations have a strong sense of patriotism, one Arabic language columnist writes. Other topics in today's roundup: US suffers in Afghanistan, and the EU's toothless response to Israeli settlements.

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To mask individual failings, Arabs blame the old scapegoats of Islam, Arabism and Palestine

Since the 1950s, Arab countries, especially in the Middle East, have pegged their politics, thought and ethics to three key concepts they deemed non-debatable: Islam, Arabism and Palestine, observed Hazem Saghya, a London-based political analyst, in yesterday's edition of the UAE newspaper Al Ittihad.

Obviously, proportions differed. The Muslim Brotherhood would put the stress more on Islam while Syria's Baath party and supporters of Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser would emphasise Arabism, the writer said.

Some saw in the Palestinian cause the ultimate unifying agent that cements all Arabs together, others thought that pan-Arabism should come first, as it is the only way to right the wrong done to the Palestinians.

"But these proportional variations never affected how strongly that three-pronged consensus was held," the writer said.

The fact is, the adamant assertion of these threes givens, without regard to differences among Arab countries, has for too long distracted Arabs from building their own individual sense of patriotism away from the rest of "the Arab world" and its convictions.

"If there is a minority that still talks today about creating an Arab Union or freeing Palestine, there is an even smaller minority that dares affirm that the page has been definitively turned on these two projects."

As for Islam, it is now going through a period of vigorous "political resurrection" at the hands of political-Islam groups across the Arab world.

"These three givens - which have been immune from criticism due to the 'traitor' or 'kafir' stigma attached to whoever takes a shot at them - enfold colossal contradictions," the writer noted.

In reality, Arabs have grown into the habit of denying personal responsibility for "what is happening to us," the writer said, and prefer to blame it on a "conspiracy" targeting their sacred tenets: Islam, Arabism and Palestine.

There were six decades of talk about "pan-Arabism" yet no Arab union has been successful so far. The one union of Egypt and Syria did not last more than three years (1958-1961), and it ended in "the most bitter animosity".

Take consensus on Islam, as well. "[It] did not prevent denominational differences in more than one Arab country," he said. Note that the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s has cost the region a whole decade, and a million people.

The role denominational differences (Sunni versus Shiite) played in that conflict was not negligible.

As for the Palestinians, they were not received that well in their host Arab countries after their mass displacement in 1948. Nor was the behaviour of some refugee Palestinian groups evidence that they cared about anything other than their own cause.

US suffers another blow in Afghanistan

The Obama administration has pulled the United States out of its self-inflicted ordeal in Iraq, but its greater ordeal in Afghanistan is getting more complicated by the day as the Taliban attacks are showing no sign of abating, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial at the weekend.

On Thursday, Nato commanders woke up to "a disaster" after an Afghan soldier opened fire on a French platoon, killing four soldiers and wounding 16, some severely. The attack raises to 82 the number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001, and prompting the French government to begin considering early withdrawal.

In a separate attack, six US soldiers were killed after Taliban fighters managed to down the helicopter carrying them over Helmand Province, turf of the Taliban, the newspaper said.

"Predictably, a US spokesman claimed the helicopter went down due to a malfunction, which is the usual explanation every time a US aircraft is shot down by the Taliban."

Either way, the US is stuck in a "bottomless pit" - a war that costs it $7 billion (Dh25.7billion) a month, the newspaper added.

The fact that a once-uncompromising Washington has recently agreed to a Taliban liaison office in Qatar is a sign that the US is starting to acknowledge defeat.

EU's report on Israeli abuses is toothless

There is a general consensus in Europe, among officials and citizens alike, about the gravity of Israel's settlement policies and its discriminatory resource management in the West Bank. Yet that does not translate into concrete action, commented columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Recently, European diplomats in Jerusalem issued a confidential report - which was leaked to the Israeli press - recommending that the EU take measures that prevent European companies and organisations from dealing with the settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"But this recommendation is not enough to redress what is a historical looting of Palestinian land. Boycotting the settlements alone is not going to achieve much, as previous experience has shown. Europeans are required to do more."

The report describes the settlements as "illegitimate" and says that as more of these settlements are built, the chance for a two-state solution to be achieved diminishes.

"But the report does not threaten Israel [with] any thing tangible if it were to continue to build settlements," the writer said. "After all, reports are no match to the real crime."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi