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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Arab Like Me" (Lee Habeeb, NRO)

Worth reading:
There are two kinds of Arabs in this world. Those who hate Jews, and those who don’t. And in my life, I have met more of the former than the latter.

I am not proud to say that. Arabs will not like me for admitting it. But it is true. And it is something I wish the Obama administration understood. It is something Americans should know as the “Arab Spring” enters its second year.

I didn’t know much about any of this as a Lebanese kid growing up in New Jersey. But I found out about it when I wrote my first pro-Israel column for my college paper as a young student journalist.

I defended Israel on some point I’ve long forgotten, but what I’ll never forget is the backlash I received from fellow Arabs. Some were Americans, others were students from Arab countries, many of whom I counted as friends.

First came the letters to the editor, then the personal insults. It was as if I’d broken a secret code I didn’t know existed. Some secret blood oath, which goes something like this: Arabs don’t speak unkindly of Arabs in public, or kindly about Israel.

The backlash stunned me. I pondered the pounding I had taken, and floundered a bit. I even thought for a short time of writing something negative about Israel the next time I had a chance, just to balance things out and reestablish my Arab bona fides.

One friend accused me of being a self-hating Arab. He explained to me that I was exploiting my ancestry to ingratiate myself with white America and the Jews who controlled white America.
...The fact is, Arabs don’t all look alike or think alike. But we are often pushed into a kind of groupthink, a kind of self-censorship that hinders our development and our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

We are not a universal group. But some of us believe in a simple universal truth: that every Arab deserves to live in freedom, wherever he or she might call home. Some of us want Arab countries to be more like America and Israel, places where the individual can flourish.

Say those words to many Arabs and they are shocked and angered. Soon, words like imperialist are thrown about, and the subject turns to Israel. Always, it seems, it turns to Israel.

...An Arab American friend of mine who works for a large NGO is a case in point. He is Jordanian, he’s well educated, and he speaks five languages. But mention the word Israel, and watch his blood boil immediately. He will go into a lengthy diatribe about the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians by Israel. When Prime Minister Netanyahu’s name is mentioned, I worry that he will have a seizure on the spot.

Why is this? Why is all of his passion, all of his anger and rage, directed at this one country, this one people?

Why is it not directed at Syria, I ask him? By all accounts, the Syrian government orchestrated the assassination of one of the Arab world’s great men of peace, former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri. And President Assad continues to terrorize his own people.

Why not at Hezbollah, which orchestrated the takeover of Lebanon?

Why not at Hosni Mubarak when he was in power? Or Saddam Hussein?

Why not at the ways in which Islam degrades women in the Middle East, trapping them in a life of servitude?

Why not at the ways some Muslims are persecuting Christians throughout the Middle East, as reports pour in about atrocities upon atrocities?

Why not a critique of the Koran itself, which regrettably finds little separation between mosque and state, thus relegating the majority of Arabs to life under theocratic regimes?

Two reasons: fear, and envy.

To the dismay of Arabs around the world, Jewish people turned an ancient piece of real estate in the Middle East into a thriving oasis of intellectual, political, religious, and commercial activity, where people are free to do as they please. One of the oldest places on earth — a place where Abraham walked — Israel is as thoroughly modern as any place on earth, with a functioning government that respects religious and economic freedom.

A young person in Israel can choose to work in some of the best high-tech companies in the world, or can pursue a life dedicated to Talmudic studies. A woman has an equal right to pursue any career she likes, and people of different sexual orientations are not driven underground — or worse.

The fact is, the God-given talents of the people of Israel are allowed to flourish in ways Arabs should want to emulate, and replicate.

...Today, Arabs are at a crossroads. The “Arab Spring” is an opportunity like none the region has ever seen. The people who live there are no more or less capable than the people of Israel or the United States.

But it is up to them to build functioning democracies, and a culture that breeds and rewards hard work and success. It is up to Arabs themselves to take advantage of their newfound freedom, and unleash the productive capacities of their people.

Countries aren’t built on spite and hate, but on love, trust, shared sacrifice, and hard work. Maybe, just maybe, Arabs in the Middle East will be so busy working, yearning, and striving to make their own lives better that they will have little time left to burnish old grievances.

Maybe, over time, Arabs will build governments worthy of their people, as Israel and America have done.

Maybe, Arabs will come to see Jews not as their enemies, but as their neighbors, and as their trading partners.

And maybe, just maybe, as their friends.

Here is one Arab praying that will happen.

Read the whole thing.

(sorry, forgot who sent this to me)