Saturday, June 29, 2002

An Arab intellectual reasons away reform
I used to read the Egyptian Al-Ahram quite a lot, but it eventually got me too annoyed and I had to stop (Eduard Said is a regular columnist there. Need I say more?). Yesterday I thought I'd have another look and I found this article by Usama El-Ghazali Harb named "Reform, so they tell me". While discussing a previous Al-Ahram article by Salah El-Din Hafez (which I couldn't find. Why don't these online papers link?), Mr. Harb (Harb means war, by the way, maybe I should call him Mr. Usama War?) blames American and European interference as the reason the Arabs have not implemented reforms. It's not clear what reforms he has in mind, but apparently Hafez, in his article was talking about calls for reforms among 19th Century Muslim religious leaders, among other things. So maybe the reforms discussed here don't actually entail democratization and that sort of thing.

Harb quotes Hafez as saying: '"We in the Arab world are averse to foreign interference in our internal affairs. We cannot let others tell us what to do. Yet, we know that we need reform in all aspects of our lives...""

Harb gives two reasons why it's the West's fault that the Arabs have not made reforms.

1.The West demanding the Arabs to reform annoys the Arabs and turns them against it.
2.For a long time the West, and especially the U.S., strengthened traditionalists in Arab countries, for the sake of stability in the region, in order to further their interests (such as fighting communism - I like this one - if I remember rightly, a lot of the Arabs went with the Commies; protecting production and supply of oil and protecting Israel).

It seems to me that reason 2 is a contradiction of reason 1.

If the West wants the Arabs to reform - that's no good because the Arabs refuse to be told what to do by outsiders, and will therefore do the opposite, to spite them, even if reform is necessary. If the West doesn't want the Arabs to reform - that's also no good because by strengthening traditionalists they're weakening the reformers. But according to the logic of reason 1, the West supporting the traditionalists all those years should have actually strengthened the reformers, because the Arabs refuse to do what they're advised to do by outsiders (rather like naughty schoolboys).

The main point is, he's managed to wriggle his way out of reform and blamed the West on the way. Perfect.

The whole argument is rather weak. I wonder if this is the best they can do.

Of course, in such articles you always have the fun of reading such passages as:
"Following 11 September, American and European writers and politicians subjected the Islamic and Arab world to close scrutiny. They wanted to know why people from our region had carried out such acts against the United States. In general, they reached the conclusion that it was due to certain negative conditions which exist in our countries, and which are conducive to anti-Western and anti- American sentiments. They therefore want us to implement "reforms" so as to dry up the sources of this "terror", of which they feel themselves the principal target."

"Israel ... a nation founded on religious dogma. In pursuing its own truths, it has violated sacred Islamic principles and places, provoked an acute desperation among the younger generations of Arab and Muslims, and triggered a resistance-oriented religious revival, both inside and outside Palestine."

Pure delight.