Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Happy Birthday, Samir Quntar

Via: The Iconoclast

Al-Jazeera celebrates the child murderer

Ben Cohen meditates:

All of this led me back to the pages of Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya’s book Cruelty and Silence, a masterly exploration of the failure of Arab intellectuals to confront the bestial cruelties which inflict their region (and by no means an apologia for Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, as some of Makiya’s more deceitful detractors have tried to make out.)

Towards the end of the book, Makiya asks a question which many people would have been asking themselves yesterday; is there “an Arab uniqueness, or a ‘national’ Arab pathology where violence and cruelty are concerned?” Doubtless there are those who will answer in the affirmative for all the wrong - essentially racist - reasons.

Makiya offers us a compelling alternative to the crude slander that Arab cruelty is somehow genetic. “In the Middle East,” he writes, “violence has tended to be ideologized and to fill public space.” Ideas are important and those who formulate and carry them - the intelligentsia - have a special responsibility as a consequence. Makiya’s essential point, first made in 1993 but resonant today, is that Arab intellectuals are guilty of a “glaring collective failure…to evolve a language of rights and democracy to supplement the language of nationalism…Words like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy,’ ‘justice,’ ‘human dignity,’ and ‘human rights’ have lost all meaning in the hands of the same intellectuals who go on and on about Western hypocrisy.”

What is needed, Makiya continues, is a “new self-critical discourse…one that is rooted in a thoroughgoing insistence upon the inviolable sanctity of human life and the subordination of everything else to this criterion.” Without this, Arabs will continue to impose cruelty and intolerance “…against their fellow Arabs, or against Kurds and other national minorities of the Middle East.” What we have witnessed in Iraq over the last several years, and what we witnessed in Lebanon yesterday, bears witness to this remark, just as it underlines the bankruptcy of an explanation which blames Israel and the west - Makiya argues persuasively that anti-Zionism is an integral component of the silence which surrounds cruelty in the Arab world - for everything.


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