Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stop Ta3ala Bas

I cannot help but be shocked everyday that goes by as the Arabs remain silent about the massacres going on in Gaza. Even understanding the dynamics and the politics that exist in the Middle East, the ability of human beings to stay silent on the killing of other human beings, even when these human beings are their brothers, is shocking to me. The Arab states have become lulled to sleep by American wealth, and the results are disastrous for the Palestinians.

Last semester for a class on Peace & Conflict Studies I wrote a research paper on Arab pop music and how it had interacted (i.e. reacted or been influenced by) with the Arab political situation. My research spanned from the 1950’s onward, and the last few pages had to do with how contemporary Arab pop has become completely alienated from the audience it addresses. It is hard for me to imagine what the average Palestinian or even Egyptian family, sitting on a rotten couch in an overcrowded refugee camp or anonymous slum thinks when they watch TV and see Haifa Wehbe singing about a naughty child she is babysitting (a child who wears Burberry outfits in her video “Wawa”) or Maria switching off between Geisha costumes and a Louis Vuitton-themed car in “Stop Ta3ala Bas”. This is probably the most disturbing aspect of Arab culture today- the complete chasm between the high culture of the Gulf and the elites of other countries and the low culture (read: the reality) of everyone else, from the Palestinians on up. (I should note, though, that even Arab pop music can claim a higher moral position than the governments of the Gulf, stemming from the recent 25-minute music video “al Dameer al 3arabi”, which probably tops by far anything the Gulf has ever done [or even thought of doing] in the way of Arab “consciousness”…)

For many Arab intellectuals today, it seems that the inertia and resulting hopelessness that was sown in the wake of the Setback of 1967 has never faded, and understandably so- their governments have been lulled to sleep by Western cash, and the people are too busy trying to scrape out a living (or, after work, too busy watching Haifa) to care about their brothers and sisters in Palestine. It is telling that the biggest demonstration in the wake of the recent massacres occurred in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a city I doubt many Arabs have even heard of before, much less could locate on a map.

It is on these days that I am tremendously proud to be an Iranian citizen. The Iranian government has emerged as one of the few major voices in the world to actively challenge Israeli and US actions, despite the little benefit Iran gets from these denunciations. The saddest part for Iran is just this, though, how little recognition it gets for what it does. Predictably, Israel and the US condemn Iran for its condemnations, but it is the reaction of the Arab Street that is most upsetting. The Arabs should be encouraged that finally there is a country that will support the Arab people and will back up words with actions, with little expectation in return. However, historic anti-Persian and anti-Shia prejudices, constantly reinforced by elites (above all, the rabid Wahhabi clerics of KSA) continue to muddle Arab admiration for Iran with suspicion, the heartbreaking result of this historic opportunity to work together.

When I look at Iran’s actions in the region, I see two aspects- first, an attempt to create a buffer against Israel and the US, and second, a genuine desire to reach out to the Arabs being oppressed across the region. Both of these seem to be in the interest of the Arabs (though the government’s insistence of the second has made it face a lot of criticism at home). I think despairingly of the suspicion even of Arab intellectuals (especially As’ad Abu Khalil, whose opinion I otherwise respect) towards Iran based on anti-Shia prejudice, or a fear of Shia domination. However, for demographic reasons (besides in Lebanon & Bahrain), this is ludicrous, and it is impossible for Iran to combat this fear logically when it is so clearly illogical. Iran’s actions in Iraq have helped stabilize that country and its actions in Lebanon and Palestine are helping the people there survive, and as long as the Arabs refuse to accept this, there is depressingly little the Iranians can do to convince them of their good intentions.

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