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Fear of the "Khawaga"
Recent events in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and other Arab countries have triggered a public debate that includes a recurring theme that I have heard in Arab media: groups and minorities who seek the help of the 'Khawaga' (Arabic term for "non-Muslim foreigners") are disloyal to the Arab cause. There is a heated discussion and criticism by Arab journalists about the Lebanese seeking help from the UN and Western democracies to get rid of the Syrian occupation. The Lebanese demonstrations that demanded an end to the Syrian occupation of the small Arab nation that has the largest Christian minority, cracked the image of Arab unity and brotherhood and exposed Arab abuse of other Arab nationalities and religions.
Arab intellectuals and journalists are defending Syria and Hezbullah and describe the Lebanese demonstrators as "a mob". They claim that the Lebanese aspire to goals similar to those of the "Zionist enemy," Israel, which is the only real democracy in the Middle East. Thus, Lebanese demands for democracy are made illegitimate and disloyal to the Arab psyche. Arab media and the Arab League did nothing when Lebanon was being destroyed from within by Syria. The Christian population was terrorized by the PLO and Hezbullah until ultimately many escaped out of Lebanon. Now they are trying to portray the Lebanese demands for freedom from Syria as actions of a mob, claiming that Israel and America are somehow responsible for the current uprising and terror-killing of Harari in Lebanon.
I am an Arab woman, born and raised in Egypt and Gaza. Relationships in the Arab culture are determined by pre-established obligations rather than by choice and practicality. The appearance of Arab and Muslim harmony is essential. One can only imagine the complications, injustice and frustration that such a system of relationships based on appearances can produce at the individual, family, community and national levels. Obligations to how Arab relationships look to the outside world stand as a barrier to any progress and peace. The result is a dysfunctional inter-Arab and international relationship mess that stands in the way of the human spirit that yearns for freedom, happiness and growth. Iraqi voters, Lebanese demonstrators against Syrian occupation, Kurds, Christian and other oppressed groups in the Middle East who call for change are thus accused of embarrassing the "Arab cause" since democracy is now defined as yet another "Zionist conspiracy."
The Arab media's constant cover-up of Arab atrocities against their own people and their expectation of Arab victims to keep quiet and never ask for Khawaga's help is a symptom of pathology in the Arabs' inability to solve problems. It does not matter how oppressed certain Arab groups are; the key is never to tell the West. Lebanese complaints to the UN about the Syrian dictator Assad's occupation should never have happened, say Arab pundits. The criticism is always "how dare the Lebanese and other oppressed Arab groups ask the Khawaga." Even Kuwait's complaints of Saddam Hussein's attack and occupation of their country were never handled with the proper impartiality and openness by Arab media. It is always preoccupied with keeping the status quo and the false image of Arab unity. Oppressed minorities in Arab countries do not take the Arab League as a serious organization that can make a difference. Many joke about its existence as a do-nothing organization that keeps the facade of a big lie called "Arab unity". When the UN attempts to replace the Arab League's silence with a clear moral voice, then Arab TV commentators accuse the UN of being "in the pocket of the Jews!"
Arab media is in a constant race to hide Arab feelings of inadequacy and unwillingness to compete with the West by clinging to the failed history of Arab Unity. Arab countries often resent each other's meddling and have never been unified under one nation at any point in history. However, the Arab world regards the false appearance of a facade of an Arab united front as their only way to achieve power and respect. The image of Arab unity has become their security blanket in their struggle with fears of competition with the Khawaga. The end result is that the false image of Arab unity has become a self-made barrier against any progress. Arab culture has a long way to go to learn how to build trust, respect and peace with non-Muslim societies.
Maybe it will begin in Lebanon. As we Arabs say, Inshallah!
Nonie Darwish, 7/July/2005
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