Dr. Salman Masalha - MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 4901, August 21st, 2012
Responding to the violence in Syria, he recently penned an article titled “The Crimes Of The Regime And Of The Opposition,” which was posted on the liberal Arabic-language website Elaph. In it, he calls for self-examination on the part of Arab societies in order to end the tradition of violence and backwardness that has characterized the Middle East for generations.
The following is a translation of the article:
“Recently, many websites, especially YouTube, have posted a series of films documenting the murder and mutilation of bodies [perpetrated against] the followers of the fascist Ba'thist regime, who were themselves part of the mechanism that brutally oppressed the Syrians who rebelled against this same criminal regime. These films are similar to the films which documented the crimes of the [Syrian] regime's shabiha and army against the Syrian citizens. In other words, we are [only] now witnessing the reality which this oriental country [Syria] has been experiencing for a year and a half.
The ultimate goals of Assad's 'Alawite regime, which used the fascist pan-Arab [Ba'th] party as a no more than a rhetorical tool, was to consolidate [Assad's] tribal, sectarian rule. Now this regime is facing the ugly outcome of the sectarian, tribal seeds it sowed. We are now facing a reality that is best described by the old proverb 'you reap what you sow.' The Assad regime is the source of all this sectarian, ethnic destruction.
“What is happening now in the Syrian arena, and has been happening for months, is the best proof of the ruin and desolation [that afflict] this land – except that this desolation, which is essentially a moral desolation, is not new. It is part of the character of this region, which has never been characterized by the virtues of modern civilization. The great scholar Ibn Khaldun, may he rest in peace, recognized this character a long time ago – [a character] that has always been incapable of embracing civilization. [He wrote:] 'Whenever the Arab nomads conquer a place, destruction soon follows, because they are a barbaric people. The habits of barbaric existence have taken hold of them and have become [part of] their nature, and they like it that way… This nature is the very antithesis of civilization… For example, if they need stones to place beneath their cooking pots, they will destroy a building to use its bricks… Therefore, their very presence is incompatible with construction, which is the basis of civilization' [Muqaddimat ibn Khaldun, p. 146].
“In this discussion of Arab nomads, Ibn Khaldun speaks of the material [aspects of] civilization. However, we should extend his approach to a new domain, and speak of other [aspects], namely of the non-material [aspects of] civilization. While Ibn Khaldun speaks of stones, I wish to extend his reasoning to human beings. Whether the crimes that the world is witnessing on the modern media are perpetrated by the brutal henchmen of the fascist [Syrian] regime or by those who oppose it, any member of the homo sapiens race is shocked by the enormity this human brutality. While Ibn Khaldun speaks of the stones that the Arab nomads placed under their cooking pots, I [wish to] speak about human beings that the Arabs used as support for their pots. Because today's crimes, which the Arabs and the whole world are witnessing, can be traced back to the cultural legacy upon which generations of Arabs were raised.
“For example, let's read what previous generations have recorded for us about [renowned military commander] Khalid ibn Al-Walid, known as Allah's Sword, and how he ordered to cut off the head of [tribal chief] Malik bin Nuwayra in order to place it under a cooking pot used by his army. [The source says:] 'Malik was the hairiest of men, so when the soldiers placed their pots on the heads of the slain enemies, all the heads burned as soon as the fire touched them, except for his. His head did not burn even when the food was already cooked, because his hair protected the skin from the heat of the fire.' And that isn't all. Cultural heritage teaches us that Khalid ibn Al-Walid did this because he desired Malik's wife, of whom it was said, 'no legs were more beautiful than hers.' And indeed, [according to the source,] 'it is said that Khalid ibn Al-Walid married the wife of Malik and consummated the marriage, and this fact is agreed upon by all historians.' This historical report is found in [a number of] sources, such as Tabari's Tarikh Al-Rusul Wa'l-Mulouk, Ibn Kathir's Al-Bidaya Wa'l-Nihaya, Ibn A'tham's Kitab Al-Futouh, Ibn Hajar's Isaba, and many others.
“As another example, let us read about the head of [the Prophet's grandson] Al-Hussain ibn 'Ali. It has been recorded by ancient writers that [Umayyad provincial governor] 'Ubayd Allah bin Ziyad placed Hussein's head upon a tray and started to play with it, using his cane. This report, [too,] can be found in a number of sources… And there are many more bloody [stories] of this kind in the heritage upon which generations of Arabs were raised.
“What is clear in all the Arab countries that emerged out of the ruins of the Ottoman [empire] and later out of the colonial rule, is their absolute failure to cultivate the non-material aspects of civilization, that is to say, cultivate an integrated humane civilization. These countries grew out of one kind of autocracy and replaced it with another kind of autocracy, which purported to be nationalist when in fact it was tribal and sectarian. In other words, these countries exchanged foreign colonialism for a tribal colonialism under those called 'family.'
“The ancient Arab poet put his finger on an essential human truth when he described injustice coming from one's family as the hardest to bear. Yes, discovering the falseness of family is hardest to bear, and leads one to despair and depression. When one is surrounded by injustice, it leads one to distrust all of mankind, [and] this distrust of mankind is the source of [all] ruin. It is the source of the moral desolation, which, in turn, leads to spiritual disintegration. Yes, this is the very opposite of humane civilization. This, essentially, is the great failure of all the regimes that are [now] gradually perishing in the so-called Arab countries. For none of these various regimes succeeded in building an integrated people. Every one of them is based on tribal and religious tyranny. And since religious and tribal tyranny is the opposite of freedom and of human spirit, it cannot last. It is a temporary state, which soon collapses when faced with the outburst of a call for human freedom. Ultimately, freedom is the [true] human nature.
“The way out of this bloody Arab whirlpool is obvious, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Arab needs only to look at the world around him in order to clearly see the way. The Arabs urgently need to base their societies upon foundations that transcend the boundaries of religious, ethnic and tribal affiliations. Such a development can only be realized in civil states, which transcend all such affiliations. This does not mean non-affiliation; it only [means] building the social structure upon stronger foundations: those that underlie modern civilization.
“For this reason, there is also an urgent need to reevaluate [the entire annals of] Arab life and civilization since its appearance on the stage of history. Everything published about the crimes committed in Arab countries, whether they are committed by the regime or the opposition, shows that there is a thin but powerful line connecting all these crimes that have been documented by Arabs since ancient times, examples of which we have given above. Anyone who truly wishes for a way out of these bloody Arab whirlpools must sever this line and sever the connection with those crimes. Indeed, there is an urgent need for an Arab self-examination. And for this self examination to have an effect on the Arab fate in future generations, it must be held publicly. It must be absolutely frank, and everything must be subjected to public questioning and discussion, without hiding any dirt under the carpet. Because only through frankness one can make peace with oneself and with the other. Without such an examination, [the Arabs] will have no way [forward], except the way towards ruin and moral desolation.”
 Elaph.com, August 15, 2012.
Dr. Salman Masalha is an Israeli-Arab poet and writer who regularly
publishes articles on current political and cultural Middle Eastern affairs,
in both Arabic and Hebrew, in international Arab media and in the Israeli