‘Nostalgia for colonialism’

As’ad Abu-Khalil wrote another scathing opinion piece in Al-Akhbar, this time directed to the ‘Arab liberals’ who carry out the project of the new Middle East for the Bush administration. This is the English translation (copyright Bart Peeters 2007).

Nostalgia for colonialism

By As’ad Abu-Khalil

It is the season again. The Arab liberals are marching in step with their guides slavishly copying the conservatives in the west. You can predict the future course of the Arab liberals by following the past and present direction of rightwing discourse in the west. The Arab liberals are groping around looking for clues by copying and following this discourse, but the products of the west always arrive in our countries corrupted: you will find them implemented here more harshly, more brutally, and in a more degrading way. Here, ‘liberalism’ becomes ‘right wing’, ‘right wing’ becomes ‘fascism’, and ‘leftism’ is turned into a despised form of liberalism associated with the Hariri family. Only the Phalanges and the Lebanese Forces preserve the western product as it is. They adopted western fascism and preserved it intact.

Take for example the capitalist course that Rafiq Hariri took before his assassination. You won’t find its like in the west, not even in the programs of the right wing parties. At one point he was considering to radically abolish all taxes and let the poor take care of themselves. Didn’t he tell the poor to repair their shoes instead of buying new ones, since only the rich, “those whom god had bestowed wealth upon”, as he put it, were entitled to new shoes? He treated the poor as if they were a burden on society and on the state. And he would have gotten rid of them if his honeymoon with the Syrian intelligence agencies had lasted – they who brought him in and appointed him prime minister for over a decade (although Hariri’s professional town criers would have us believe he was ‘powerless’ during those years).

Worn-out “clichés”

Arab liberals think they are creators and pioneers, while in reality they just keep repeating the “clichés” of the racist theses in Rafael Patai’s book “The Arab Mind” (the same book that Seymour Hersh described as the “gospel” of the neocons for use in the American wars). Even the torturers and executioners of Abu Ghraib took their clues in carrying out their duties from this book, which was rejected by the academic world as soon as it was published, but circulated widely in popular, media and political milieus in this country. Even some academics not specialised in Middle Eastern affairs had recourse to it for their “understanding” (or lack thereof) of the Arabs. For example, Jean Kirkpatrick (Ronald Reagan’s UN envoy) used it in the national security course which she taught at the University of Georgetown, because it fitted in well with her own ideology: she was the originator of the theory that aims to distinguish between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes (and serves as the basis for marketing US support to pro-American dictatorships – consider the upgrading on this scale of the Libyan regime, merely because of its foreign policy turnaround).


You read the Arab liberals of today – better to call them the Arab conservatives, even if they wear the mantle of the Democratic Left (and democracy here is similar to the democratic model of Kim Jung-Il, although Elias Attalah has a more stalinist past (?) than the “Great Leader”) in alliance with the agents of the World Bank in Lebanon. Read them, and you will see a monotonous repetition of what you have read years ago in the writings of the American right. You will see how the sweeping generalizations about the Arabs and Islam are the same: in zionist publications, in the writings of the wahhabi Arab liberals and in the writings of those among the ones calling themselves contemporary leftists who join them because they can reject the poor. Oh, the glory of the newspaper “Al-Mustaqbal”, filled to the brim with scorn for Srilankan and Ethiopian housemaids committing suicide. Read some of the liberal writers in the Arabic newspapers and you can trace back some of their ideas, and even actual phrases, to this zionist magazine or to that rightwing website, which our writer unearthed as if it was a buried treasure.

They speak about ‘the culture of life’ as if the idea was their own brainchild, or an invention of the Lebanese branch of Saatchi & Saatchi charged with the account of the cedar revolution (another branch occupies itself with improving the image of the American occupation of Iraq in the Arabic media). And western zionism (both its jewish and christian branches) uses this expression to undermine the credibility of the Palestinian resistance and to sow hatred for islam – the way the municipality of Hazir erected a statue for Ernest Renan (whose racism western academics salute, even when he used linguistic criteria to grade nations on an incremental scale, but he is ingested in the country of the cedar and the chestnut. Didn’t he breathe the air of our country? Isn’t that enough?) Maybe the distinguished municipality of Beirut will soon erect a statue for Bernard Lewis. Who knows, maybe Fuad Ajami (the first Arab Likudnik, although many would follow) will return to Lebanon, inspired by the methods of Ahmad Chalabi and Iyad Allawi (the latter being a friend of the speaker of parliament – and speaking of friendships, why did Chebli Malat stop speaking of his ‘friend’ Paul Wolfowitz? Is it because he went on to market the civilised methods of struggle with Israel (methods which he and Ahmed Fatfat are very well acquainted with), or is it because of his repeated attempts and failures to get the sponsorship of the member of congress most hostile to Arabs and islam, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – although she did allow him to attend a rightwing republican event)?

Arab liberals (under the banner of Saudi wahhabism) speak of peace and harmony between the Arabs and Israel years after Anwar Sadat beat them to it. They forget that Sadat also preceded them in throwing all the “cards” in America’s lap, and that at the height of the cold war. The American president furthermore patted Anwar Sadat on the back years before Siniora received this distinguished honour. Arab liberals speak of peace with Israel as if it is a measure of civilisation (a specialty of the March 14 movement in Lebanon), and they blame the crisis of the Arabs (their backwardness as they call it today) on the resistance, like Muhammad Ali Jabari and others who sided with the Israeli occupation were already doing when Muhammad Dahlan was still an adolescent. They relieve the west, and specifically the US, of any responsibility in our affairs and problems (even while vast numbers of foreign soldiers are present in our lands), so that we don’t fall into the fold of conventional “international legitimacy”. This is a classical colonial technique.

Nostalgia the Lebanese way

For years now, the right in the west has been expressing its nostalgia for, and singing the praise of, the colonial age, especially as regards the Middle East, because the nominal liberation of these parts has not turned out well for Israel, although the zionist state cooperates conveniently with various Arab regimes, some of whom it has concluded peace agreements with, and some of whom offer nominal opposition. The Iraq-born orientalist Elie Kedourie was the first to start this trend with his book on democracy and the Arabic political culture published in the early nineties. Kedourie would wax lyrical over the days of the mandate, before those who Saddam Hussein referred to as “the rabble” rid themselves of foreign rule. The American author Charles Krauthammer (who accuses Likud of moderateness, which is the position of the neocons who are so fond of the – “permanent” – cedar revolution – there’s no harm in the spontaneous meeting of opinions, as they tell us) openly expressed his nostalgia for colonialism in Africa and Asia. Today he is the spiritual guide of the “cedar revolution”. And the nostalgia for colonialism is expressed in the positions of the US administration and those of none other than the UN. What does it mean, for example, when Terje Roed Larsen (who is close to, if not actually stuck onto, the Bush administration) issues a legal decision on the subject of the quorum in the Lebanese parliament? Would Larsen even dare to whisper a statement on the issue of the succession to the throne in the wahhabi kingdom? Of course not, because Saudi Arabia is an example of nearly perfect government to the standards of the UN in the days of Larsen and the new secretary-general, who has no need to preserve his good reputation. Can Larsen interfere, for example, in issues related to the government of Hosni Mubarak? Of course not, because the interference is more obvious in regimes that have not completely come under the control of the American empire. Next, what is signified by the presence of a special envoy of the UN in Lebanon? What is the extent of his importance, if any? And why does a society that chants slogans of sovereignty from morning to evening accepts to host a representative of the remnants of the mandate age, especially if this man holds opinions and even expresses preferences on electoral and local topics. And the Lebanese politicians of the 14 and 8 March movements alike are happy and proud to receive Mr. Pedersen and discuss with him even the most insignificant and local matters. Lebanon will become really independent when Pedersen is finally chased out of Lebanon and when the US ambassador’s contacts will be restricted to the ministry of foreign affairs only, when he will be forbidden to roam the other ministries at will. Why does the US ambassador in Lebanon enjoy powers and authorities which the Lebanese ambassador in Washington does not have? The Lebanese ambassador would end up in Guantanamo prison if he would interfere with the US presidential elections or make a tour around the US ministries in Washington. Of course, this is exactly what classical colonialism is: the powers of the representative of the colonizing state are wholly different from those of the colonized state. The acceptance of the idea of western colonialism in Lebanon goes back to the idea of the creation of the entity which was born, coincidentally of course, in the time when the zionist movement was apiring to create a jewish state on Palestine land (will we ever see the day when the maronite patriarchat will release the text and the documents of its treaty with the zionist movement which was signed in 1946?). And Lebanese thinking, since its inception, has been founded on opposition to the idea of Arab solidarity (even before the idea of Arab unity emerged– how the Baathists have disfigured that word, and how have they divided and antagonized the Shia in the name of assimilated unity. Drawing a picture of Lebanon as a representative of the west (politically, economically and even militarily in the age of Chamoun) was fundamental in the creation of the entity, fundamental to the western colonial construct which this entity is. This is why Lebanon can graphically translate western control (which is essentially American, whatever the attempt to hide the fact under the fairytale of the ‘international community’ as an independent political body that expresses the truthful and concerned opinions of the world’s states) as a proof of the solidartiy with Lebanon, just like the allies of the Syrian regime see the regime’s nursing of the country as the translation of Arabism.

The role of the media

The marks of this nostalgia for colonialism can be seen in most Arab countries and on many levels, as it is financed by the system of wahhabi control over the media. And thus king Faruq will be the subject of the nightly ramadan evening chats in the form of a new TV series financed by Gulf money. King Faruq will be transformed from a tool of Britain into a misunderstood leader. And those watching will find enough pride in the fact that king Faruq was not addicted to wine (because he didn’t taste his food) because islam forbade wine but it didn’t forbid service to colonialism, according to the ‘modern’ behaviour of the glorious king. They may revive the introduction of the “shame law” regarding the “royal self”. Thus we see the Arab media taking advantage of specific occasions (anniversaries of wars or uprisings) to try and rewrite history into a different image for popular consumption. And so the British colonial regime in Egypt has become a source of pride and remembrance, all this to prove the fault of the Egyptian revolution. The liberal Arab writers in the Arab newspapers are doing the same for the regime of Nuri As-Said when they make the man look as if he’s just another misunderstood politician. In this way the Arab media mirror the nostalgia for colonialism and for the regimes of the fat and the corrupt in Syria, of the “Maku Awamir” in Iraq and of the corrupt troops in Egypt. This is the way American colonialism and its Arab propagandists are trying to convince us that the choice is between Saddam Hussein and the return of colonialism, as if the choice of a true independence is but a mirage.

And the nostalgia for colonialism has surfaced in everything that is published in the press about the assessment of modern Arab history. This nostalgia fits well with the project of the US administration for the Middle East. We usually talk about neo-colonialism, but the age of Bush has returned us to the phase of classical colonialism. The characteristics of classical colonialism are apparent on many levels, notably in the fact that the US administration has achieved its longstanding object of having cooperative Arabic governments open up their lands to US troops and the CIA. The disarmament of the Arab regimes began after the invasion of Kuwait (when the Kuwaiti and western media portrayed the plight of the Kuwaiti people under Saddam’s occupation as worse than the plight of the Palestinian people over the decades). The successive US administrations had made no secret of their anger at the refusal of the oil governments of the Gulf to host US troops on their soil. All this changed after Saddam’s invasion. The biography of Dick Cheney in the recently published book of Stephen Hayes shows that the US administration was determined to station its troops in the region after the invasion of Kuwait, whether officially invited or not. And the nostalgia for colonialism became actual reality after 9/11. The US administration realised that the only way to manage the affairs of the region was to do it directly, not by outsourcing the warfare to client regimes. The regimes were more than submissive. Because Nasser, who had scared them, was dead, and the Palestinian revolution had fallen into Muhamad Dahlan’s hands, while Hamas was occupied with trying to turn its authority into reality.

From Ramallah to Morocco

As for Lebanon, it is always a candidate for the leading role in the service of colonialism, and it is always glowing with pride when it is hosting non-Arab foreign armies on its soil. Do we not know why Rafiq showered the UNIFIL-troops with praise? Is there anybody who thinks they came to protect the land of Lebanon? Is the history of these forces not a lesson? Have they repulsed one single Israeli aggression against Lebanon since they graced it with their presence? They say that they will testify about the Israeli aggressions, but the UN’s reports are submitted for political editing to Washington (didn’t you read the memoirs of Boutros Ghali about his experience in the UN?) Witnesses? They are what Ali ibn Abi Talib called “the absent witnesses”. Doesn’t the statement of Angela Merkel suffice (although Fuad Siniora has already interpreted her statement saying she was joking)? And the US marines, who have graced the homeland twice with their presence in the contemporary history of Lebanon, were enthusiastically received by more than just Lebanese in the region – we have not forgotten that there were those (among the sunnites, the shiites, the druze and the christians) who welcomed the Israeli occupation forces in 1982 by throwing rice on them.

Colonialism has returned to our countries. The descendants of the governorate applaud it. The leaders of some sects think that colonialism will rid them of their opponents. They are mistaken. Wasn’t Muhammad Dahlan set up by colonialism as the governor of Gaza? Didn’t Amin Gemayyel resort to foreign soldiers to rule the land and the subjects? The struggle for the second liberation from neo-colonialism in our region will be harder than the first time, not because the cold war has ended and American sovereignty is globally and universally established, not even because of he tyrannical ways of the American Empire, but because the second colonialism comes with a widespread band of governors, from Ramallah to Morocco, an uninterrupted series with the character of a governmental squadron.


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