A Neoconservative “Shock and Awe”: The Rise of the Arabs

A pervading sense of awe seems to be engulfing Arab societies everywhere. What is underway in the Arab world is greater than simply revolution in a political or economic sense– it is, in fact, shifting the very self-definition of what it means to be Arab, both individually and collectively.

Hollywood has long caricatured and humiliated Arabs. American foreign policy in the Middle East has been aided by simplistic, degrading and at times racist depictions of Arabs in the mass media. A whole generation of pseudo-intellectuals have built their careers on the notion that they have a key understanding of Arabs and the seemingly predictable pattern of their behavior.

Now we see Libya – a society that had nothing by way of a civil society and which was under a protracted stage of siege – literally making history. The collective strength displayed by Libyan society is awe-inspiring to say the least. Equally praiseworthy is the way in which Libyans have responded to growing dangers and challenges. But most important is the spontaneous nature of their actions. Diplomatic efforts, political organization, structured revolutionary efforts and media outreach simply followed the path and demands of the people. Libyans led the fight, and everyone else either obliged or played the role of spectator.

There is something new and fascinating underway here – a phenomena of popular action that renders any historical comparisons inadequate. Western stereotypes have long served an important (and often violent) purpose: reducing the Arab, while propping up Israeli, British, and American invasions in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, and ‘liberation’. Those who held the ‘torch of civilization’ and allegedly commanded uncontested moral superiority gave themselves unhindered access to the lands of the Arabs, their resources, their history, and, most of all, their very dignity.

Yet those who chartered the prejudiced discourses, defining the Arabs to suit their colonial objectives – from Napoleon Bonaparte to George W. Bush – only showed themselves to be bad students of history. They tailored historical narratives to meet their own designs, always casting themselves as the liberators and saviors of all good things, civilization and democracy notwithstanding. In actual fact, they practiced the very opposite of what they preached, wreaking havoc, delaying reforms, co-opting democracy, and consistently leaving behind a trail of blood and destruction.

In the 1920s, Britain sliced up, then recomposed Iraq territorially and demographically to suit specific political and economic agenda. Oil wells were drilled in Kirkuk and Baghdad, then Mosul and Basra. Iraq’s cultural uniqueness was merely an opportunity to divide and conquer. Britain played out the ethno-religious-tribal mix to the point of mastery. But Arabs in Iraq rebelled repeatedly and Britain reacted the way it would to an army in a battle field. The Iraqi blood ran deep until the revolution of 1958, when the people obtained freedom from puppet kings and British colonizers. In 2003, British battalions returned carrying even deadlier arms and more dehumanizing discourses, imposing themselves as the new rulers of Iraq, with the US leading the way.

Palestinians – as Arabs from other societies – were not far behind in terms of their ability to mobilize around a decided and highly progressive political platform. Indeed, Palestine experienced its first open rebellion against the Zionist colonial drive in the country, and the complacent British role in espousing it and laboring to ensure its success decades ago (well before Facebook and Twitter made it to the revolutionary Arab scene). In April 1936, all five Palestinian political parties joined under the umbrella of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), led by Haj Amin al-Husseini. One of the AHC’s first decisions was to assemble National Committees throughout Palestine. In May, al-Husseini summoned the first conference of the National Committees in Jerusalem, which collectively declared a general strike on May 8, 1936. The first joint Palestinian action to protest the Zionist-British designs in Palestine was non-violent. Employing means of civil disobedience, the 1936 uprising aimed to send a stern message to the British government that Palestinians were nationally unified and capable of acting as an assertive, self-assured society. The British administration in Palestine had thus far discounted the Palestinian demand for independence and paid little attention to their incessant complaints about the rising menace of Zionism and its colonial project.

Palestinian fury turned violent when the British government resorted to mass repression. It had wanted to send a message to Palestinians that her Majesty’s Government would not be intimidated by what it saw as insignificant fellahin, or peasants. The first six months of the uprising, which lasted under different manifestations and phases for three years, was characterized at the outset by a widely observed general strike which lasted from May to October 1936. Palestine was simply shut down in response to the call of the National Committees and al-Husseini. This irked the British, who saw the “non-Jewish residents of Palestine” as deplorable, troublesome peasants with untamed leadership. Within a few years, Palestinians managed to challenge the conventional wisdom of the British, whose narrow Orientalist grasp on the Arabs as lesser beings with fewer or no rights – a model to be borrowed later on by the Zionists and Israeli officials – left them unqualified to ponder any other response to a legitimate uprising than coercive measures.

The price of revolution is always very high. Then, thousands of Palestinians were killed. Today, Libyans are falling in intolerable numbers. But freedom is sweet and several generations of Arabs have demonstrated willingness to pay the high price it demands.

Arab society – whether the strikers of Palestine in 1936, the rebels of Baghdad of 1958, or the revolutionaries of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt of 2011 – remain, in a sense, unchanged, as determined as ever win freedom, equality and democracy. And their tormenters also remain unhinged, using the same language of political manipulation and brutal military tactics.

The studious neoconservatives at the Foreign Policy Initiative and elsewhere must be experiencing an intellectual ‘shock and awe’, even as they continue in their quest to control the wealth and destiny of Arabs. Arab societies, however, have risen with a unified call for freedom. And the call is now too strong to be muted.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on March 10th, 2011 at 8:16am #

    The Saudi government has officially banned any and all demonstrations in the kingdom for fear of such an uprising. Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has sworn to “cut off any finger” raised against the royal family’s regime. The Saudi royal family believes that their warning of reprisals against their own citizens will make the planned Friday “day of rage” event a non-issue.
    If the Saudi uprising does occur Friday, and oil pipelines and distribution networks are disrupted, oil prices will rise to $150 per barrel almost instantaneously, and $200 per barrel will shortly follow.

    Well my friends, it seems like the world may never be the same. The system we have spent the last century building is crumbling all around us, and the petroleum-based economy is coming to an end as quickly as peak oil researchers have long been forewarning. What many people fail to grasp is that oil doesn’t just fuel your car, it’s used as fertilizer for most industrialized food crops, it’s used to transport that food around the globe, it generates much of the world’s electricity, and it is used to make the plastic that is present in most tangible goods produced these days. Get ready people, this Friday’s “day of rage” demonstrations in Saudi Arabia may define the fate of the world as we know it! energy digital

    Cut off any finger well gosh darn it after 100,000 years we still do that or the last 100 years you would think anyway that article came from a energy web page so I read between the lines a little. What time eastern stand time is morning pray over in Saudi Arabia? Although the fate of the world as we know it I think I’ve heard that before and old web bot must be working overtime.

  2. Don Hawkins said on March 10th, 2011 at 11:53am #

    POLICE IN SAUDI ARABIA have opened fire on protesters at rally in the eastern city of Qatif in an effort to quell escalating unrest in the kingdom
    One witness who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said that guns and stun grenades were fired at several hundred protesters in Qatif as they marched through the city today. the journal

    So gun’s and stun grenades I wonder where they get those maybe from a super center the one stop shop so to speak.

    The Qatif region is the largest concentration of Shia Islam in Saudi Arabia. Since 2005, the government has eased the restrictions on commemorating Day of Ashura in public.[4]
    As of 2009, the total population of Qatif was 474,573.

    The Qatif Producing Plants are the largest crude increment built in recent times, and the world’s largest crude production facility. The completion of the project added 650,000 barrels (103,000 m³) per day to the 150,000 barrels (24,000 m³) per day already produced from the Abu Safah field.[1] wiki

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 10th, 2011 at 12:14pm #

    “Reports that the Saudi authorities plan to deploy troops to police upcoming demonstrations are very worrying,” he said.

    The Interior Ministry has banned demonstrations, saying they contradict Islamic laws and society’s values and adding that some people have tried to go around the law to “achieve illegitimate aims.”

    “Reform cannot be achieved through protests … The best way to achieve demands is through national dialogue,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal said Wednesday. Washington post

    National dialogue absolutely look how well it work’s in the United States remember Wisconsin, what did happen to Wisconsin oh that’s right, privatized. Oh and for all you new employees here’s a book we give everyone, Home Medicine For Beginners or we have clinics with people who have already read the book. Alright people let’s go to work and listen to your leaders who at the moment are in Cali.

  4. Ismail Zayid said on March 10th, 2011 at 12:32pm #

    Ramzy Baroud gives an accurate account of the campaign waged by the imperialist powers, UK, USA and Israel to denigrate and deligitimize the Arabs’ proud history and humanity. Their comtiniuing campaign to control the land and rich resources of the Arab world has been longstanding and continues to this day.

    As Ramzy Baroud relates, the process, to control the oil resources in Iraq and fragment the country, started in the early 1920’s. British colonial secretary at the time, Winston Churchil, authorised British troops to use chemical weapons and war crimes against the rebels in Iraq, who stood opposed to British colonialism: As Colonial Secreary, in 1921, and in reponse to a Kurdish uprising against the British occupation of Iraq, “Churchill consistently urged that the RAF should use mustard gas, despite the warning by one of his advisers that it may kill children and sickly persons.” [The Guardian Weekly, Feb. 3, 1991.] Furthermore, “Churchill rejected timid naysayers…. I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas”. He wrote: ” I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes….. Chemical weapons represent the application of Western science to modern warfare.” [“The press and the ‘Just War’ ” By Alexander Cockburn.The Nation. Feb. 18, 1991].

    The Palestinian revolt in 1936, against British colonialism and Zionist designs, included a 6-month general strike, the longest general strike on record anywhere. The British methods against the rebels and the civilian population were brutal and inhuman. I, as a 3-year-old child, in 1936, was one of the many victims sustaining deliberate injury and insult by British soldiers.

    The Arab people strife for democracy, freedom and dignity is longstanding and the current revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East confirm their willingness to struggle and sacrifice.

  5. Don Hawkins said on March 10th, 2011 at 12:35pm #

    What’s the worst that could happen if the you know what hit the fan over there across the big water. Walk a bit more learn to use the legs maybe a bike grow food locally the old way now making a comeback in India. The light of the moon could take on a whole new meaning wait those punk’s on Wall Street would have to get a real job. What time is morning prayer over?

  6. Don Hawkins said on March 10th, 2011 at 12:43pm #

    Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to respect and ethical treatment. …

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
    Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
    English novelist (1812 – 1870)

    In the superlative degree of comparison only.

  7. Rehmat said on March 10th, 2011 at 5:49pm #

    According to Israeli daily, the great majority of neocons are Jewish and many holding US-Israel dual citizenship. and where their loyalty lies – can be illustrated by the recent incident.

    The Jewish President and CEO of the National Public Radio (NPR), Vivian Schiller, has been forced to resign after the release of a video showing head of NPR fundraiser, Ron Schiller (Jewish but no relation to Vivian), claiming that the Tea Party’s members are nothing but a bunch of “weird evangelical kind of movement. the group is ‘fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental (radical) Christian – I wouldn’t even call it Christian. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting – it’s pretty scary – They’re seriously , racist, racist, people”.


  8. PatrickSMcNally said on March 11th, 2011 at 2:10am #

    > The Jewish President and CEO of the National Public Radio (NPR), Vivian Schiller, has been forced to resign after …claiming that the Tea Party’s members are nothing but a bunch of

    It’s unfortunate that anyone would be forced to resign over this. Although I have a lot of complaints about NPR, including their pro-Israel bias, but no one should ever have to apologize for dumping on the Teabaggers. There are much better things which NPR staff could resign over that would give greater clarity to real issues. This is not one of them.

  9. Don Hawkins said on March 11th, 2011 at 3:19am #

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Hundreds of police have deployed on the streets of the Saudi capital ahead of planned protests calling for democratic reforms in the kingdom. AP 6:07 a.m. Friday, March 11, 2011

    Ok then what do you all think maybe a round of golf fight about money/debt is it time for lunch yet hay is the wedding still on.