The myth of Arab and Muslim unity

Since August 5, 2019, the day when Narandar Modi’s government terminated the autonomous status of the Indian Held Kashmir, Pakistanis have been throwing harangue against the indifference of the Gulf Countries conspicuous for not issuing a stern condemnation to India on taking this unilateral step which has led to a massive human rights violation in Kashmir.

Curfews, imprisonment of political and business leaders, incarceration of students and activists have turned IHK into a prison.  The sting from the indifference grew sharper when during his state visit to the United Arab Emirates Modi was awarded its highest civilian award. Saudi Arabia, considered unwittingly the saviour of the Muslims doubled the angst of the Pakistanis for not unleashing the United Military Counter Terrorism forces against India. Similar despondency settled in as Pakistanis saw business as usual in other Islamic countries. The immobility both in words and action of the Gulf states, rich in oil resources and with a power to influence international agenda for being allies of the US and other western countries, is taken as a dagger driven into the heart of the so-called Muslim Ummah. 

Is it a real assessment of the Arab’s sensitivity towards the Islamic world? And is there a difference between being a Muslim and an Arab?

To begin with, let’s be assured that the Middle East has had a troubled history marked by dictatorial rule, disunity among the regional states (all Muslims) and its vast population marred by poor governance, poverty, intellectual bankruptcy, social stagnation, and the discriminatory ruling elite. A fleeting look at the present situation of the Middle East gives the picture of a region bursting at seams because of radicalism justifying an overstay of dictators and military rule as in Egypt. The mainstay of this radicalism backed equally by the rulers and oppositionists has been the rejection of the West and excoriating Israel. Though there has been a softening of stance against Israel of many Arab states, the fodder of anti-west and anti-Israel fed to the masses continues in a typical cycle dating decades. 

Ironically enough while the US has been labeled as the enemy supporting Israel to keep the region tipping at war, most of the Middle Eastern countries have nurtured good relations with the US, in fact leaping for its assistance to neuter regional rivals. As happened in the case of Iraq, when it invaded Kuwait, triggering the Gulf war, and later in Yamen, where the US-made missile and ammunition, have been used relentlessly to kill, maim and destroy the Yamani Muslims.

Most of the Arab states are historically autocratic and have shown no appetite for political dissent, freedom of press and tolerance towards intellectual diversity. There has been an overwhelming rejection of the concept of a nation-state requiring reform, moderation, and democratization.

Saudis may have incorporated modernization by allowing opening up of cinemas and night clubs, holding of fashion shows and most of all letting women drive cars, but the country’s engagement in regional rivalries such as against Yemen, Iran, Syria, Libya and Qatar has the imprints of the paradigm that promotes the interest of those seeking region-wide domination.  

In his book The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria quotes the responses of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Saudi Spokesperson Prince Bandar bin Sultan, given on different occasions to the senior US diplomat, Bill Clinton, and an American official respectively that if they eased up political dissent, agreed to Camp David peace plan and pressed the government too hard, the likely outcome would be the takeover by the Islamic fundamentalists, Hamas and Taliban-style theocracy.

The situation has not changed much since. Only a few months back journalists the world over including Pakistan, had been mourning the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi columnist, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was a harsh critic of the polices of Prince Muhammad bin Sultan who had become the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

According to Amnesty International’s 2018 Review of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, a significant increase in human rights violation on civil society and political opponents has been reported in three of the region’s most powerful states: Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, the insensitivity of the Arabs towards the Kashmiris is not something unusual about their behaviour. It is irrational to expect democratic behaviour from people who have been practising repression as a tool against the political and intellectual atmosphere. A common refrain given against introducing liberal ideology has been the takeover by the fundamentalists now called terrorists---a fear that India shares in case of Kashmir.

Now the second question: is there a difference between being a Muslim and an Arab? Certainly, yes.

To be fair jihad as a tactic to wage war against the West and Israel has its origination not in South Asia but in the Arab world. The US attacked Afghanistan to square the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in New York. But not a single Afghan was involved in the terror attack. The Arabs used Afghanistan’s soil for their aims. It was the Arabs and not the Muslims per se who ensured Saddam’s fall. It was the indifference of the Arabs that led to the Palestinians defeat during the 1970s and 1980s. The Arabs were hand in glove with the US and its allies to turn the domestic crisis in Syria into a civil war.

On the contrary many Muslim countries like Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, and Bangladesh have had secular democratic governments. Even in Afghanistan, before it got stung with debilitating chaos and tyranny, 40 per cent of all doctors were women and Kabul was one of the most liberated cities for women in all Asia.

Middle East could be an important part of the Islamic world, but it is not the representative of the Muslims as Pakistanis have erroneously assumed.

Let there be clarity. Kashmir and Palestine are not religious issues. They are territorial issues emanating from the regional crises. Their solution lies not in emotional Islamic rhetoric, not at least one from the Arabs who have always put their personal interest ahead of Muslims’. 

Instead of questioning the Arabs, should not Pakistan ask itself about its preparation all these years to fight Kashmir’s cause were it to come to this pass.

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