Fettered – by history
Condemned – to hope
Programmed – to hate
Arab and Islamic genealogists like to trace the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad back to Adam through an ancient Yemeni king named Yarab, who in their accounts is designated the grandson of Nabit, who in turn was the son of Ishmael, one of the three patriarchs and the first son of Abraham.
According to the same legends, Yarab was a descendant of Sem (also known as Shem), a biblical figure who was one of Noah’s sons. The word ‘Semite’ is said to be derived from this name. Hey, I am getting to like connecting the dots. Everybody seems to be connected to everybody else here.
Okay, you saw this coming – the word ‘Arab’ is believed to have come from Yarab. Cool, huh? You chose this blog for enlightenment, remember? What do you think you’ll get here 24/7? 80-proof enlightenment, that’s what.
Today’s Arabs are quite unlike most ethnic groups (except maybe the Irish). They are irrational, quick-tempered and generally unstable folk, frequently letting themselves be ruled by their hearts instead of their heads. In fact the likeness that the Arab mindset shares with the early Irish Republican ethos is revealing. Where political differences could be settled through diplomacy, they would rather slug it out. Like the IRA did once and are still capable of doing, Arabs too see people and issues as jet-black and snow-white, with no grey regions whatsoever. George W would have made a good Arab, given his oft-quoted you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mantra.
There’s another thing. Arabs have made cutting off their noses to spite their faces into an art form. They will think nothing of destroying their only means of livelihood in order to hit back. Remember the Syrians’ sabotage of Iraqi oil pipelines in the late 1950s or the former Egyptian President, Gamel Abdel Nasser’s scuttling of ships filled with cement and beer bottles in the Suez Canal to block shipping? Syria’s rulers didn’t bother to think what would happen to their forex earnings if they sabotaged the pipeline. Neither did Nasser ponder over what closing the Suez would do to Egypt’s economy.
They didn’t have to. These rulers were going to make money out of it, one way or the other, just the way Saddam’s personal fortune jumped $10 billion in the first two years after the first gulf war. Saddam was perhaps the champion nose-cutter-offer. He set Kuwaiti oil wells on fire in 1991, knowing that the Kuwaiti and the Iraqi reserves came from the same underground pool and that burning one would deplete the other as well. Besides that, Saddam also did untold damage to the ecosystem of his own country by diverting the waters of the Euphrates and draining the marshlands in the south, just to get back at his own citizens, the Shiite Marsh Arabs.
This is not just a matter of temperament though. The Arab literature that is taught in most government-funded schools in the Arab world even today, is still a thousand years old. And since Arab literature glorifies tribal life, patriarchal societies and centuries old internecine feuds that sparked bloody eye-for-an-eye revenge killings, Arab school students have been reared literally on blood, gore and anarchy, rather than analysis. This is a militant community, comfortable only when it is up in arms, avenging some perceived slight or searching for a pretext to launch an assault, just for the sake of one.
The story of the Arabs is one of harsh rulers, constant squabbling and unimaginable repression that does not seem to have an end. They haven’t changed one bit. Even in spite of the fact that their own Allah has given them brains, to think independently, to be analytic and not to be afraid to question something that they do not understand, somehow these 350 million souls have barricaded themselves in the dark ages, while the rest of the world has moved on.
Another character trait in an Arab is resentment – at being dominated by outsiders, at being told what to do and at being had repeatedly, by foreigners – ever since the first Persian invasions in the 6th century BC. Arabs are intrinsically lazy, devoid of the urge to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of social development and quality of life, never having endeavored to channel their energies into original thought. They will hate and resent everything that the west represents but at the same time, on the sly, binge-watch American movies and TV shows, binge-shop for western fashions. They will surreptitiously download, copy and share hardcore porn and in the same breath, decry the ‘promiscuity’ of western women in tight-fitting attire.
There is virtually a void today, as far as cutting-edge research or technological prowess is concerned. This is evident even in those Arab nations that are awash in petro-dollars and have the wherewithal to spend money on development. They feel it beneath their dignity to reach out for prosperity and prefer to wait for it to come to them, as if they feel some sort of an entitlement to it, being told millions of times every day that they are Allah’s chosen ones.
A camel train in the Arabian desert (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)
But the Arabs haven’t been so lackadaisical about personal and social development, all along. There have been numerous flashes in the pan, sparks that could have lit an eternal flame of technological advancement and economic growth….but didn’t. Algebra was the result of an Arab mathematician’s pioneering study. The world’s first degree-granting university was established in Fez, in Morocco. Around 960AD, an Arab published a 1500-page encyclopedia of surgery which was revered as a medical reference for the next 500 years. Leo Da Vinci took inspiration for his bird-wing flying machine from the drawings left behind by an Arab inventor. The crankshaft-connecting rod system of power transmission, that every car and every piston-driven machine in the world uses, was an original Arab idea. The world’s first hospital came up in Egypt, 9th century AD. And of course – the wheel, a world changing invention, first crafted and used by the ancestors of today’s Arabs, in 4000BC Mesopotamia.
Quite unfortunately, all these advances have never been and assimilated into Arab society, or put to use for it’s progress. It was more like an idle interest or leisure-time hobby, with laid-back onlookers expressing mild interest, like,” Look, Al-Khwarizmi just calculated a number to the power of three. Interesting, isn’t it? Poor fella, doesn’t have anything better to do, I guess. Heard his wife left him. With all that mumbling of Xs to the power of Ys, little wonder.”
In terms of brutality, repression and injustice, the 21st century Arab world is unparalleled. Take the example of the Saudi activist, Raif Badawi, who has been sentenced to 1000 lashes for showing the guts to blog about the ills of the Arab world and more specifically, the glaring hypocrisy of the Saudi establishment. The sentence is currently being carried out at the rate of 50 lashes per week.
We are looking at 20 continuous weeks of flesh splitting whipping. The irony is that, as per Saudi law, the convicted man has got to be medically examined after every batch of 50 smacks and the next 50 shall be administered only after the medical examiner certifies that the wounds from the earlier 50 lashes have healed sufficiently, the purpose of the punishment being simply to maim and not to kill.
Allowing for periods of convalescence, which are expected to grow longer and longer as the lashes continue, the execution of the sentence is expected to play out for a year in the least. All supposedly in the name of Allah ‘the most merciful’. If this is being most merciful, leave alone the fact that the poor fellow hasn’t even committed any crime and on the contrary, has shown rare courage, I shudder to think of what being unmerciful would look like. If there is really is such a thing as hell, then I wonder if this isn’t it’s address.
This is the same Saudi Arabia where one person is publicly executed by stoning or beheading every three days. Death by stoning is an unimaginably primitive and cruel mode of killing. The stones hurled are fist-sized and they smash into the convicted person from all directions. His hands are usually tied behind his back and therefore he cannot reach up and try to protect his face, his eyes and his head. Can anyone imagine how excruciatingly painful and slow a death by stoning can be? Isn’t making a guilty person simply die punishment enough? Is it necessary to be so brutal? Or will the dead person somehow manage to think,”Ahh, craps! I should have been nicer, then maybe they would have just shot me in the head.”
This is the same Saudi Arabia that both, Britain and America are so fawning in their praise for. And why not? Ultimately being righteous has got to be secondary to dollars and dimes, no? Saudi Arabia is the biggest single buyer of military hardware on earth, for both these nations. Whole departments, manned by hundreds of civil servants at the US State Department & the DOD, as well as the Britain’s Ministry of Defense are virtually bankrolled by the Saudis, while over $4 billion worth of arms exchange hands every year. That’s why you will hear glowing tributes to the dead Saudi King Abdullah, by Fox News’s most rabidly right-wing anchor.
It is not as if there has not been any dissent in the Arab world before. In the 1980s, a popular protest against Algeria’s entitled oligarchy slowly turned into a slug-fest between the corrupt rulers and the Islamic jihadists and left 200,000 dead. The Islamists were defeated but not eradicated. With billions of petro-dollars pouring in, the Algerian establishment simply bought the Islamic fanatics off. The nation’s citizens remained mute spectators and the oligarchy once again controlled the functioning of the state, the management of the oil money and the army. As for the Islamic radicals, they found a cause and support in the ongoing repression.
Egypt 2011 – Repressed for decades, the anger burst like a cloudburst. Rioting youths flooded city streets. Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a joint that was once unknown to most of the world, just as we couldn’t point out Beijing’s Tienanmen Square on a map prior to 1989. Suddenly Tahrir Square began to look like we had all been there multiple times. As the protests threatened to bring down Hosni Mubarak’s government, the shaken regime hastily granted concessions – freer speech, an end to one-party rule, real elections. They didn’t believe in Mubarak anymore. The protests went on.
Then history, Algerian history, repeated itself, this time in Egypt. The Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood, surged to victory in the first free elections in Egyptian history and then, the army stepped in, provoking a bloody struggle that lasted till the people acquiesced, in despair and fatigue, to a government that was almost a mirror image in ideology, tyranny and even personnel, to that which they had revolted against in the first place.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Oman, countries whose streets are paved with gold, with shopping malls that could make any in the west pale into insignificance, have managed to evade their own ‘springs’ by similarly paying off the murderously fanatical Wahabi Mullahs, keeping them quiet and happy by beheading and stoning to death folk who not only don’t deserve to die that way but they don’t even deserve to be punished under any law inside any democratic environment.
As to being born an Arab woman, it is a curse. Today, Islam is being used in most Arab nations not to emancipate but to entrench inequality. We have the Taliban and its almost messianic zeal in subjugating the women of Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where a woman cannot work, cannot go out on her own and cannot drive. Then there are Kuwait, Yemen, Qatar and Iran, where women are seen out on the streets dressed in black or dark grey, shuffling along looking like penguins.
And yet Islam did not begin that way. The Prophet Muhammad was intent from the start, on setting the right examples on every facet of life, as he believed Allah had directed him to. There was this woman, an Egyptian Coptic Christian slave by the name of Mariyah Bint Shamun. She had come to the Prophet as a gift, presented by the Archbishop of Alexandria.
To be fair to the Prophet, there is nothing in history to suggest that, after having received her as a gift, he treated the woman as a slave. On the contrary, most historians agree that the Prophet held all women in high regard.
Maryah was, however, forced to live separately in far more humble surroundings, away from the mosque in the compound of which, the prophet’s twelve other wives were housed. She nevertheless managed to do what the other twelve had not been able to – give him a son and successor. Prophet Mohammad named the newborn Ibrahim, after the first of the three biblical patriarchs, whom the Christians call Abraham and the Jews, Abram.
The birth of a son didn’t go down well with the prophet’s other wives. They were a pampered bunch of women, to whom the Prophet had granted many liberties. This, in a society where women were regarded as nothing better than slaves (and still are, in some parts of the Arab world). He allowed them to speak their minds and sometimes even criticize the Prophet himself, and quite harshly too. They would get so cantankerous that he frequently retreated inside a shell, avoiding them in order to discourage their abuse of his compassion. When Mariyah gave birth to Ibrahim, they were incensed. They lost all the composure and self-control which Muhammad had for years been trying to instill into them.
One day, with the pride of a new parent, the Prophet cradled his son in his arms and walked into one of his wives, Aysha’s quarters. Aysha was at that time, something akin to the flavor of the month. The Prophet would spend more of his time with her than with all the others put together. He eagerly tried to show her how much the baby resembled him. Aysha looked at the baby and said that she saw no resemblance at all.
When the Prophet observed how much the child had grown, Aysha responded waspishly that any child given the amount of milk which Ibrahim was getting would grow just as big and strong as he had. The birth of Ibrahim caused so much resentment in the wives of the Prophet that it is said to have left an imprint on not only the life of Muhammad but even the history of Islam.
All through this internecine rivalry that at times turned ugly, Muhammad made it a point to treat all his wives with the greatest regard and understanding. It is ironic that, in a culture where women are treated even today as less than human, their Prophet showed such respect and restraint toward women.
Obviously Prophet Muhammad’s purpose in showing women so much respect, was to set an example among his followers, of how women should be treated. In fact, Prophet Muhammad could easily have been the world’s first feminist. Sadly, the emancipation that he began, by leading from the front on issues related to the welfare of women, is still something of a work-in-progress in the Arab world today.
For a while after he gained ascendancy, the status of Arabian women improved greatly, thanks to the doctrine he laid out as the revealed word of God. And now? Don’t even ask.
Perhaps greater in depth than Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery throughout the American mainland, the Prophet decreed that henceforth the burying alive of female newborns, practiced by the pagan society of the day, was prohibited. He didn’t stop there. Women could no longer be treated as possessions, he proclaimed. On a roll now, he went even further, making the education of girls a sacred duty.
If there is any Arabic term for ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet’, Prophet Mohammad must have said it, since he was still not done. Henceforth, all women would have an equal right to inherit or own property and thereby ensure their social security, he said. And here’s this – the Prophet even decreed that sexual satisfaction and the choice whether a woman was willing to engage in sex was a wife’s entitlement, as much as it was her husband’s.
At home, as well as in the mosque, the Prophet was a liberal. He darned his own garments and had among his wives and concubines, a trader, a warrior, a leather worker and an imam.
Surprised? I won’t be surprised if you were. Today’s Islam bears little or no resemblance to the 7th century Islam that Prophet Muhammad envisaged. The Islam of today is a burning example of the fact that reforms carried out in ancient times do not necessarily ensure their sustenance, fourteen hundred years later. They are more like one of the many flashes in the pan.
Overall, Islam has been let down – by it’s own chosen ones. How could things have gone so horribly wrong?