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Martin

Kramer

ArabNationalism: Mistaken

Identity

THREE

LINESOF POETRY PLOT THE TRAJECTORY of Arab

national

consciousness.

famous

ode

of

"Awake,

Ibrahim

O

al-Yaziji,

Arabs,

and

penned

arise!"

in 1868

begins

the

in Lebanon.1

George Antonius

book,

Arab

The

desire

am

am an Arab!"

an Arab!"

Arab

for

deployed

Awakening,1

independence

begins

the

the line as the epigraph of his influential

as

the

first

utterance

from

Ottoman

 

rule.

of

resistance

by

the

of

a

nascent

"Write

down,

Palestinian

poet

I

poem

Mahmoud Darwish, written in 1963 to assert an Arab identity

immediately entered the

denied by Israel and theWest.3

The poem

Arab

of

nationalist

schoolchildren.

canon,

In

to

the

be

century

recited

from memory

that

separated

by

a generation

these

two

lines,

millions

the world

of

people

and

one

gradually

another

awakened

that

they

and

should

arose,

insisting

be written

before

down

as

Arabs.

"Are

written

we

Arabs

one

big

lie?"

This

in themidst

of the latest Gulf

line

ends

a poem

of

anguish

crisis by Nizar

Qabbani,

the

most

widely

read

contemporary

Arab

poet

and

had

defiance;

gone

wrong

they

half of Europe

to

were

sustain

replaced

exclamation

points

by

a

question

mark

and a Superpower

had admitted

most

of

this

century,

the Arabs

could

not

suppress

critic.4

Too

of

awakening

of

doubt.

much

and

Once

to

living a lie for

their

own

doubt

any longer. Their god had also failed, spectacularly

so. It had been

called

Arabism,

time Qabbani

or Arab

nationalism,

posed

his question,

or

pan-Arabism,

and

by

the

it had been

in full retreat for a

generation.

Martin

African

Kramer

Studies

is Associate

at

Tel

Aviv

Director

of

University.

the Moshe

Day

an

Center

for Middle

Eastern

and

171

172

At

Martin

Kramer

Arabs

openly

present,

and

Those

themselves

At

many

now

have

suspended

whether

up

by

Islamic

as Muslims,

has

turned

to

of over

be

their

there

belief

is

in

the Arab

Arab

nation,

mission.

doubt

swept

a

collective

prefer

do

recently

first

times,

label,

Other

and

Arabs

with

its own

to

activism

and

"the

known

twenty

order

the Arab

or

to

so without

think

into

and

a

of

apology.

derogatory

foremost

lexicon

plainly

flag

and

their

implying

Arabs"

incompetence,

wastefulness,

prefer

citizens

own

subservience.

each

modeled

Yet

as Egyptians,

independent

Syrians, Jordanians, Moroccans?

states,

taken

of

interests.

Easterners,

Some

in

have

even

a n t i c i p a t i o n

anticipation

of

Paris,

and

cooperation

flame

where

"pro-Arabs."

alive.

they

pan-Arabism

and

to referring

themselves

peace

A

often

and

few

as Middle

an Arab-Israeli

they

on

a new

intellectuals

regional

keep

Europe.

are most

dwindling

they

abroad,

quarreled

in London

command

For

audiences

have

of Third

over

Worldists

whether

a decade

Arab

nationalism

of

are

simply

in remission

persists.

or beyond

It has

all

resuscitation.

for

as

long

A sense

the Arabs

to

"Arabness"

still

existed

as

have walked

by

every

generation,

the stage of history,

of

triumph

and

generation

this

loyalty

of

sense

to

liberal

the

prospect

nationalism

can

doubtless

done.

Arab

disappear

the

prospects

of

one

and

of

for

of

nearly

and it has been subject

a millennium

must

and

come

a

to

a burgeoning

ascendancy

All

of

of

were

this

negotiation

In

this

half.

market

"Arabness"

terms with

Islam,

the growth

the

global

capitalism,

to

Arab

"Arabness"

always

may

whatever

well

point

represents

birth,

rise,

deserves

debate

separate

as

Arab

democracy,

states,

the

of

it

peace

with

evolved

Israel.

most

creation

impact.

anathema

century.

as

it has

century,

But

this

over

the new

accommodate

challenges,

of

this

to

the

nationalism,

altogether

Arab

a modern

under

their

nationalism,

remarkable

modern

not

any

it has

instability

a

time

of

when

in

the

domain

its history

of

the most

of

for

was

instances

nationalism.

been

invoked

identity

Arab

comparative

rapid

history

broader

decline

telling,

growing

the

There

some

That

in

the

a new

over

century.

of

later

as well.

that marks

nationalism

study

of

the

end

of

this

did

enjoy

a place

nationalism,

but

was

perhaps

just

first

comparative

attempted

world

wars

despite

prominence

the

it became

Arnold

Arab

of

specialists,

which

and

Hans

Kohn,

who

into

some

wider

partisans

between

the

about

nationalism

in

Toynbee

to

framework,

integrate

their

nationalism

became

own

its virtual

reservations

Arab

Nationalism:

Mistaken

Identity

173

general.

Kohn's

Arab

moral

In

a

spirit

of

mea

culpa?Toynbee's

culpa?Toynbee's

accepted

the most

of

of

the

sociological

for Zionist?they

and

as

saw

nationalism

claims,

statements

none

contradictions

for

British

policy,

extravagant

slogans

fact or

incontrovertible

of

beneath

its surface.

When

these

kept

and

the

the

Arab

contradictions

later

theorists

states

gained

independence

at

surged

arm's

to

the

length.

fore

"No

in all

brief

after World

their

War

complexity,

II,

and

summary

of

the

long

intricate history

of the Arab world

could hope

to disentangle

forces

which

have

shaped

its

states

and

peoples,"

wrote

Rupert

Emerson

itwould

including

the

effects

powers,

and

In short,

those

not

to make

losing

The

the

Arab

standards

two

in scarcely

 

exasperation.

"For

a full-scale

analysis

the whole

record

of

Arab

experience,

the

tribal,

sectarian,

and

other

divisions,

rule,

the

machinations

of

the

European

and

of

the Arab

language

and

culture."5

concealed

to evaluate

as

Islam

someone

knew

else who

Arab

knew

it better.

But

even

chose

fear

of

by

the

over

nationalism

quite

well

for

one

number

of

their

comparisons,

labyrinth.6

a

dauntingly

of

Arabic

perhaps

complex

today

a

remain

in

The

speakers

a

zone

stretching

from

the Atlantic

shores

Sea?a

region

that

extends

parallel

to

all

seaboard of

Iberia to the Urals. No

a potential

constituency

as

large,

be necessary

such matters

of

Ottoman

the

role

a

job

it the

of

for

who

pivot

reader

does

itwas

comparativists

general

of

case

Europe.

million,

to

from

nationalism

hundred

in

the Arabian

of Morocco

of Europe

European

the Atlantic

has

claimed

as

the

and

far-flung,

historical

a

thinness

or

as

fragmented.

It has

never

been

evolution

persists

of

in

political

its

study.

consciousness

easy

to document

across

this

zone,

Nor

did Arab

nationalism

originate

as

a straightforward

reaction

toWestern

Africa.

Western

imperial

Some

Arab

rule, while

rule,

peoples

of

the kind

familiar

experienced

over

elsewhere

a

century

in Asia

of

others

experienced

none

at

all. As

a result,

and

direct

Arab

nationalism

Crescent,

African

terms,

followed

the

Arabian

Each

of

times.

inspiring

distinct courses of development

peninsula,

these

zones

Variations

separate

the Nile

encountered

on Arab

valley,

classifications,

arcane

became

rivals,

in the Fertile

the North

and

coast.

theWest

nationalism

on

different

at different

even

and

of

multiplied, such as Nasserism

such

as neo

of bloodshed.

sometimes

and

Ba'thism,

Many

even more

these

subclassifications,

even

Ba'thism.

to the point

This has made

itdifficult

to generalize about Arab nationalism,

and

174

Martin

Kramer

treacherous

nationalism.

to deploy

such

generalizations

in the

larger

debate

over

It

The

is

to

purpose

attempt

in the

what

following

Emerson

pages

wished,

is not

as

to attempt

a prelude

to trace the political

towalk

trajectory of Arab

through

poets,

an idea briskly

nationalism

its historical

the

to

treacherous.

comparison:

plotted

phases,

by the

and to

characterize

its relationship

to

those

other

ideas

and

identities

that

have

unique

spread

appealed

to "the speakers of

in

of

a

It

is the

then

story

of

faltered

of

imagined

mistaken

the dad"

a nationalism

failed.

and

themselves

identity,

that sound which

is

that

arose

fitfully,

It

be Arabs

to

is

an

to

claimed

account

and

have

of

then,

been

to Arabic.

dramatically,

how

as

millions

though

people

case

someone

else

all

along.

THE

EMERGENCE

OF

ARABISM

Arabism

to Western

Empire,

peoples

years,

first

whose

since

arose

rule,

but

as

reach

the

had

early

in the nineteenth

a

century

of

the

For

not

state

of

as

a direct

of

nearly

four

reaction

Ottoman

hundred

critique

the

the Arabic-speaking

extended

sixteenth

over most

century.

these Arabic

speakers had been fully reconciled

to their role

in the

Empire.

The

domains

were

professed

Islam,

as

speaking

subjects.

embracing

all

of

language

they

Muslims

who

spoke.

seat

of

the

in Ottoman

overwhelming

Empire

evolved

sultan's

retained

administered

did

the

Their

state

the Ottoman

spoke

Arabic

God

revealed

the Qur'an

in Arabic

was

in Istanbul,

Turkish.

But

and

its vast

the Ottomans

majority

of

as

a

partnership

their

Arabic

in

Islam,

Muslim

subjects,

whatever

a pride

in

to an Arab

their

language:

prophet

in the

seventh

conquests,

century.

which

They

also

celebrated

from

carried

Islam

the

history

the Oxus

to

of

the

early

the Pyrenees.

Arab

And

they took pride in their genealogies, which linked them toArabia at the dawn of Islam. But that very fidelity to Islam bound them to

Muslims

who

genealogies,

to

of

this

the

spoke

other

languages

brought

fifteenth

to

and

prided

to

themselves

defense

on

and

other

expansion

precisely

and who

Since

the

harnessed

new

vitality

the

Islam.

vitality,

very

century,

an

Islamic

All

the Ottomans

 

showed

zeal

that

had

carried

subjects

of

the

Islam

gates

of Vienna.

the Muslim

Ottoman

house

saw

themselves

as participants

and

beneficiaries

in

Arab

Nationalism:

Mistaken

Identity

175

this

shared

Islamic

Arab

and

Turk.

enterprise,

and

they

drew

no

distinction

between

But with

the relative decline

inOttoman

power,

especially

in the

nineteenth

weaken.

The

century,

great

the

foundations

Ottoman

carpet

of

was

this

being

symbiosis

rolled

began

up

at

to

both

ends: by Europe's Great Powers,

locked in imperial rivalry, and by

the

whose

discontented

struggles

Christian

for

subjects

independence

of

took

Ottoman

rule

a

nationalist

in Europe,

form.

The

Ottomans

embarked

on

a

succession

of Westernizing

reforms

but

eventually

lost

their

Africa,

and Egypt. As

footing

in

the

Balkans,

the Empire dwindled,

the

Caucasus,

North

so did the confidence of

its

remaining

Fertile

subjects,

and

some

discontent

of

that would

even

appeared

in

the

and

as

this

two

remaining Arabic-speaking

the

the Arab

Many

provinces

surround

the

influenced

into

the Empire,

come

the

nature

to

by

have

communities

European

in Arabia

to be known

Crescent?a

"awakening."7

controversies

but

First,

it

there

Christians,

to

transform

learning.

discontent

still

and

drawn

extent

of

discontent,

sources.

speaking

worked

modern

is generally

were

much

Arabic

From

about

agreed

minority

upon

of

Arabic

who

and

century,

currents,

work

a medium

of missionary

of

the

nineteenth

the middle

their efforts did much

to kindle

interest in secular Arabic

belles

lettres,

through

adaptation

of Arabic

to

the modern

conventions

of

the

centered

press,

it did

the

novel,

did

not

for

the

this

and

the

theater.

The

Arabic

literary

revival,

in Beirut,

argue

translate

existence

had

shared

immediately

of

a secular

into Arab

Arab

the Christian

nationalism.

to which

But

Christians

By

culture, in equal measure.

minority

and Muslims

upon

supposedly

Arab

contributed

legacy,

elaborating

sought

to erode

the prejudice

of

the Muslim

majority

and

to win

for

Christians

Arabism

absorbed

competition

and

their full equality as fellow Arabs.

also

arose

from

a

second

the Arabic-speaking

Muslim

over

appointments

sinecures.

The

Ottoman

source.

Rivalries

had

always

elite, especially

government

of

those

As

in the keen

positions

over

into

for

the

more

twentieth

to Ottoman

grievances

bureaucratic

spoils

that

by

in

passed

turned

provinces

the

such

governors

occasionally

demand

autonomy

Istanbul

the

accord

of

the Arabic-speaking

their

own

affairs.

conduct

century

Ottoman

opened,

Empire

this Arabism

where

Arabic

spread

was

to

all

spoken,

the major

but

cities

it centered

of

the

upon

176

Martin

Kramer

Damascus,

where

its adherents

began

to organize.

While

the Arabism

language,

ofMuslims

differed

resembled

that of Christians

in its pride of

it

fundamentally

in its deep attachment

to Islam. It appealed

to Muslims

their

by

privileged

arguing

that

understanding

the

of

greatness

Islam.

of

The

the Arabs

resided

Arabs,

acting

in

in

the

name

of

Islam,

could

secular

associated

the Arabs

nothing

closely

had

created

this

a great

Islam

to

assertion

empire

its pristine

and

civilization,

grandeur.

genius,

and

which

reformism.

and

There

only

was

became

restore

about

with

of Arab

Islamic

apologetics

This

"Arab awakening," Christian

and Muslim,

failed to produce

a trenchant

social

criticism

or

a

truly modern

language

of

politics.

Ultimately, itwould defeat itself by its apologetic defense of tradition

of

and religion.8 But

it did go

far enough

to shake the confidence

some

Arabic

pamphleteers

subsidies)

of

Most

by

these

speakers

even

tried

publishing

appeared

Europe's

capitals

was

premature.

began

In 1907

in

the

legitimacy

of

Ottoman

to

conjure

up Ottoman

tracts

in the name

of

an

fears

"Arab

in Europe,

to debate

and

some

"the Arab

journals

question."

rule.

(and

A

few

foreign

movement."

of

opinion

in

The

debate

the English

traveler Gertrude Bell gave the

commonplace

assessment

of

these

stirrings:

Of

what

leaflets

value

that

they

are

the

issue

pan-Arabic

from

foreign

associations

and

printing

presses?

inflammatory

The

answer

is

easy:

they

are worth

nothing

is separated

at all. There

the

to

their

by

Syrian

at

be

a wider

natural

intervals

is no

gulf

from

is

other's

Sultan's

nation

of Arabs;

the

than

Syrian merchant