Everything about Kabylia
By Gerald A. Honigman
I’ve laid back since my remarks on the opening days of the newest Middle East turmoil to see how events would unfold before commenting any further.
There certainly has been an outpouring of opinion and analysis, and for good reason. There is no doubt that what is transpiring has a huge potential to have long term impacts far beyond the Middle East.
A number of people have raised the issue of Israel’s apparent double standards regarding all of this. On the one hand, it claims–for good reason–to be the only real democracy in the region, but when popular revolts erupt in the predominantly Arab/Muslim World against abusive despots, the Jews–at best–seem at a loss for words.
While some folks raising this issue indeed know why Israel is nervous but choose to simply put the Jews on the spot regardless, the question, nevertheless, is valid and so needs to be addressed. Indeed, some others have done this already, but here’s my own reading of the situation anyway…
Democracy is a wonderful idea, no doubt, and while variations in its definition can be found, equality and freedom have been closely identified as important characteristics since its origins. While ancient Greece is often touted as its birthplace, other peoples also contributed to its ideas. America’s own Liberty Bell, for example, has a quote from Leviticus 25:10 in the Hebrew scripture on it…”proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof.”
There are variations of democracy. Some provide more freedom and representation, some provide better protections for minorities, and so forth. Furthermore, very often, democracy is also interpreted to mean the rule of the majority, and–especially in some situations–such a system can lead to the oppression of others. It is these latter points which are key to understanding some of the Jews’ and others’ main concerns about the demonstrations and revolts which are now taking place in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
For all of its real human flaws (many if not most which exist as a result of having to live in a constant state of war or under fear of attack and terror since its rebirth over six decades ago), Israel is, without doubt, a democracy with few equals anywhere in the world today.
Not only does Israel grant representation, the right to vote in fair, free, and valid elections, freedom of the press, assembly, and so forth to all of its different peoples, its adherence to all of this appears, at times, to be suicidal.
There are Arabs in Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, who routinely side with Hamas–an organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Arabs at Israeli universities openly demonstrate against the country which grants them more freedom than any of their brethren have elsewhere in the region…and the Arabs know this. They panic when the issue arises of a possible land swap which might place them under Arab rule instead.
Still, like every other democracy (let alone elsewhere), there are times when Israel also misses its own self-imposed high goals. Arabs routinely go to court to challenge the authorities–and often wind up on the winning end of the disagreement in a nation with one of the most impeccable justice systems anywhere.
Enough said for now about Israel… It’s now time to shift gears and examine that which gives Jews–and other fair-minded folks–reason for pause at what is happening in Egypt and the Middle East today.
While there are some moderate Muslims (some claim them to be the silent majority), those who either profess an Arab and/or Muslim supremacy or who support those who believe this are in the forefront of most, if not all, Muslim nations today…the age-old concept of the Dar ul-Islam vs. the Dar al-Harb.
Other cultures and religions have had one variation or another of an exclusive, elitist view of themselves…that’s true. And it’s also true that that too has led to some very disturbing problems in the past. The road to Auschwitz, for example, was carefully paved over the millennia by earlier and consistent Christian religious teachings about perfidious, sons-of the devil, G_d-killing Jews.
While some of those earlier views and problems still exist, the fact remains that in far too many places and circumstances today, the people who are being victimized –to one degree or another–by such exclusivity and elitism are those living in the “Arab” /Muslim world.
Pick your example. There are far too many to list in this essay, but a few should make the point….
Recently, a referendum for the freedom of the south occurred in the Sudan. It took literally millions of dead, enslaved, and refugee black Africans to finally bring this about…and it’s still not a done deal yet.
Their crime? They were non-Arabs, not sufficiently Arabized enough, and/ or non-Muslim blacks who wanted freedom from the subjugation of the Arab north of the country. Now, keep in mind that the problem of Darfur, in the western region, is not addressed here. The slaughter and subjugation of its Muslim–but black, non-Arab (or Arabized enough)–people still has no end in sight.
While the Sudan has not had a democracy, no amount of protests or revolts by Arabs against one Arab regime or another will change the attitude of the Arab majority towards those whom they typically call ‘abid (slaves)–the blacks…So much for the idea of majority rule–and the reason why the south needs independence. This has been happening, by the way (and just considering modern times) for over a half century now in the nation just south of Egypt.
Since we’re discussing North Africa, how can the plight of tens of millions of other native, but non-Arab, people not be considered in this essay about democracy in the region? Actually, their plight has been too often ignored–even by most of the experts in academia and the State Department (and not by accident, either). Arabs and Islamists have had their way here too.
Native Amazigh and Kabyle culture and language have been suppressed and frequently outlawed, to the point where parents are forced to name their own children with Arab and “good” Islamic names, instead of their own. The “Berbers” resisted the Arab Jihadi conquests for centuries and are still murdered today when they protest against their Arab subjugators too loudly.
How will democracy change things for these people when an Arab majority, with its non-egalitarian elitist ruler and ruled mindset, still prevails?
This is not to say that grievances of the Arab people–all over the region– should not be addressed and are not valid.
But it is to say that the mere fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabs–who suffer under the type of rulers that their own culture specializes in producing–demonstrate against their own regimes does not erase the fact that there will still be much to worry about by non-Arabs even when Arab despots, medieval potentates, or other autocrats are toppled.
A few more examples are in order, given the realties which exist, regarding what can be expected if alleged “democratic” forces win the day in Egypt right now.
Before moving into Egypt itself, the plight of some 35 million native, stateless Kurds must also be addressed.
While I’ve written about these people often, it is worth repeating (especially to those demanding a 22nd Arab state by forcing the Jews to place the tiny, resurrected one they have in grave danger), that the Arab majority has routinely employed the same genocidal policies towards Kurds, who (like the others below) pre-date them in the land, as they have used against blacks or Berbers in Africa. And it is very doubtful that the fledgling, multi-ethnic democracy created as a result of America’s overthrow of Saddam in Iraq will survive America’s exit. The name of Ismet Cherif Vanly’s book about that other Arab country next door says it all…The Syrian Mein Kampf Against The Kurds.
How will valid grievances and aspirations Arabs have for a better life for themselves change the oppressive attitudes of Arabs in Kurdistan?
While more examples of this Arab “democracy problem” exist (like how Arabs have dealt with native, non-Arab, Assyro-Chaldeans; Semitic, but pre-Arab conquest, Lebanese; and so forth), it’s time to shift focus to Egypt itself. My choice throughout this essay has been to not simply rehash what many have already read elsewhere. The same goes for below.
While there are Berbers in the west, black Nubians in the south, and once upon a time Egypt had a substantial population of native Jews, the Copts are by far the largest non-Arab population in the land. They are the native people, descendants of the Pharaohs, who, after being subjected to the rule of the hated Byzantines, were conquered in the 7th century C. E. jihad as Arabs burst out of the Arabian Peninsula and spread in all directions.
Today, there are somewhere between twelve and fifteen million Copts in Egypt–depending upon whose numbers you use. As Christians, they, with the Jews, were tolerated, to a degree, as “People of the Book” as long as certain rules of the conquering Arab Muslim road were adhered to. The latter have been referred to as dhimmitude.
The best approach for the Copts over the centuries has been to keep a low profile, pay the special taxes, prove usefulness, quietly accept subservient status, and find ways to ingratiate and prove loyalty to the Arab majority and its rulers. The late President Sadat’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, perhaps best summed this up when he instructed the visiting Israeli author, Amos Elon, that for Israel to be “accepted,” it too must consent to being Arabized.
In other words, Copts have existed in Egyptian Arab society by turning themselves into a sub-nation of Uncle Tom Uncle Boutroses… For non-Americans, please look up what “Uncle Tom” refers to–in case you can’t figure it out. And, as we recently witnessed early this year, this didn’t guarantee that the next slaughter of your people or burned down church was not just a day away…
Now, returning to the opening remarks in this essay, the problems of such a prospective Egyptian democracy are even more complicated…
Copts don’t need Arab Muslims to teach them how to hate Jews.
Their own faith has taught them to hate the G_d-killers for centuries before Muhammad ever entered into the picture. Listening to the Copts’ Pope, Shenouda III, is like hearing a speech from the best Western anti-Semites have to offer. Copts have thus had more than one reason to join their own abusive Arab neighbors in their mutual antagonism of the Jew.
So, as usual, the Jews are in an even more precarious situation…
Many others have written analyses about the explosive events of the last few weeks. And some have raised the question about what such a democracy in Egypt (or almost anywhere else in that region, with the exception of Israel) would look like given the fact that all of the institutions to build tolerance, the acceptance of diversity, build an egalitarian society, and such hardly exists anywhere in that part of the world.
Others have pointed to Gaza as an example of what Israel can expect from democracy–the triumph of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many have also used recent polls which show that if Mubarak were gone tomorrow, the majority of Arabs would prefer a more Islamic regime, etc. and so forth. Pictures have been making the news with President Mubarak’s face with a Star of David painted over it.
The irony here is that Mubarak has permitted constant, vile anti-Semitism–let alone anti-Zionism–to be spewed forth over all of the media outlets in his country, continuing to poison the minds of generations to come. This is exactly what the alleged “moderates” of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah do as well, along with the Hamasniks, and practically every other Arab faction and ruler. Yes, there are voices of moderation–but they are very much isolated and wield no power.
While there is still much to be said, this essay is already too long–so I will end it. But the prospects of Egypt, with the most powerful army (thanks to America) in the “Arab” world, being turned into one giant Gaza–as well as a good buddy of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs in Iran–is now a very real possibility.
The freedom, equality, and tolerance characteristics–so important to what democracy has come to stand for and mean in the West–sadly do not have fertile ground in the Arab/Muslim world. This does not mean that we should not strive to encourage those things there–even if we have mostly ignored them so far. But it does mean that those who question Israel’s nervousness about such a “democracy” emerging in Egypt, given the realities at hand, only reveal their own ignorance or bias against the Jewish State.