Fighting the Ghosts of the Arab World

By Reem Mohammed Al-Faisal
Published in the Arab News: May 14, 2004

The new millennium has given rise to a new kind of war. It is neither territorial nor economic nor religious: It is a war of ideas. Nations no longer need to occupy a place in order to control it. If you control how a people think you control their wealth and land.

Osama Bin Laden didn’t attack America believing he would defeat it militarily. He wanted to set off a series of events which will lead ultimately to the Arabs rejecting the vision which America represented. Ironically the US’ intentions at that moment in history coincided with Osama’s. America had decided to impose its civilization on the world, if need be by force, beginning with the reshaping of the Middle East in its own image. If you think American, you are American. The reason it started with the Middle East is very simple: That region today is the weakest link socially, economically and politically.

However, when Bin Laden hit the World Trade Center he could never in his wildest dreams have imagined the cataclysmic events he would set off. If he wanted to win the hearts of the Muslims by playing the rebel underdog who dared to stand up to the bully of the neighborhood, he surely didn’t expect America to follow the script he had written for it. Never had America been more loved and admired than after the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, 2001. Never was the world more willing to do whatever America asked of it.

So, what went wrong? When did America accept the role in the scenario Bin Laden had written for it and why? America, as the world had come to admire it in the second half of last century, suddenly ceased to exist. It threw all the international alliances it had been building for decades to the wind, turning on friend and foe alike.

We watched in horror as the only superpower left today was taken over by collective paranoia. It began to lie, fabricate evidence and use underhanded methods to force the world to follow it without question into insanity, which reached its climax with the invasion of Iraq. Now, the most gruesome act of America’s tragedy has been played out: “The Torture Chamber.” With the publication of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners bound, hooded and forced to assume sexually degrading positions, America has reached a new low in world opinion.

Sadly the US is not the only one torturing Arab prisoners. It is common practice in many Arab countries, and no one in the Arab world ever broached the subject, not the intellectuals, not the media. Yes, there have been over the years feeble attempts to draw attention to the rights of prisoners, but never anything truly forceful. If the Americans are not to be forgiven for their abuse of the Iraqis, how should we treat Arabs who abuse Arabs? Most likely nothing will happen. The reason Arabs have accepted so much abuse and humiliation from their own for so long is that they really hold themselves in contempt. Yes, we Arabs despise ourselves, and that is why we have let go of our rights one by one until American kids could play sordid games with us in our prisons. There’s a proverb that says he who degrades himself is degraded by others, and here lies the greatest tragedy of America in the region. The US is not really the worst colonizer the Arab world has seen, but it is the last and thereby has inherited the sins of the fathers.

America by its recent actions in the region has exhumed the spirit of colonialist past, it has awakened in us all the suppressed emotions of anger, indignation and self-loathing which we had shut away in the darkest corners of our soul. So the Americans in Iraq are not fighting only Iraqis; they are fighting the ghosts of the Arab world. These armies of ghosts are the five centuries of Arab fossilization, two centuries at least of colonialism and decades of failed political and social revolutions.

Now America is facing these legions of ghosts and it has no way of defeating them. Ghosts never die or tire or fade away but sleep in the shadows until someone or something awakens them.

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