Attempts to explain the Arab world's increasingly radicalized religion, obsessive hatred of Jews, love affair with "martyrdom" and pervasive authoritarianism have caused analysts both Western and Arab to blame the problems on everything from poverty to Israeli oppression to the corrupting influences of American pop culture.
But a new analysis of the root causes of Arab angst, offered this week by a former prime minister of Libya, is startling – even revolutionary – in its candor.
Advertisement - story continues below
Writing in Thursday's edition of the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, former Libyan Prime Minister Abd Al-Hamid Al-Bakkoush called for reform in the Arab world along the most fundamental lines possible. Translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, an independent, non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East, Al-Bakkoush wrote:
- History shows us that problems and crises are a matter of routine for peoples and nations ... and that life is nothing but a series of problems and solutions.
But while the nations of Western civilization ... deal with their problems one by one, and while we monitor their ceaseless efforts to come up with solutions and remove the obstacles blocking their progress while unhesitatingly exposing their flaws and problems – we, [always], continue to distort our problems and hide our flaws.
What we saw in the West could have opened our eyes regarding one truth – that they progress because they expose their [own] flaws. ... This could have made us sense the importance of exposing flaws, and convinced us that it is impossible to take care of [a problem] unless it is exposed.
But this has had no effect whatsoever on our way of thought. ... Our positions regarding the facts of our lives remain unchanged. Furthermore, we continue to convince ourselves that those who progress are merely nations full of problems and flaws. We have always acted as if our problems and flaws do not exist as long as we can hide them behind the smokescreen of memories of [ancient Arab-Islamic] civilization with its lofty values, of which all that remains are sermons in the mosques and media products.
Thus, we have become a nation dwelling at the foothills of heaps of remnants of the past, taking pride in its ability to ignore its flaws and deceive itself about its crises. ... We have become a nation that celebrates helplessness, exults in victory in time of defeat, marks achievements at times of failure, and takes pride in its ability to hide its defects by arguing perfection ...
A nation that does not expose its flaws to itself, as those who progress do, will never be able to deal with its ills. Hiding failures and presenting them as achievements, [and] denying defeats and presenting them as victories, will only lead us to more hardship and disaster.
Likewise, a nation that ... gives precedence to preoccupation with the "other" will reap only crises.
... All the movements calling for Arab [unity] in our era thought this could be accomplished by "mobilizing [supportive] throats" and memorizing slogans while ignoring that [Arab unity] is a project difficult to actualize as long as there is no free individual with the right to vote. Thus, calls for unity remain part of the "revolutionary" activity, and they fill our ears while preventing us from expressing an opinion - even about electing a neighborhood mukhtar or a tribal sheikh.
In the absence of individual rights, talk of unity is an illusion – an attempt to cross the river before we have built the bridges.
We think we can reach the finish line without actually running the race. This has impelled us, and still impels us, to quarrel with the U.S., which we think is our rival. Accordingly, we have mobilized all the energies of rage to punish it without engaging in achieving the capability that will allow us to match this superpower – exactly as we did, and still do, with regard to the state of the Jews.
Have we not been quarrelling with Israel for 50 years or more, with burning tongues and throats of fire? [We do this] without considering that what we are doing is, in effect, [preoccupation] with the "other," and that it would be better for us to persevere in, first of all, dealing with our [own] flaws and defects and trying to obtain the capabilities that will make us an equal rival, capable of confronting [Israel].
We are a nation that strips itself of the chance to achieve [its] rights and is addicted to illusions. We beautify ourselves for ourselves, and use an unbelievable amount of powder and makeup, without considering that it is our actual facial features that need changing.
At the same time, the face of modern civilization is being distorted for us [by the Arab media], so that it seems [to us] ugly and unfit to learn and benefit from - nothing more than the culture of the hamburger, nudity, crime, and corruption ...