by Gerald A. Honigman
Decades ago, while engaged in undergraduate and graduate work in Middle Eastern Affairs and related studies, the only way I learned of the struggles of scores of millions of non-Arab peoples in the region occurred solely via my own initiative. Of all the hundreds of books in my library, hardly a jot or tittle on such subjects. And even when, on rare occasion, you might find mention of some of these folks in a book, a discussion on the subject never made it into the classroom.
In just one of many examples, only by becoming a member of the London-based Anti-Slavery Society did I learn of problems black Africans faced regarding genocidal and 20th century slave trading Arab tormentors. The struggles of the Anya Nya and other black Africans in the south of the Sudan and elsewhere were in full bloom, yet one would never know anything at all about this stuff if the academic syllabus and classroom were the sources of information. If Israel was not the alleged villain, the problem was left untouched in far too many classrooms.
While I would frequently be exposed to such things as alleged Zionist fascism, racism, colonialism, imperialism, and dozens of other Hebrew sins, barely a word was ever spoken about the subjugation (largely by Arabs, but also by others such as Turks and Iranians as well) and plight of folks like Kurds, Imazighen (“Berbers”), Copts, Assyrians, native Jews, and so forth. And when mention of such non-Arab people was made, it was about such things as Berber rugs or musicians. To learn of Kurds back then, the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme provided more information than academia…and those were the wrong curds.
Now, keep in mind that this was especially odd because the sixties and seventies were very socially conscious eras in history. But, I was young and naïve and so gave the situation the benefit of the doubt.
I know better now.
The situation was indeed nauseatingly shameful and still remains so in far too many places where one set of lenses is routinely used in the scrutiny of an admittedly imperfect Israel in the classroom, assorted media, United Nations, State Department, and so forth, and a far different set–if any at all–is used when dealing with the so-called “Arab” world.
It turns out that while masses of students were being exposed to the real and imaginary flaws of Jewish nationalism–Zionism–in the attempt by Jews to finally cast off their perpetual victim and scapegoat existence in the resurrection of their sole, minuscule state, the far worse sins that such folks as Arabs and Turks were committing against scores of millions of other native peoples in the region were merely being swept under the rug. This was no accident, and (among other things) a check of foreign (and foreign related) sources of money funding such programs is indeed enlightening,
Worse still, while the cause of Arabs to acquire state # 22 was more often than not lionized, the suppression of such facts and issues regarding non-Arabs struggling for their own small semblance of justice in the region goes even deeper than what may already be suspected from above.
It is very likely that, right from the get-go over six decades ago, there was a trade off with the Arabs to promote the region as solely their own in return for access to oil in those lands.
The Kurds had already lost their one best shot ever at independence after World War I in such petro-political games being played by the Brits in collusion with Arab nationalism. After 1925, the oil of the Kurdish north in the Mandate of Mesopotamia was tied to a unified Arab Iraq instead of Kurdistan. Now, follow some favorite excerpts on related subject matter below…
“In Algeria, Berbers were forbidden to use their own language, Tamazight…riots erupted, reported in France but ignored elsewhere in the West…America, of course, had been sufficiently subject to ARAMCO (the Arabian American Oil Company) propaganda, a payoff to the Saudis by Big Oil, to allow the latter to produce and market Arab oil. So, ARAMCO’s message to America was that there is just an Arab world in this region in which there are no Copts, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen…and, of course, no Berbers and no Jews–they all came to Israel, you see, from Europe for everyone in this region is just Arab ( New English Review, January 17, 2008).”
So, until relatively recently, while countless volumes of print, classroom hours, United Nations sessions, State Department briefings, and so forth were devoted to the cause of the Arabs’ proposed 22nd state (and second, not first, in the original April 25, 1920 Mandate of Palestine…Jordan sits on some 80% of it since 1922), Kurds, Berbers, black Africans, Copts, and others were literally being massacred, enslaved, displaced, forcibly Arabized and such by the millions by Arabs–but with barely a word being spoken in protest by a vast assortment of practitioners of the double standard supreme.
Kurds, the Amazigh and Kabyle people (the real majority population of ” Arab” North Africa on lands that Arabs refer to merely as “purely Arab patrimony”), and others as well have had their own languages and cultures outlawed–and those who dared to protest were slaughtered or jailed. Yet, even most experts in the Ivory Tower (let alone those alleged voices of morality in the UN and elsewhere) could only act deaf, dumb, and blind to all that was going on.
Outside of academia, where have the editorials in The New York Times been regarding the plight of all of these peoples? What Quartet exists to promote “roadmaps” and such for their basic human, let alone political, rights?
When will the UN session be scheduled that will vote on independence for some 35 million truly stateless Kurds? One took place in September 2011 for the creation of the Arabs’ 22nd state.
Having said all of this, there is some good news to report…
A few years back, there was a revolt of sorts within academia itself.
The duplicity, lack of freedom of fair academic discourse, and intimidation in too many classrooms led to the formation of a new organization, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), with two shining stars at the helm, Professors Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami.
While it surfaced too late for some of us who were victimized in too many MESA-dominated classrooms, ASMEA’s emergence is a blessing indeed.
Tied together with other such organizations as Professor Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch and key studies on the problems which my own book also gets into (http://q4j-middle-east.com) like Professor Martin Kramer’s Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, students who expect that the same lenses of academic scrutiny will be applied to the “Arab” world as are routinely used to only study Israel with can breathe a bit easier today. While the duplicity and intimidation still exist in too many classrooms, there are now more ways to fight such nastiness and more alternatives available.
And that brings us up to current news…
With all that’s been happening in Libya since the arrival of the “Arab Spring,” it’s time to introduce, yet again, another favorite quote–this one from MEMRI on May 3, 2007.
Follow Belkacem Lounes of the World Amazigh Congress as he responded to Libya’s Mu’ammar Qaddafi’s denial of the very existence of the Amazigh people, the “Berbers”…
“The people of whom you speak…speak their own Amazigh language daily…every day live their Amazigh identity…What worse offense to elementary rights is there than denying the existence of a people…30 million in North Africa? You menace the Amazigh, warning that whosoever asserts his identity will be a traitor… There is no worse colonialism than internal colonialism–that of the Pan-Arabist claim that seeks to dominate our people. It is surely Arabism–an imperialist ideology that refuses diversity–that constitutes an offense to history and truth…”
Now, recent reports state that the Imazighen have joined in the revolt against Qaddafi’s rule.
The big question thus involves whether Qaddafi’s Arab successors will be any different when it comes to granting rights and true freedoms to all of Libya’s people than Qaddafi or any of the other Arab conquerors have ever been, or if the Amazigh people can simply expect more of the same murderous subjugation that they have been exposed to courtesy of the Arabs for centuries?
Keep in mind that the likely Islamist groups who will actually come to succeed Qaddafi are not especially known for tolerance. Ditto for the folks likely to take over in Egypt this fall after the ouster, months earlier, of President Mubarak. Ask Egypt’s native, twelve million or more non-Arab, pre-Arab Copts how they’re feeling these days with Hamas’s older siblings, the Muslim Brotherhood, set to win the Egyptian elections. Stop by a local Coptic Church for a chat. I did…several times. Many Copts have fled such Muslim “tolerance” in the past–and many more will certainly be joining that diaspora shortly.
As a footnote of sorts, there is some good news to report related to this subject…
Another subjugated, non-Arab people finally gained political rights in this general region when the blacks of South Sudan finally gained independence from the Arab/Arabized north. The bad news is that it took the lives of literally millions over the past six decades (and many more prior to that) before that independence was finally achieved this past July. And the black Nuba in the north and the blacks in the western Darfur region of the country still have no light at the end of their own nightmarish tunnels.
As with the Berbers in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa, if Assad should fall in Syria, will the Kurds have it any better given the reluctance of the West (especially the Obama Administration) to oppose Assad in the first place–especially considering the support such folks are giving to Islamist groups in Syria as well?
Disturbing accounts are coming in which state that more inclusive, democratic forces (such as theKurds) opposing Assad are actually being left out of future plans that the State Department has for a post-Assad Syria.Think about that long and hard…and then consider the need for a strong executive occupying the White House independent of the State Department’s Arabists–like President Reagan, for example.
Finally, while much attention has been focused upon such things as Arab rights, the creation of a 22nd Arab state, and on the Arab Spring (which may very well wind up exploding in many of our faces), is it not time for the world to enable such things as a Kurdish or Berber autumn–allowing some other folks in that region a small slice of the justice pie too?