In Seach of an Alternative…

Iraq is in chaos, with no end to the war in sight. Palestine, or rather what are now called the Palestinian territories, have been divided into Fatah and Hamas controlled areas. Lebanon, a year after last summer’s war, is politically, economically and socially weakened. Syria, accused of supporting terrorists and purchasing Russian made anti-aircraft missiles, is under the threat of a possible attack from Israel and/or America. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf states have signed an arms deal with the US worth twenty billion dollars. A look at the state of affairs across the Middle East necessitates the asking of certain questions, namely how we, as Arab nations, have ended up in this situation and how on earth we are meant to get out of it.

“Write down, I am an Arab!” wrote Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in 1963, a sentiment held by many Arabs around this time. There was a sense of unity, an Arab Awakening, as millions stood up and insisted that they were Arabs before anything else. However, since then, this sentiment has gradually faded and instead has been replaced by a much more religious identity. There is an array of key events that we could maintain influenced this shift, such as the 1967 war, the 1973 war, the Iranian revolution, the use of Afghani fighters in the toppling of the Soviet Union, the Iran/Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war, the first Intifada, the first Gulf war, the second Intifada and now of course the ongoing second Iraq war. Yet, although each of these events left us in a more precarious position, they cannot be solely blamed for the weakening of this sense of unity among the Arabs.

There is an inescapable correlation between the state we are in today, as a fundamentally divided Middle East, and the excessive religiosity of it and our view of our own history. Nietzsche, in On the Use and Abuse of History for Life distinguishes between three types of history, each of which, if used excessively or in the wrong way, proves to be suppressive and destructive. However if used in unison and in balance with one another, history then proves to be productive and beneficial to the present. History must serve life; life should not simply be a tool to promote a history.

The first type of history is monumental history, the history of momentous events. Unfortunately, we often cling too strongly to these events, blinding ourselves from the possibilities of our own present. Instead, monumental history should be used to instil in us a faith in humanity, for “the greatest moments in the struggle of single individuals make up a chain, in which a range of mountains of humanity are joined over thousands of years.”[1]

 Antiquarian history signifies a love of the past, which may be considered something that preserves our traditions and cultures. However all too often this love of the past is used to define how we should live, what we should think and essentially who we should be — today.

“The Arabs find themselves – in spite of all the changes of the last fourteen centuries – moving on a stage where history is repeating itself with just one objective: the continual actualization of the past.”[2]

From too young an age, we are taught that the peak of our existence as Arabs has passed, such as the time of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), the Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire. We were once great, now we merely exist in our own shadows. We are taught to rarely question, to do as we are told according to our flawed preconceptions of our own cultures and religions.

Most importantly however is a critical history, where we should be able to critically examine the past and shatter our preconceived ideas of it in order to truly live in the present, unhistorically. Regrettably, we have failed to critically examine our own history, and as Nietzsche stresses it is only through destruction, as it were, that creativity is truly possible. Consequently it is only when we can use these three methods of history in the right manner and proportion that we can truly live unhistorically and thus successfully exercise our creativity.

Nietzsche also emphasises the importance of the youth – for whom the historical sense is perhaps the least dominant – if there is to be any hope for the future. It is in light of their importance that history is so often misused against them in order to “uproot the strongest instincts of youth, fire, defiance, forgetting of the self, to dampen down the heat of their sense of right and wrong, to hold back or repress the desire to mature slowly with the contrary desire to be finished quickly, to be useful and productive, to infect the honesty and boldness of the feelings with doubts. Indeed, history is itself capable of deceiving the young about their most beautiful privilege, about their power to cultivate in themselves with complete conviction a great idea and to allow an even greater idea to grow forth out of it.”[3]

Therefore it is up to us, as Arab youth to ensure and continue to develop an even more outstanding time of creativity. We must know where we have come from, but have no irrational loyalty to the past, crippling us from being able to critically examine the errors of our past. We must not allow any of the corrupt governments, whatever their motive or incentive, to suppress our thoughts and our voices. It is through art, film, poetry and the creation of an alternative media that we can express ourselves and get our message out there. After all, our creative expression is all we have if we truly want to be free. “When you are free, you have to face reality, the world in its entirety. You have to deal with the world’s problems, with everything…. On the other hand, if we are slaves, we can be content and not have to deal with anything. Just as Allah solves all our problems, the dictator will solve all our problems.”[4]

[1]  Nietzsche, F. (1874) Untimely Meditations: On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.

[2]  Adonis. (2003) An Introduction to Arab Poetics. Saqi Books; London.  pp. 78-9. 

[3]  Nietzsche, F. (1874) Untimely Meditations: On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.

[4]   Interview with Adonis (Ali Akbar Said),Syrian Poet.

5 Responses to “In Seach of an Alternative…”

  1. Tamara, thanks for stopping by and I’m thrilled to discover your blog – which I find very interesting. I think you’re article has drawn some interesting parallels between Nietzsche’s idea of history and how we as Arabs see that. I haven’t read his book, but so far I share a lot of his sentiments in that we tend to live in the past and tie our own hands. I’m not sure what you’re opinion on the situation in the Arab world is exactly, but I would guess from your comments that the situation is bleak.

    All I will say is I don’t share that particular view and I don’t think the United States is a superpower anymore. The Arabs are stronger than you and I think. Nietzsche once said that “horrible things will be done” in his name. Iraq is awful, so is what is happening in Gaza and what happened in Lebanon. Yet out of this, and in a quite macabre manner, something is emerging out of this wreckage which he might recognise.

    Nobody is saying anything, but if you look closely at the news from various outlets, you will notice the United States is defeated everywhere and Israel is in a very bad way.

  2. ahh wassim.. buddy.. how the heck would you know.. if anything life here is disproportionately blissful..

    im constantly trying to remind people that we are at war so i can convince them that peace can be even better..

    u have no idea how great life is in israel right now for the most part..

  3. having said that it is a great article with some great thought.. well done..

    rather than extracting the adversarial lessons based on zero sum game theory like our friend – i hope you can see beyond..

  4. Hi Wassim,

    I don’t necessarily see the situation in the Arab world as bleak, instead I would say that it is in need of a great deal more thought. And it is for that reason that I beleive Nietzsche’s work as well as other philosophers (especially Heidegger and Foucault) are so important.

    I know, whole heartedly, how strong Arabs are, and that is my fustration, that I see so much potential, but the political situation, internationally and nationally, makes it almost impossible for people to move forward.

    And yes I would agree with you that the power that the US and Israel possess is greatly diminishing. Unfortunately, I do not see that as any less dangerous. Maybe even more so, considering their desperation to remain powerful and dominant.

  5. Lirun,

    I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about.

    But as for the ‘blissful’ existence you say is prevelant in Israel, If that is indeed true, I am happy to hear that. I only wish then that 1) the mainstream media would stop spreading ideas to the contrary, 2) that Israel would stop justifying their aggression in the name of Israel’s security and peace and 3) and most importantly, that the Palestinians too could have such a ‘disproportionately blissful’ existence.

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