Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Arab Like Me Maybe, just maybe, Arabs can break out of their self-destructive hatred and envy. By Lee Habeeb
An Arab American friend of mine who works for a large NGO is a case in point. He is Jordanian, he’s well educated, and he speaks five languages. But mention the word Israel, and watch his blood boil immediately. He will go into a lengthy diatribe about the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians by Israel. When Prime Minister Netanyahu’s name is mentioned, I worry that he will have a seizure on the spot.
Why is this? Why is all of his passion, all of his anger and rage, directed at this one country, this one people?
Why is it not directed at Syria, I ask him? By all accounts, the Syrian government orchestrated the assassination of one of the Arab world’s great men of peace, former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri. And President Assad continues to terrorize his own people.
Why not at Hosni Mubarak when he was in power? Or Saddam Hussein?
Why not at the ways in which Islam degrades women in the Middle East, trapping them in a life of servitude?
Why not at the ways some Muslims are persecuting Christians throughout the Middle East, as reports pour in about atrocities upon atrocities?
Why not a critique of the Koran itself, which regrettably finds little separation between mosque and state, thus relegating the majority of Arabs to life under theocratic regimes?
Two reasons: fear, and envy.
To the dismay of Arabs around the world, Jewish people turned an ancient piece of real estate in the Middle East into a thriving oasis of intellectual, political, religious, and commercial activity, where people are free to do as they please. One of the oldest places on earth — a place where Abraham walked — Israel is as thoroughly modern as any place on earth, with a functioning government that respects religious and economic freedom.
A young person in Israel can choose to work in some of the best high-tech companies in the world, or can pursue a life dedicated to Talmudic studies. A woman has an equal right to pursue any career she likes, and people of different sexual orientations are not driven underground — or worse.
The fact is, the God-given talents of the people of Israel are allowed to flourish in ways Arabs should want to emulate, and replicate.
This smart, dynamic Jordanian friend instead focuses on border disputes and the acts of the Israeli government. He performs Houdini-like intellectual twists to dodge my questions, which are always gentle, but cut right through to his very clear — and almost programmed — bigotry.
I ask him why he is obsessed with the 1967 border dispute, and not some other border grudge, as it would not take long to find other countries unhappy with the ways in which territories were allocated as spoils of various 19th- and 20th-century wars.
I tell him that using his logic, Mexican terrorists should be blowing themselves up in Houston and El Paso. And they should have his unwavering support to compel America to return Texas to its rightful, original owner.
I now ask Arabs who show such a knee-jerk reaction to Israel a simple question, one that cuts to the heart of all this nonsense: Why do you hate Jews?
They first get angry, but then quickly point out that they have no beef with Jews. It’s Israel they hate.
To which I reply, “If Israel had been handed over to Bolivians or Albanians or Estonians, would you still hate it?”
It is a none-too-subtle question, but it makes the point: Despising Israel the way Israel is despised in much of the Arab world is all about anti-Semitism. And most anti-Semitism anywhere in the world has its origins in envy.