Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Arabization and why it must be resisted

Much as many nations of the east fear the invasion of western culture the same is true of many non-Arab nations fearing a process of Arabization. Arabization is the transformation of a geographical area and its inhabitants into the adoption of Arab cultural values. The most obvious outcome of this often quite lengthy process is the adoption of the Arabic language however some cultural effects are much more dramatic.

So who are the Arabs?

In the Arab tradition they are descendent from two main stocks: the first settled in the mountains of South-western Arabia (the Yemen), claim decent from Qahtan (Yoktan of the Bible) and became known as Yamanis. The second settled in North-Central Arabia, claimed descent from Ishmael and are called the Qaysis. Even now every Bedouin tribe still claims descent from one or the other group and the rivalry between the two has caused many civil wars throughout history and even conflicts in the wider Arab world. (1)

Arabs are a branch of the Semitic race which from the earliest historic times inhabited the Arabian peninsula and were originally restricted to the nomad tribes who ranged in the north of the peninsula east of Palestine and the Syro-Arabian desert. It is in this narrow sense "Arab" is used in the Assyrian and Minaean inscriptions. Due to the fact that the "Arabs" were the chief people near the Greek and Roman colonies in Syria and Mesopotamia, classical writers used the term both in its local and general sense. Arabs of the “narrow definition” of the race are also found in south Arabia among the Ariba Arabs, among the mountaineers of Hadramut (a district on the south coast of Arabia, bounded W. by Yemen, E. by Oman and N. by the Dahna desert) and Yemen itself and among the Bedouin tribes roaming over the interior of central and northern Arabia.

In a more general sense the Arabs of the coasts and those of Mesopotamia are of mixed race, showing Turkish, Negroid and Hamitic crossings. The people of Syria and Palestine are a mixture of Arab, Phoenician and Jewish descent.

The “northern Arabs” or inland Arabs are perhaps the most ancient and in many ways represent the purest surviving type of the true Semite. Certainly the inhabitants of Yemen are not and in historic Ethnology times never were, pure Semites. Somali and other elements, generally described under the collective racial name of Hamitic, are clearly traceable; but the inland Arabs still present the nearest approach to the primitive Semitic type. The origin of the Arab race can only be a matter of conjecture ad from the earliest historic times have been divided into North Arabians and the South Arabians.

The ancient and undoubted division of the Arab race - roughly represented to-day by the universally adopted classification into Arabs proper and Bedouin Arabs has caused much dispute among ethnologists. All authorities agree in declaring the race to be Semitic in the broadest ethnological signification of that term, but some thought they saw in this division of the race an indication of a dual origin. They asserted that the purer branch of the Arab family was represented by the sedentary Arabs who were of Hamitic, i.e. African ancestry, and that the nomad Arabs were Arabs only by adoption and were nearer akin to the true Semites. Latterly ethnologists are inclined to agree that there is little really to be said for the African ancestry theory and that the Arab race had its beginning in the deserts of south Arabia, that in short the true Arabs are aborigines.

As a result of the loss of the caravan trade through the increase of shipping over time the abandonment of great cities and the ruin of many original tribes contributed to the apparent nationalization of the Arab peoples. Though the traditional jealousy and hostility of the two branches, the Yemenites and Ishmaelites, remained, the Arab world had attained by the levelling process of common misfortune the superficial unity it presents to-day. The nation thus formed, never a nation in the strict sense of the word, was distinctively and thoroughly Semitic in character and language, and has remained unchanged to the present day.

The purest Arabic, that which is as nearly as possible identical in the choice of words and in its inflections with the language of the Koran, is spoken in Nejd a region, “central Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, the country's capital and major city, is located there. The Nejd is a vast plateau from 2,500 to 5,000 ft (762–1,524 m) high. There is a chain of oasis settlements in the eastern section and nomadic Bedouins roam the area. Nejd is also the stronghold of the Wahhabi movement. Next in purity comes the Arabic of Shammar. Throughout the Hijaz (Hejaz) district, to the west, in general the language is not equally correct; in el-Hasa, Bahrein and Oman it is decidedly influenced by the foreign element called Nabataean. In Yemen, as in other southern districts of the peninsula, Arabic merges insensibly into the Himyaritic or African dialect of Hadramut and Mahra. (2)

According to ‘Arab world Nitle org’ at the time of Muhammad, central Arabia (now Saudi Arabia) was a vast empty space on the geopolitical map, a region little known and of little concern to the three major civilizations that surrounded it. To the north and west was the Byzantine Roman empire; to the northeast the Sassanian Persian Empire; and to the southeast the Abyssinian-Yemenite civilization. Each of these empires had satellite Arab tribes more or less under their political and cultural influence. In the centre of this world, at the blank spot on the geopolitical map, were the Bedouin. The Arab heartland is claimed by some to be the province of Hijaz in what is now western Saudi Arabia. (3)

In modern times “Arabs” as a name originally applied only to the Semitic peoples of the Arabian Peninsula now refers to those persons whose primary language is Arabic. They constitute most of the population of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, and Yemen; Arab communities are also found elsewhere in the world. The term does not usually include Arabic-speaking Jews (found chiefly in North Africa and formerly also in Yemen and Iraq), Kurds, Berbers, Copts, and Druze, but it does include Arabic-speaking Christians (chiefly found in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan). To this day Arabs are socially divided into two groups: the settled Arab [fellahin=villagers, or hadar=townspeople] and the nomadic Bedouin. (4)

The coming of Islam

Around the year 610 CE, the birth year of Islam, Mecca in Hijaz was one of the central towns in a trade area that existed along busy north south caravan routes. People came to Hijaz from Africa, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and from Egypt. The little evidence we have suggests that the Arabs in this era were no longer a pure Bedouin race because intermarriage and the freedom of Arab women to choose their own bedmates that had over time created a diverse society. Arab identity (or possibly more correctly “Arabized people”) would spread greatly with the advances of Islam. Although Arabs originating from the Arab heartland at some time immigrated into all the new territories which today have a population defined as "Arabs," these territories were already peopled by a population far larger than the Arab immigrants. For a number of reasons, however, Arab lifestyles, Arab identity and Arabic language would come to replace the original lifestyles, identities and languages.

Arabs would also come to have some influence to the race makeup of other lands however, in most cases the Arab peoples living in lands originally non-Arab, represent about the same racial composition as before the Arabization. Hence the former Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, (most of the) Berbers etc. are still there and through this process they have simply changed their identities.

Ethnically, Arabs are mostly dark haired with brown eyes, and medium light skin. There are through this constant mixing process ‘Arabs’ that are black, and Arabs that are quite blond. These differences are regional and an obvious result of the process described above. Moreover, the number of ethnically pure Arabs in many ‘Arab lands’ might constitute only a single digit percentage. (5)

The force with which Islam spread from its origins in Mecca and Medina in the nearby region of Al Hijaz (the Hejaz) led to Yemen's rapid and thorough conversion to Islam. Yemenis were well-represented among the first soldiers of Islam who marched north, west, and east of Arabia to expand Muslim territory. Yemen was ruled by a series of Muslim caliphs, beginning with the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled from Damascus in the latter part of the 7th century; Umayyad rule was followed by the Abbasid caliphs in the early 8th century (seeCaliphate). The founding of a local Yemeni dynasty in the 9th century effectively ended both Abbasid rule from Baghdad and the authority of the Arab caliphate.

What can be considered ‘full Arabization’ of the Middle East took place only after the coming of Islam. The Arabs if fact were not the first Semitic peoples who migrated out of the peninsula they were preceded by the Aramaeans (upper Mesopotamia - Syria), Canaanites (Israel/Palestine) and the Akkadians (northern Mesopotamia/Iraq). After the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, Arab culture and language spread through trade with African states, conquest and intermarriage of the local population with the Arabs.

Countries and territories that are traditionally thought to have gone through an Arabization process include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and the Sudan. Also, though Yemen is also often traditionally held to be the homeland of Arabs, most of the population did not speak Arabic; historically they spoke South Semitic languages prior to the spread of Islam and perhaps it also can be seen as going through a process of Arabization.

The influence of the Arabic language and culture has also been profound in many other countries and Arabic is often source of vocabulary in varying degrees for languages as diverse as Berber, Kurdish, Farsi, Swahili, Urdu, spoken Hindi, Turkish, Bahasa Malayu and Bahasa Indonesia. (6)

Arabization and the confusion regarding ethnicity of many groups from the Middle East and the common misconception that all those from the region are ‘all Arabs’ can create difficulties. As an example following the events of September 11, 2001, Assyrians, including Chaldeans and Syriacs, have found themselves in the ironic position of having to defend the ‘integrity of their identity’ against an erroneous association with the Arab race, by both the misinformed (particularly Americans) and groups in the west driven by a persistent fundamentalist Arabist ideology transplanted from the Middle East. The practical ramifications of the Arabist desire to usurp Assyrian identity for example are by no means trivial. By counting Assyrians, including Chaldeans and Syriacs, as Arabs, Arabist groups such as the Arab American Institute is attempting to enhance their demographic and by extension, political clout in the U.S. (7)

Arabization as a modern political tool

A relatively modern example of a government driven Arabization process can be found in Algeria. In reaction to the previous French cultural and linguistic imperialism, the leaders of the War of Independence (1954-62) and successive governments committed themselves to reviving indigenous Arabic and Islamic cultural values and to establishing Arabic as the national language. The aim was to recover the pre-colonial past and to use it, together with Arabic, to restore (if not create) a national identity and personality for the new state and population. Translated into an official policy actually called “Arabization”, it was consistently supported by Arabists, who were ascendant in the Algerian government following independence. Their goal was a country where the language (Arabic), religion (Islam), and national identity (Algerian) were free, as far as practical, of French language and influence. This process has encountered opposition from two main quarters: the "modernizers" among bureaucrats and technocrats and the Berbers, or, more specifically, the Kabyles. For the urban elite, French constituted the medium of modernization and technology. French facilitated their access to Western commerce and to economic development theory and culture and their command of the language guaranteed their continued social and political prominence. The Kabyles minority also strongly identified with these arguments. Young Kabyle students were particularly vocal in expressing their opposition to Arabization. In the early 1980s, their movement and demands formed the basis of the so-called "Berber question" or the Kabyle "cultural movement." Militant Kabyles complained about "cultural imperialism" and "domination" by the Arabic-speaking majority. (8)

Arabization and ethnic cleansing

A more violent Arabization process can be seen in the history of the Ba’th party and Saddam Hussein’s rule of Iraq. Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian and Chaldean Christian families were forcibly expelled from Iraqi government-held areas of the northern oil fields and most ended up destitute in the Kurdish self-rule region. They were the victims of nearly 40 years of ethnic cleansing under Iraqi government's Arabization policies enforced since the 1960s and that continued until Saddam and the Ba’thists were forcibly removed.

Even along the ‘border’ Kurdish sources say that in the final ten years alone, nearly 200,000 people had been forced out of the predominantly Kurdish districts of Kirkuk, Khanaqin and Sinjar, which run along the line between Kurdish- and central government-held areas. The reason was to extend the ‘Arab areas’ of Iraq.

Huge oil fields stretching from south of Kirkuk up to Erbil were discovered in the early part of the twentieth century. They offered the Kurds enormous economic promise however instead mainly brought political catastrophe. Since Kirkuk oil accounted for 70 percent of Iraq's total oil output by the 1970s, successive post-monarchy regimes have not been amenable to Kurdish views that Kirkuk should be a part of their autonomous region. Various autonomy negotiations between the Kurds and Iraqi regimes, from the 1960s to 1991, fell on the sword of control of Kirkuk.

When the Ba'th Party first came to power in 1963, it immediately began to force Kurds, Turkomans and Christians from the villages surrounding the northern oil fields. Their villages were destroyed and rebuilt for Arab settlers. With the defeat of the Kurdish rebellion in 1975, the Ba'thist government seized the opportunity to bring the Kurds to heel once and for all. This required moving Kurds off their ancestral homelands and into areas where they could be controlled. The Ba'th regime also took this opportunity to settle the demographic balance in the disputed areas near the oilfields. Arabization that had begun in the 1960s was reinvigorated. More than one million Kurdish, Turkoman and Assyrian residents were forced out of the disputed districts of Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Mandali, Zakuh and Sinjar. They were replaced with Egyptian and Iraqi Arab settlers enticed northward with housing and property incentives. Laws were altered to make it difficult for Kurds to hold property or gain employment. Arabs were rewarded financially for marrying Kurdish women. Kurdish civil servants were moved out of Kurdistan to work in Arab districts. The Kurdish faculty at the new university in Sulaimaniyya were dismissed. Kurdish names were changed to Arab names. The city of Kirkuk, for example, was changed to al-Ta'mim, "nationalization." Arabization was no haphazard operation, in the 1970s, the Ba'th government set up the Revolutionary Command Council's Committee for Northern Affairs, headed by Saddam Hussein, to orchestrate the mass relocation of the Kurdish population.

In 1988 Saddam’s the Ba'th Party instituted the final solution to the "Kurdish problem" with the 1988 Anfal campaign of genocide, run from Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid. During the Anfal campaign, 100,000 Kurds, the vast majority of them non-combatants, were killed outright. Another 182,000 disappeared and are presumed dead, and as many as 4,000 more villages were destroyed and another 500,000 people were forced to collective towns. Arabization policies continued to increase in intensity when the Iraqi government retook Kirkuk after the 1991 uprising and with renewed fervour, they brutally forced out thousands more of the Kurds.

Under Saddam all Iraqis had an identification card that identified them by ethnic origin. Non-Arabs were "allowed" to fill in a form saying they would like to "correct" their ethnicity to Arab. If they refused, again they and their families were forced into the Kurdish-controlled area, leaving behind all possessions. They were not allowed to sell any property they may have owned. If they "corrected" their ethnic identity to Arab, they are often told: well, if you are an Arab, you might as well live in the south. They are then shipped off to the predominantly Shi’a south, and are sometimes allowed to bring household goods. (9)

Iranians resist Arabization, however fail to hold off Political Islamization and become a hijacked theocratic ‘Arab’ state

The case of Iran is interesting probably more for its fight against Arabization than the influence that the Arab culture has had on its population. It also gives some insight as to why the process of Arabization is potentially such a developing phobia for the non-Arab world. An excellent article by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh on the topic can be found at

A couple of short excerpts: firstly regarding ‘Ibn-Khaldun, Arab historian, (1332-1406 AD) who reputedly is ranked among the best in Arab scholars in history. The Modern ‘pan-Arabist’ movement feels uncomfortable with his work and you can see why when you consider the following, (The Muqaddimah Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91):’)

"…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, 'If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it’…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture."

Secondly: ‘It is not an exaggeration to state that Arab nationalists have re-written much of Arab history, especially as it pertains to Persian contributions to Islamic and Arabian civilization. The following observation by Sir Richard Nelson Frye encapsulates the crisis in Arab attitudes towards the Iranians (See R.N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia, London: Butler & Tanner Ltd., 1989, p.236):’

"Arabs no longer understand the role of Iran and the Persian language in the formation of Islamic culture. Perhaps they wish to forget the past, but in so doing they remove the bases of their own spiritual, moral and cultural being…without the heritage of the past and a healthy respect for it…there is little chance for stability and proper growth" “It may [be] argued that one source of the political, economic and technological stagnation so evident in the Arab world at present may stem from what has been taught (and continues to be taught) to Arabs at primary, secondary and post-secondary education.”

Thirdly: ‘It should come as no surprise that many Arabs (including high ranking statesmen and highly educated professors) now believe that the following Iranian scholars of the Islamic era to be all Arabs: Zakaria Razi "Rhazes" (860- 923 or 932, born in Rayy, near Tehran), Abu Ali Sina "Avecenna" (980 -1037, born in Afshana, near Bukhara, ancient Samanid Capital), Abu Rayhan Biruni (973 - 1043, born in Khiva, Ancient Khwarazm now modern Afghanistan), Omar Khayyam (1044-1123, born in Nishabur, Khorasan), Mohammad Khwarazmi (d. 844, born in Khiva, Ancient Khwarazm, now in Modern Afghanistan). Not a single one of these scientists hailed from an Arab-speaking region, all were born in what is now Iran or the former realms of Persian speaking world.” (10)

This is an outstanding example of truth trying to overcome reality and a blatant attempt to rewrite history for pride/political/power/ purposes. Arabization on the surface seems to demand that what can’t be subjugated by force or reoriented by mass immigration and indoctrination, must be absorbed by stealth and lies. Remember here we are talking about Arabization rather than Islamization although obviously Islam in many respects is a reflection of Arab culture and thinking.

Muhammad was born in Mecca. He belonged to the clan of Hashim, a poor but respected branch of the prestigious and influential tribe of Quraysh. According to tradition, Muhammad traced his genealogy back as far as Adnan, whom the northern Arabs believed to be their common ancestor. Following Meccan customs, his mother sent him to the desert to be wet nursed by a Bedouin Mother. The desert air was thought fresher than Mecca’s and it was felt that in this climate, a city boy would have a sturdier start in life. At the age of six Muhammad lost his mother Amina, and at the age of eight his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib. Muhammad then came under care of his uncle Abu Talib, who had been recently appointed as the leader of the Hashim clan. (11)

Despite the physical impoverishment of Bedouin life, the Bedouin were viewed as the most authentic bearers of Arab culture. Even the townsmen of Mecca looked to the Bedouin as the personification of Arab values (the word 'arab’ according to some originally meant a pastoral nomad) and Muhammad himself was sent out to live with the family of his wet nurse in order to be educated in Bedouin cultural values.

The centre of modern Arab culture the Qur'an retains key Bedouin values such as remembrance, generosity, hospitality, and valour however the social context for such values is transformed. The remembrance is no longer of a beloved and a lost tribal love affair of earlier Bedouin poems, rather of the deity who, even when figured in later poetry as a beloved, maintains a more explicitly transcendent character. The traditional Bedouin journey through the desert evolves into a moral and spiritual journey, a journey of the human being toward the divine lord. The traditional generous poetic hero, “the Karim”, is still the model of human excellence, however the hero is no longer the tribal chief or even the prophet, rather it is the ‘all-giving generous deity’ Allah and also the modern “Karim” becomes the individual who imitates that generosity by working for the Islamic concepts of social justice. (2)

It is worth remembering that at the Time of Mohammed Arabs were mainly nomads living in the central and northern Arabian Peninsula. Some of them had settled around the oases. Desert life was exceedingly harsh. The nomads lived off the camel, drinking its milk and very occasionally eating its meat. The other staple food was dates. This society was poor and unsophisticated, barely touched by civilization and had no written code of laws. Survival depended on loyalty to one's family or clan (group of families) or tribe. Individual crimes were restrained by the fear of lasting vengeance. As Montgomery Watt describes it, on behalf of a kinsman almost anything was permitted, "there was no wrong in killing someone not a member of one's tribe or of an allied tribe, though it would be unwise to do so if the victim's tribe was strong". The whole family, clan or tribe, that is all members, were held responsible for the acts of any one of them. Fear of vengeance, of retribution, ('life for life, etc) helped to create such security as there was with survival depended on the solidarity and strength of the tribe.

No such restraints applied to communal acts of violence. Inter-tribal disputes might be settled by an arbiter considered to be an authority on tribal customs, there were raids and reprisals aimed at driving off the opponents' camels. Women and children captured in tribal warfare who were not ransomed became tribal slaves and could be bought and sold. A defeated tribe's males could be slaughtered even after surrendering, their women and children enslaved, their possessions distributed among the victors. With loot (material and human) apparently the key objective of intertribal skirmishes and warfare. Apart from those who were full members of the tribe by descent, there would be others attached to it such as slaves. There were also 'clients' of the tribe who had asked for the sheikh's temporary protection, for example while pasturing their flocks on his land. Mohammed is born into this kind of society of illiterate desert Arabs (12)

Bedouin – Arabs, today

The Bedouin usually form the poorest social group in the lands they live in, however they are proud of what they consider their superior way of life and see themselves as the noblest class in Arab society. All Arab countries in the Middle East have Bedouin populations. Once dominant, they are now marginalised and often scornfully regarded as primitive, which is paradoxically often joined by admiration of noble Bedouin virtues as the model of the pure Arabic-Islamic culture. It is however only in countries where they form the original population, such as Saudi-Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States, that they have some power and status and can help determine the means and pace of their shift to the modern world.

Bedouins today are still organised in tribes of varying sizes. In the context of the modern state the power of the Sheikhs is diminishing, and the tribal structure is weakened. The dependence of the individual on the tribe's support and approval has diminished, and though it is still unthinkable for women to act against the will of their male relatives, individual men have more freedom and personal choice.

Older Bedouin tend to be illiterate, however most of the younger generation have had access to public education and can read and write. A growing proportion of them are graduating from high schools and universities. In place of the older illiterate however powerful Sheikhs a new elite of younger educated men is emerging who have acquired the knowledge necessary to protect Bedouin interests in a modern state. Land is an issue of great importance to the Bedouins because of their traditional need for immense areas to sustain their traditional pastoral way of life. However, the vast desert and semi-desert expanses are being continually infringed on by the population explosion and industrialisation of the last decades. Modern armies also need large tracts for bases and manoeuvres and large areas have been fenced off. Governments also take over traditional Bedouin lands for oil production, urbanisation and the military.

Forced expropriation of land by the state backed by its military might is a fact of life in the Middle East. These lands are then given to settled farmers and used to found new industrial centres. The Bedouins retain only a small part of the lands they consider their own if they submit to the plans of the authorities to settle them in villages and townships. In the 1950's Saudi-Arabia and Syria nationalised Bedouin range lands and Jordan severely limited goat grazing. Israel reduced the amount of land in the Negev available to its Bedouin in an effort to induce them to settle in villages and towns. Family ties are still very strong and are reinforced by intermarriage within the tribe, preferably to cousins (father's brother's daughters). Marriages are prearranged however the young people do know each other and have some say in the matter. Each unit has a strong sense of collective honour and loyalty that it defends against all other groups.

Bedouin society is patriarchal, all members of a tribe claiming descent by male line from a common ancestor. The Sheikh as leader of the tribe has considerable power but is limited by custom, precedent and the advice of the council of tribal elders. Age is respected as it has the experience crucial for survival in a difficult environment. The Sheikh is elected from a noble family, any member of that family being eligible for the position when he dies. The eldest male is accepted as ruler of each family unit. The Bedouin have kept their lifestyle through the centuries, controlled by a strict code of rules that it is shameful to break. It stresses the values of loyalty to the tribe, obedience, generosity, hospitality, honour, cunning and revenge.

The status of women is low, although nomadic Bedouin women are less segregated than town and village women and they are not generally veiled. In the past, great Sheikhs would have many wives and concubines, these marital alliances cementing political ties. It is claimed that King Abdul-Aziz ibn-Saud, founder of Saudi-Arabia, had at least twenty-two wives representing most major Arabian tribes (plus many concubines) who bore him forty-seven sons and many daughters. Their descendants now number over 30,000 Saudi-Arabians and are the elite of the kingdom binding it together by their blood ties.

With the rise of Islam most accepted the new religion, the Jewish tribes were exterminated and the Christian ones expelled. Islam became the basis of Bedouin social and religious life, although many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs were retained. Most tribes are still devoutly religious, in Arabia due to the impact of the Wahhabi revival of the last two centuries, and lately as a reaction to the Shi'a fundamentalism of Iran. Prayer times fit naturally into their daily routine, and the fast and religious feasts are strictly kept.

Bedouin are fatalists by nature as a result of their precarious existence in the desert. Folk-Islam is widespread; especially fear of the evil eye and evil spirits. Charms and amulets are worn as protection against them. The desert is believed to be inhabited by Jinns and mad people are said to be possessed by them. Bedouin are careful not to praise anything directly, for fear of the evil eye. Men, animals and motor vehicles carry charms to protect them from it.

Total number of Bedouins (nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled) in the Arab world today: 15 - 20 million. Breakdown: Saudi Arabia - 4m, Sudan - 5m, Egypt - 1.1 million, Syria - 1m, Maghreb - 1m, Gulf States - 0.5m, Kuwait - 0.5m, Yemen - 0.5m, Jordan - 0.3 m, Iraq - 0.2 m, Libya - 0.2m, Turkey - 0.15m, Israel - 0.1 m (1)

Saudi Culture (The centre of Islam)

Saudi Arabian culture revolves almost entirely around the religion of Islam. Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are located in the country. The public practice of any religion other than Islam, including Christianity and Judaism, the presence of churches and open possession of Christian religious materials are outlawed in Saudi Arabia. Islam's holy book the Qur'an is Saudi Arabia's constitution, and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the foundation of its legal system.

Saudi Arabian dress is strongly symbolic, representing the people's ties to the land, the past, and Islam. Saudi women must wear a long cloak (abaya) and veil (niqab) when they leave the house to protect their modesty. The law does not apply to foreigners at such a high degree, but both men and women are told to dress modestly. Public theatres and cinemas are prohibited, as Wahhabi tradition deems those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. (13)

The Arab Psyche and as one Arab discussion site puts it “Why do we (Arabs) lag behind?”

As we study the Arab psyche, it becomes apparent that it has, in its long decline from its golden age, to today, fallen into backwardness and become weak and intellectually sterile. Since the early years of this century, many Arab thinkers have recognised that Arab civilisation is no more able to contribute or make a difference in human development. Amongst those that have been most concerned, were Jamul Uddin Al-Afghani and his student Shaikh Mohammed Abdul. Both men outlined programmes for reawakening the Muslim world that would see Arab/Muslim society once again regain the heights of their past glory. Al Afghani believed the "reawakening could be best achieved by establishing a Muslim University”, while Abdu believed that the "awakening" would be achieved through scientific and educational awareness.

Another scholar Abdul Rahman Al Kawakibi, contributed to this stream of thinking in his book Umm Al Qura. In it, he proposed that scholars from throughout the Muslim world would convene a conference in "Umm Al Quara" (the Holy City of Mecca) to consider Muslim affairs and the reasons for the backwardness and stagnation of Arab civilisation.

In addition, the Lebanese scholar Shakeeb Arslan, attempted to analyse and explain the underlying reasons behind Arab backwardness, while other nations were still developing. His conclusion was that the West had continued to make progress in science, was willing to explore it with open minds and was prepared to exploit its discoveries for the benefit of mankind. Another Muslim scholar, Abu Al Hassan Al Nadwi, dealt with this issue in his book " What did the world lose by the deterioration of Muslims?" He takes the view that the responsibility of the Western world for Muslim deterioration is no less the responsibility of Muslims themselves. The Algerian Muslim scholar, Malik bin Nabi, believes that strong links must be developed with modern cultures. He is a proponent of the idea that the cultural stagnation of Muslims made them an easy target for Western imperialism, and made them willing to succumb to it. His issue has also become a point of interest.

The Arab need to return to scientific and international arenas

The Arab psyche must break the chains of the old sterile thinking that has bound it for so long. It must acquire an awareness of the world around it and interact with it; this will break down the barrier of helplessness that has kept it chained for so long. Arabs can only do this if they start with a new spirit, and a rejuvenated psyche that has new energy and vision. It is crucial that they stop blaming others for their backwardness. They must look to themselves for the cause, and have the will to change. For many centuries, the Arab world was burdened by a series of invasions, such as the Crusades, the Moguls, the Mamelukes and the Turks and culminated in the atrocities of modern western imperialism. Naturally, the Arab psyche was seriously affected by this legacy of the past and the suffering of the present – these adverse effects that are still present in the Arab consciousness today and are partly responsible for Arab backwardness and pose a barrier to accelerated scientific and intellectual progress. Civilisation is only achieved a technology-orientated mind. It is therefore imperative to rid the Arab psyche of impediments that preclude us from achieving our goals. This will only be possible by installing high ideals and by advocating scientific modes of thought, leading to a brighter future, with hope and confidence. (14)

The Negative Traits of the Arab Personality

The negative traits of the Arab personality as shown by experience and proven by scholars can be summed up as follows: -

Tribalism and Nepotism

Cultural schizophrenia caused tribalism and nepotism to spread and persist in Arab societies. This means that our culture is just a whitewash that has no influence on our behaviour. Rather, our behaviour is governed by ancient precepts that go back to pre-Islamic times; namely, tribalism with all its biases that put the interest of tribe members before the common interest of society at large. In addition, personal interest appears to shape individual behaviour. These two patterns are common in Arab societies. In the first instance, the tribal pattern exploits all principles and value and employs them for the interest of the tribe only. This explains why the electoral process in some of the Arab countries is based on tribal considerations and not on intellectual merits or national interests. In the second instance, intellectuals use ideas and principles as springboard to get high positions, prestige or money. There is no doubt that these two patterns caused harm to the progress movement in our societies and caused it to deviate from its proper course.

The Foreigner’s Complex

This means that Arabs admire the sayings and deeds of foreign people. They trust their qualifications, products and expertise. This is evidenced in the high demand for foreign-made products although such products are produced locally. Furthermore, this complex finds expression in hiring foreign experts at very high salaries. It is quite possible that an Arab expert may suggest and idea or propose a project which may not receive a positive response. But, when the same idea is suggested by a foreign expert, it may be hailed by some as a wonderful idea. (15)

Conspiratorial Frame of Mind

This represents the tendency to interpret events, attribute failures and problems the beset the Arab world to a cause which is external to the Arab personality; namely, a foreign plot. According to this interpretation, this means that the failures encountered and are still being encountered by the Arabs do not stem from the poor management of the political, economic and social movements. Rather, they attribute them to the intrigues fabricated by the foreign enemy, i.e. the West. Every time a minor or major event occurs in the Arab world, it is interpreted as a foreign conspiracy against the Arabs and Islam. This interpretation has its roots in the ancient and modern ambition of the West in the Arab world. These ambitions extended from the Crusades to modern imperialism and its effort to weaken the Arab world and ensure that it remains under its influence and a market for its products.

Tendency to Believe in the Supernatural

There is a tendency among a significant segment of the Arab society, even on the more educated level, to have faith in magicians, astrologers and fortune-tellers. The Arab environment is a fertile ground for these swindlers who practice their tricks make large sums of money. The newspapers report almost daily stories about one or more of these swindlers who convinced their victims to employ the ‘Jennies’ to find lost treasures, to multiply his fortune or to cure him of serious illness. This means that the Arabs still believe in superstition, which was common in the pre-Islamic period.
This danger of this phenomenon stems from the fact that the thinking mode of the individual becomes unsound and far from being systematic in the sense that it fails to link between event and its real causes. Rather, it links events to the extraordinary and supernatural. This is far removed from the rational and scientific reasoning which is necessary to solve problems systematically. Doing so on the individual level, will ultimately contribute to the progress and development of the entire society. (16)

Human Rights

The fact has to be faced that the Arab world collectively has one of the worse human rights records in the modern world. Here is what Amnesty International for Human Rights has said about the region in its annual report for the year 2000: “During 1999, widespread and serious human rights violations - including large-scale executions, routine use of torture and unfair trials, often before special courts, took place throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa”. In common with the previous year, the climate of impunity remained, with few steps being taken to bring to justice those responsible for past human rights violations. Our record on human rights should not be based on corrupt and notoriously inhuman police States; rather, our ambition should be to have our region judged by the more tolerant and positive aspects of Arab society, so that we are seen by the rest of the world as a humane, wealthy, liberal culture, well able to tolerate cultural diversity and change. [Saudi Arabia as the centre of Islam and keeper/protector of the holy cities is probably the best (or worst) example of this undesirable state.] (17)

Arab proverbs, adapted from “Understanding Arabs by Margaret Nydell”, consist of:

Support your Muslim brother, whether he is the tyrant or the tyrannized.
(Rightly or wrongly stick together)

The hand of God is with the group.
(Allah is on the Arab side so all atrocities can be committed in his name)

Older than you by a day, wiser than you by a year.
(No ‘western’ style meritocracy can exist with this philosophy)

It’s all fate and chance.
(Fatalistic and unlike the western view of the world, personal actions and choices will have no effect on the future)

If a rich man ate a snake, they would say it was because of his wisdom; if a poor man ate
it, they would say it was because of his stupidity.
(Wealth is can excuse all indiscretions and is the primary evidence of intellect)

Patience is beautiful… and Haste is from the devil and patience is from Allah.
(No wonder change is so slow)

A concealed sin is two-thirds forgiven
(Probably the most morally corrupt attitude of all) (18)

Examples of troubling and ongoing attempts at Arabization


Muslim [“Arab”] awareness is spreading across the narrow, elongated arm of land that reaches down from the body of Buddhist Thailand in the north to the Muslim nation of Malaysia in the south. You see it among the 1,700 students who cram the classrooms of Narathiwat's Islamic Foundation for Education, built 20 years ago with a donation from the late King Faysal of Saudi Arabia. And you sense it in the faces of the tiny children learning Arabic from Jitsom bint Salih in a one-room madrasa, or Qur'anic school, in the sand-swept coastal hamlet of Ban Budi.

The Telok Manok mosque is part of an Islamic tradition that remains real for almost all Thai Muslims. Late on a rainswept afternoon, we met young men there who were making a form of pilgrimage to the region's oldest mosque. Muhammad Said and Muhammad Hashim had both come from their homes in the Malaysian state of Perak. They were visiting their Thai friends, Muhammad Bidi Talodin and his cousin Ramli Talodin. We conversed in neither Thai nor Malay but in Arabic: Muhammad Bidi learned the language as a student in Benghazi, Libya and 30-year-old Ramli had spent four years in Kuwait and six in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he graduated with a degree in education. Now he teaches at the Islamic Foundation School in Narathiwat, keeping both tradition and [Arab] culture alive. All good Muslims are supposed to be able to read the Qur'an in Arabic.

For preserving and strengthening the use of Arabic, the Muslims of Thailand can thank their brethren in the Arab world. Since the mid-1970's, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula - especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar - have offered scholarships to Thai Muslims to pursue both religious and secular studies in the Middle East. Though there are only about half a dozen scholarships a year to any one country, their impact is enormous. At the Narathiwat school, over 50 of the staff are graduates of universities in the Arab world.

Historically the stronger Islam became in the region, the more its adherents identified not with the distant king of Siam but with their coreligionists in the Malay states to the south and the result was a series of uprisings. (19)

Saudi and other Arab money in Thailand

In the heart of Thailand's troubled deep south, where a Muslim separatist uprising has so far this year [2004] left more than 200 dead, is the brand new, multimillion-dollar new campus of Yala Islamic College. With more than a dozen Arab teachers from across the Middle East and a seemingly endless flow of funds from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, the college has become the most obvious manifestation of a non-violent Arab threat to the traditionally moderate and tolerant Islamic traditions of southern Thailand (and the wider South-east Asian region).
The violent aspect of that threat was first brought home in the south in 2002, when two dozen Middle Eastern suspects were arrested for forging travel documents, visas and passports for Al-Qaeda operatives.

When you enter the college's reception, you feel like you have suddenly been transported to the Gulf. The 1,500 students there dress in Arab-style clothes and are taught a strict interpretation of shariah law in the Arabic language. The receptionist introduces himself, in perfect classical Arabic, as a graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The president, Dr Ismail Lutfi, is himself a graduate of a hardline Wahhabi institution, Riyadh's Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University. Dr Lutfi, who says he is against violence, has thousands of followers installed in key Islamic posts throughout the south.

The south's largely unregistered pondoks (Islamic schools) - which offer religious education, a regular curriculum and training in Arabic and the local Yawi dialect - are meanwhile now recognised by the Thai government as breeding grounds for radical separatists. A number of the Muslim separatists killed on April 28 - when more than 100 Muslims were gunned down on their motorcycles by soldiers acting on a tip-off about a planned series of raids on army posts across the south - taught at or were students in these local Islamic schools.

More than 160 Thai Muslim students are presently enrolled in Islamic institutions in Saudi Arabia and 1,500 are studying in Egypt. Mr Vairoj Phiphitpakdee, a Muslim member of parliament for Pattani, has said that some Thai Muslims mistakenly believe Islam is just about adopting Arab customs. 'They're taken to the Middle East and they're brainwashed,' he recently told reporters.

The Saudi Arabia-based International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO) remains the largest donor to Islamic causes in southern Thailand. According to The Nation newspaper, during the last 10 years hardly any educational or religious project has been untouched by the IIRO, which is part of the Wahhabi-inspired Muslim World League. One shudders to think in that context of what the consequences may be of Dr Lutfi and his Middle East professors teaching the Arab-obsessed Thai Muslim students of Yala Islamic College hardcore wahhabi doctrine.

One senior Thai government official in Pattani, told me (John R. Bradley the writer of the original article) he was aware of the first signs of 'ethnic cleansing' (his words) in Narathiwat, one of the south's Muslim-majority provinces. Some Thai Buddhist families have been told to leave under the threat of violence, he added. [We now of course realise it has become worse and Buddhists are be executed in the streets.] (20)


From the weekly standard – by Austin Bay

I get a scholar's take on JI's plans for Malaysia. (no direct attribution. Why? He's a Muslim and, to paraphrase Mr. Kesavapany, he comes from a country where JI can get it done.)

"Jemaah Islamiyah in Malaysia. They are clever, yes. They have an education program. But their secret is no secret. It's money. Arab money. Saudi Arab money." "Can you prove that?"
"Where else but oil does it come from?" he says. "I know what I am told. With that money they promote the Arabization of our Islam in Southeast Asia. Object and you face personal violence."

Arabization is a highly nuanced term, one used repeatedly among Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims I talk to. The general drift is that it represents a movement toward an aggressive anti-Western, anti-secular, and racially tinged Islam in Southeast Asia, the racial tinge being anti-Chinese. The short version of JI's "education program" is that terrorist cash muscles out public and moderate Muslim educators in Malaysian villages. Undermining the schools "preys on a [strategic] weakness in Malaysia," the scholar says. "Their object is to undermine moderate Muslims." I ask for his definition of a moderate Muslim. "A Muslim who accepts the nation-state system," he replies. (21)

From Asianet

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) was formed in 1969, with the former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdulrahman Al Haj, as its first secretary general. Indonesia also became a member of OIC, despite its secular character. In turn, when the oil producing Arab states were able to tap into their wealth in the 1970s, they began sponsoring various forms of missionary movement and Wahabbi groups in the [South East Asian] region. These movements have since left a strong legacy on the social fabric of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where the secular governments have had to struggle with the cultural encroachments of Arabization. (22)


Jakarta Post Aug 30 2006 - Indonesian Islam has been unique in its compatibility with democracy. It has been celebrated for its moderation in contrast to the conservative, extreme version that is practiced in the Middle East. Despite being in the majority, Muslims in Indonesia have lived happily side by side with Indonesians of all other religious beliefs.
However, that might not be the case in the future. It is already not the case in some parts of Indonesia. Now, as in many other parts of the Muslim world, Islam is under threat from the tidal wave of "Arabization" and conservatism. If we do not stop it now, this growing conservatism will result in our religion becoming a tyranny of the majority Muslims against the minority non-Muslims or even a tyranny against mainstream Muslims. (23)

Jakarta Post May 19 2006 - In fact, we [Indonesians] are moving backward in some areas. Pluralism and secularism are under attack. For some, nationalism as our founding fathers understood it is no longer relevant, because what they have in mind is what some pundits here call Talibanism or Arabization. Secularism is out. A new goal, turning Southeast Asia into a gathering of Muslim nations, is in. It is a kind of deja vu as we look back to the early 1960s, when the nation was wrestling against Westernization. (24)

Jakarta Post January 6 2006 - The rise of the conservatives can be attributed to multiple factors. One important element is that rising conservatism reflects national trends in religious and political discourse in Indonesia. This nation-wide trend is largely attributable to the dominant position given to Middle Eastern interpretations of Islam. What can be seen to be happening in Aceh, as well as other places in Indonesia, is not actually "Islamization" as it is often called, but actually "Arabization". If we give them the space, Aceh's unique experience of Islam is being subsumed by conservative elements of the Arab world. This conservative view is now even being challenged by moderate Muslims in the Middle East. (25)

Time to fight Arab conservatism and force by any means possible their retreat and it is more particularly time to do all we can to pressure the Saudi’s to keep their dark-age philosophy to themselves. If we don’t succeed we will witness a form of global imperialism that could make the past crass, misguided, culture destroying Christian aggressive disasters look positively tame.

Refs: (1) (2)
module_id=2&reading_id=314&sequence=2 (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20)
/000/000/002/278ehjov.asp?pg=2 (21) (22) (23) (24) (25)

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