Criticism of the Idea of Arab Nationalism

Criticism of the Idea of Arab Nationalism

Dr. Muhammad Yahya Vol III No. 2 , 1406 AH This article was presented as a paper at the World Seminar on “The Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah,” London, Dhu al-Qi’dah 13 — 16, 1405 (July 31 — August 3, 1985), held by the Muslim Institute. The author is a scholar from Cairo, Egypt. […]

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    Dr. Muhammad Yahya Vol III No. 2 , 1406 AH This article was presented as a paper at the World Seminar on "The Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah," London, Dhu al-Qi'dah 13 -- 16, 1405 (July 31 -- August 3, 1985), held by the Muslim Institute. The author is a scholar from Cairo, Egypt. The Arab nationalist propaganda has been increasingly voiced in recent months from many organs in several Arab countries, particularly Egypt. It was quite evident to observers of the Islamic movement that a re-vitalization of that idea was in order in view of the current hysterical building of defensive strategies in the Arab region against the famous danger of Islamic 'fundamentalism'. It is only appropriate that an idea which originated at the hands of Christian Levantine writers to serve as a weapon of disintegration against the 'Uthmani State, should now be unearthed to be of service once more in the face of rising Islam. In its latest form, Arab nationalism is put to a different use than its employment by Nasir or the Ba'thists as a means of masking personal or party ambitions. It is presented as a secular political creed that draws upon certain Western concepts as its frame of reference.These concepts (viz. modernity, progress, socialism, besides other minor ones) represent both its slogans of appeal and its intellectual categories of viewing Arab reality. The leading feature in the renewed nationalist propaganda is the repeated emphasis on the term 'Arab' as opposed to that of ' Islamic'. The indubitable aim of this calculated shift is to substitute the former for the latter term as an inclusive and prime category for analysing and describing political and social facts. The limited 'Arab horizon' is designed to replace, and take precedence over, the Islamic horizon in the thinking and feelings of those toward whom the nationalist propaganda is directed. The insistence on the category 'Arab' as an alternative for, or at least as a higher, more primary and inclusive mode than the category 'Islamic', gives the entire game away. It is clear that in the recent presentations of the idea of Arab nationalism, a confrontation with Islam is envisaged, not merely an 'innocent' revival of a century-old view. Advocates of Arab nationalism do not hide the fact that it is Islam that they counter with their idea.They use that idea as a weapon of attack within a certain anti-Islamic climate that is now prevailing in many Arab countries notwithstanding the fact that its presentations are riddled with logical contradictions, which this paper proposes to expose. It seems that those who recalled the nationalist idea for use against Islam were hard pressed for a tool of intellectual confrontation. The idea of Arab nationalism suffers from two main contradictions, which make its edifice of slogans shaky and which are reflected in its various presentations. The first is the exclusion of Islam as a defining and constitutive element of that nationalism; and the second, a related one, is the completely Westernized content of an avowedly 'Arab' movement that supposedly wants to revive 'Arab' values and culture.

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