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Arab Like Me

Arab Like Me

Arab hatred of Israel is driven by envy and fear.

by

There are two kinds of Arabs in this world. Those who hate Jews, and those who don’t. And in my life, I have met more of the former than the latter. I am not proud to say that. Arabs will not like me for admitting it. But it is true. And it is something I wish the Obama administration understood. It is something Americans should know as the “Arab Spring” enters its second year.

I didn’t know much about any of this as a Lebanese kid growing up in New Jersey. But I found out about it when I wrote my first pro-Israel column for my college paper as a young student journalist. I defended Israel on some point I’ve long forgotten, but what I’ll never forget is the backlash I received from fellow Arabs. Some were Americans, others were students from Arab countries, many of whom I counted as friends.

First came the letters to the editor, then the personal insults. It was as if I’d broken a secret code I didn’t know existed. Some secret blood oath, which goes something like this: Arabs don’t speak unkindly of Arabs in public, or kindly about Israel.

The backlash stunned me. I pondered the pounding I had taken, and floundered a bit. I even thought for a short time of writing something negative about Israel the next time I had a chance, just to balance things out and reestablish my Arab bona fides.

I was accused of being a self-hating Arab.

One friend accused me of being a self-hating Arab. He explained to me that I was exploiting my ancestry to ingratiate myself with white America and the Jews who controlled white America. I explained to him that I was white. And that I was an American. And that I didn’t believe that Jews controlled America. The Jewish men I knew had a hard enough time controlling their own families! But nothing I said helped relieve the tension, not even my stab at humor.

I also explained that many of my Jewish friends did not like my column. Most were liberals from New York or northern New Jersey who assumed I was with them on the politics of the Middle East, that I was in agreement with the governing thesis that drives most Arabs and liberal Jews: that it is Israel that is the problem in the region, not the Palestinians, and not the Arab world itself.

I also explained to him that I was mostly Lebanese, but also part German and part Italian, and that I was raised by parents who didn’t much care for the whole notion of hyphenated America. They taught me to think for myself, and have the courage to challenge authority. Even theirs, if I could make the case.

Related Article: My Mixed Jewish-Arab Identity

Arab Groupthink

The fact is, Arabs don’t all look alike or think alike. But we are often pushed into a kind of groupthink, a kind of self-censorship that hinders our development and our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. We are not a universal group. But some of us believe in a simple universal truth: that every Arab deserves to live in freedom, wherever he or she might call home. Some of us want Arab countries to be more like America and Israel, places where the individual can flourish.

Say those words to many Arabs and they are shocked and angered. Soon, words like imperialist are thrown about, and the subject turns to Israel. Always, it seems, it turns to Israel.

Why the anger when I hint that America and Israel might have something to teach the Arab world? I thought about it for the longest time, and only recently stumbled upon the answer.

Arabs fear they will never measure up to America or Israel.

It is all about Arab self-doubt. It is all tied to a profound lack of cultural self-confidence, and a deep-seated fear that maybe, just maybe, Arabs won’t be very good at the self-governance thing. That Arab nations won’t be capable of building democratic cultures that engender the flourishing of human freedom, and that these nations won’t have the ability to tap the God-given talents of their people the way Americans and Israelis do. That maybe, just maybe, the Arab world will never measure up to America or Israel.

Better, goes the logic, to cling to anger over the plight of the Palestinians. Better to cling to international policy disputes and to a deep-seated hatred of Israel. Better to play the role of victim, and the role of self-righteous critic, than to do the hard work of lifting up the conditions of your people.

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.

Fear and Envy

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 Hezbollah, which orchestrated the takeover of Lebanon? 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.

National success is built on love, trust and hard work.

Benjamin Netanyahu once gave a speech in which he pointed at a map of the Middle East. He rattled off many of the countries in the region, and the relative size of those nations to Israel. Jordan is four times the size of Israel, Iraq 20, Egypt 46; Saudi Arabia is nearly 90 times the size of Israel. “Big countries,” he said. “But small accomplishments.”

He then went on to describe Israel, which is just slightly bigger than one of America’s smallest states, New Jersey. “Little country,” he concluded. “But big accomplishments.” And there you have it, in one perfectly formulated binary.

Today, Arabs are at a crossroads. The “Arab Spring” is an opportunity like none the region has ever seen. The people who live there are no more or less capable than the people of Israel or the United States. But it is up to them to build functioning democracies, and a culture that breeds and rewards hard work and success. It is up to Arabs themselves to take advantage of their newfound freedom, and unleash the productive capacities of their people.

Countries aren’t built on spite and hate, but on love, trust, shared sacrifice, and hard work. Maybe, just maybe, Arabs in the Middle East will be so busy working, yearning, and striving to make their own lives better that they will have little time left to burnish old grievances.

Maybe, over time, Arabs will build governments worthy of their people, as Israel and America have done. Maybe, Arabs will come to see Jews not as their enemies, but as their neighbors, and as their trading partners. And maybe, just maybe, as their friends.

Here is one Arab praying that will happen.

© 2012 National Review, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

Published: June 2, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 123

(102) Kenan Moss, March 10, 2014 3:02 PM

Thank you and good luck

Mr. Habeb, you have touched a nerve and many will hate you for it: hate you in the way that a psychotic hates his therapist because he wants confirmation of the reality of his malaise and flees from the recognition that only by embracing reality as such will he be able to save himself. One of the great historic tragedies is how, what could have become a monument to human intellect - consider Kindi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rasid, Al Huarismi, to name a few, was aborted by fundamentalism. In the name of Allah or Hashem or what ever other name we ascribe to the One, don't throw away your second chance. There are very rarely third chances.

(101) John, June 30, 2012 10:51 AM

Thank You

Mr Habebe, Thank You. Thank You for saying what I believe thousands (if not millions) of others in the middle east really feel in their hearts. But its like you said and I too have always believed it.. Fear & Envy. What a shame there is so much hatred. And it has been there so long and taught from generation to generation. It will take a miracle, intervention from God or war to make it different. Im not Jewish and Ive only become aware of the problems, the REAL problems in the middle east withing the last 6-7 years. Sadly I never payed it much attention before and I was there for the military in Desert Storm. But since being enlightened and learning the truth I have and always will support the Jewish people and Israel. I read a lot about them and their homeland now. And my heart both smiles and cries for all they are and have done. I want to go there someday. I want to able to actually touch the land and know the people that have given so much to the world. They are such a proud and strong people. Im not a real religious person, but I do believe and trust in God. And I pray that he continues to watch over and protect them. They are his chosen people. I do believe that. God Bless Them.

(100) Robin, June 10, 2012 3:00 AM

Excellent article

It's rewarding to read this article and hopefully more Arabs will be able to put aside their generations of hating the Jews and prefer to educate their children towards bettering their own lives.

(99) Chanah, June 9, 2012 3:31 PM

we want peace, that is the only thing we dream of....

it has been said by a great lady, (Golda Mieirs) " When the Arabs love their children, more than they hate the Jews, that's when w'ell have peace". I couldn't agree with that more! All we ever wanted is PEACE, unfortunately, our neighbors doesn't seems to want it as much as we do! we have given so much already, our neighbors?? gave 0 ....we can't go on like this...we have given as much as possible without compremazing our security, enough, is enough, hate will continue until the Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom) makes His arrival, no peace for the region until then...this land we call Eretz Yisroel belongs to the King of kings.. The Eternal One He gave Israel to the Jewish people as the tenants of His land, we are NOT to give it away nor divide it, and we did it anyway, our seach for peace was more important than our relationship with HaShem!! anti semitism is real, we know it, for 5000 years we have felt it! more so these last 2000 years, and much more since the mid 1500 years forward, no it hasn't been a lot of fun, been hated without reason, what have we done to merit such hate? We are human like the rest of you, we cry, laugh and bleed as you do, thank you Lee for not givin in to the hate yourself..I still don't get hate so deep, this is not natural....that hate comes from Satan, there is no other explanation.

Samuel, June 10, 2012 8:07 PM

Strongly Disagree

This was a truly brilliant article, which tackled an extremely complicated and emotional issue with logic, clear thinking and an optimistic viewpoint for both sides. What bothers me are comments like these (even though I am Jewish), which again bring the debate back to theology and "who deserves what." This is an argument that can never be won by either side, and these view points by both sides are what fuel the fire to continue fighting. If more of us on both sides could look past the theological arguments, and focus more on how to help both sides grow and flourish, that is what will bring about peace. Comments like this detract from the power of the logical argument above, and will allow extremists from both sides to focus the discussions around the wrong, unwinnable argument.

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