”I don’t understand your Arab culture.”is the phrase I overheard at a cafe as two men wearing Western clothes were discussing very animatedly in good cheer and laughing together occasionally. Then, so typically among good friends, they had the traditional argument about ’Let me pay the bill, I insist’. This set me thinking – who is an Arab?
The stereotypical perception of an Arab in many countries is that an Arab is a Muslim, lives in the Middle East and is probably loaded with oil money. Unfortunately, another totally mistaken stereotype has started to become prevalent – the Arab terrorist. All these stereotypes are totally wrong.
- It was only in the 19th and 20th century that Arab nationalism created this concept of an Arab world.
Before that, people usually identified themselves with tribes or with political structures like the Ottoman Empire. Pre-Islamic Arabic as a language dates back to the 4th century.
There are three methods of classifying as an Arab.
- Linguistic – If your first language is Arabic as for about 200 million people.
- Geneological – If you can trace your ancestry to the original inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.
- Political - The League of Arab States or Jāmiʻat ad-Duwal al-ʻArabiyya has 339 million people living in 22 states. They define an Arab as “A person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic speaking country, who is the citizen of an Arab country, whose father is an Arab, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic speaking peoples.”
Compare the situation to 2010.
Not all Muslims are Arabs. Arabs are only 24% of the 1,4 billion Muslims in the world. 85% of the population in Morocco and 55% in Algeria are Berbers (Famous Berbers: Zinedine Zidane, Saint Augustine, Emperor Septimius Severus) who are non-Arabs.
- In Sudan, there are more than fifty ethnic groups and only half the population can speak Arabic.
Is Arab 'Identity' a matter of Language, Religion or Ethnicity?
- There are many serious scholars, like Abu Khaldun Sati al Husari (1881-1967) the Syrian/Ottoman theoretician of Arab nationalism and author of A Day in Maysalun, who believes that language and not religion, economy and geography are important for the formation of nationalism. Language is "the heart and spirit of the nation," and history is its "memory and feeling."
- The British-Lebanese historian Albert Hourani in his book, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, agrees by claiming that Arabs are "more conscious of their language than any people in the world."
- Abd al-Aziz Duri, the eminent Iraqi social historian says "Islam unified Arabs and provided them with a message, an ideological framework, and a state." He goes on to clarify the link between Islam and Arabism as being "were closely linked at first, but subsequently followed separate courses."
Are Arabs Antagonistic to Western Civilization?
Ironically, Islam has very much in common with the Judaic and Christian traditions in the form of common religious figures, customs and traditions. They are all children of Adam, Moses and Abraham.
- Arabs were very instrumental in transmitting scientific knowledge from the Orient to the Occident in centuries past.
- It was the Arabs who brought the numerals and the zero.
- Many words in the English and Spanish languages are from the Arabic. Most people drinking alcohol wouldn’t care to know that it is an Arabic word.
How People Living in Arab Countries Use the Internet
The use of the Internet has started changing Arab societies politically, socially and economically as it has done in many other countries.
It is perhaps to hasty to draw conclusions if frequency of Internet use has any positive correlation to political freedom and dissent threshold in these countries. But frequency of Internet use most certainly has a large impact on all aspects of life for people living in these countries, unless they are immune to commercial and other forms of propaganda.
Things have changed a lot in Arab countries. In the days of Saddam Hussein, people who could afford getting Internet connection (frightfully expensive in those days) also needed to sign the following declaration.
- The subscription applicant must report any hostile website seen on the internet, even if it was seen by chance. The applicants must not copy or print any literature or photos that go against state policy or relate to the regime. Special inspectors teams must be allowed to search the applicant’s place of residence to examine any files saved on the applicant’s personal computer.
- pornography 86%
- gambling 93%
- religious conversion 41%
- sites which provide tools and methods to circumvent filters 41%
- Israel 2%
- religion 1%
- alcohol 1%
- politics 3%
- gay and lesbian issues 11%
- Is it because they think that such matters are harmless and let them do it or
- They do it in any case so why bother or
- The incidence of gay sexual behaviour (but not identity) is so common that there is no point in making a noise
- What could men do with men and women do with women? - Is there a trace of Queen Victoria's supposed attitude that "Women do not do such things!" (actually it is a myth, she never said it)
Suggestions for further reading: