Monday, September 15, 2014

Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common. Both movements won international recognition during the First World War.  Both arose out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and both came into existence at around the same time, roughly 1900.
In attaining their aims both movements disregarded a variety of existing peoples:  In the case of the Arabs the Kurds, the Nubians, the Copts, the Druze and the Berbers are among the potential nations who were prevented from self-definition by Arab Nationalism. The Jews' success came at the expense of the local Arab population.
Both Arab Nationalism and Zionism seek to recreate ancient peoples. The ancient people that the Zionists sought to recreate, had not existed as a political entity for almost 2,000 years.  In antiquity religion and nationality were generally combined so the combination of religion and nationalism proposed by the Zionists made sense in terms of the ancient people they were emulating, the problem being the exclusion of non-Jews, and that the people were divorced from the geography they claimed. In their favor however, the Zionists had a clear vision of the relevant piece of geography, the language it would use and a highly mobile people, used to emigration.
The ancient people that the Arabs sought to recreate, had not existed as a political entity for at least 600 years.  The Arabs, unlike the Jews inhabited the geographic entity they aspired to control, but their definition of its location was linguistic. The Arabs also combined religion and nation in their identity, but because many of the initial nationalists were Christian, they chose to ignore the religious element and focus on the language as the defining aspect. Basically the Arabs were not trying to recreate an ancient people, but an ancient Empire: It was as if the English suddenly attempted to force a nation out of the world's English speakers, claiming that the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India and Jamaica were really part of the same nation.
This notion of nationality is also reminiscent of attempts to unite all German speakers in a single national group. It is problematic in its implications for the large groups of non-Arab speakers and also due to the fact that if Jews from the Arab world are Arabs then Israel might be more Arab then Iraq.
The huge geographic disadvantage of Zionism has in some respect been a strength, Zionists have always felt they must educate their followers in what "Being an Israeli" meant and also self-consciously sought to forge a new nation. The unusual willingness of Jews to relocate, learn a new language and acquire a new identity has enabled Zionists to pretty much define the nation as they saw fit. In the 'thirties, British immigration restrictions meant that candidates for "aliya" had to prove fluency in Hebrew and devotion to ideals before they could receive the few life-giving visas the British were prepared to allocate.
In contrast the Arab states were emulating a highly successful but no longer relevant empire,  while their new nation-states' educational systems spent their budgets advancing conflicting supra-national identities which undermine the population's loyalty and undermine the whole point of "being Iraqi" or "being Syrian".