The modern Middle-East was largely created by the French and the British, who occupied most of it in the First World War and then drew the maps according to how they understood the local politics. The two communities which had contributed to their war effort were the Jews and the Arabs, and they were represented at the Treaty of Versaille, where the newly formed League of Nations rubber stamped the boundaries the British and French had agreed.
Major groups like the Kurds had no representation, had yet to develop a nationalist movement and were not players.
In the years that followed, a notion developed that the Middle East was an Arab area and anyone who spoke Arabic was deemed to be an Arab. This generally worked well for Christians and Moslems but the status of Jews was unclear for a variety of reasons.
One well worn argument says that Jews aren't Arabs because they lived in the Middle East (outside Arabia) before the Arabs conquered it. But that just raises more problems, because most Christian communities also predate the Arabs but are still regarded as Arab. The Arabs of Arabia also predate the Arab conquest and if that is the case, can Arabic speakers outside Arabia really be regarded as Arabs, or are they just subjugated people who adopted the Arabic language? To put it differently, if Indians and Nigerians speak English, does that make them English?
In practice most of the Arab world's Jews left for Israel (for a variety of reasons) and don't consider themselves Arabs, so the issue is a marginal one. Self-identification is a key factor in national identity. If you think you're an Arab and you speak Arabic then you are. If you think you're an Israeli and don't want to be an Arab then you are not, but self-identification is also flexible and people's minds can change.
Altogether, some 35% of Israeli Jews originate from Arabic speaking countries and therefore, are as entitled to call themselves Arabs, as any Arab-American such as say, Edward Said. Their culture is Jewish but also Arab and common features can be discerned if you choose to make that comparison.
An additional 18% of Israelis are Palestinian-Arabs (and generally self-identify as such) and so if we add the two together than more than 50% of the population of Israel is Arab.
By way of contrast, the other European created regional state, Iraq, is 75% Arab, Algeria is about 75% Arab (although it is debatable how Arab the Berber population is), Egypt is 85-90% Arab (Coptic Christians, like Jews, are not defined as Arabs) and Syria is 90% Arab.
Finally there is an inter-marriage issue: about 1 in 4 Israeli marriages is between Jews of European origin and Jews of Middle-Eastern origins, and given time all Israelis will be descended from both ethnic groups.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
There are too many Olympic sports. I mean why is shooting an Olympic sport? If shooting is a sport then why not knife throwing, darts or firing a cannon? And why is horse riding an Olympic sport but not sheep dog trials? Why on earth is synchronized swimming an Olympic sport? I know it looked good in the 1950s Hollywood movies but does that justify it becoming an Olympic sport? Olympic sports should reflect what people actually do.
It used to drive me mad that the Triathlon was not a sport while horse jumping was (horse jumping but not horse racing... what's the difference?). Triathlon has since got in. But what about Snooker? And why oh why is walking a sport? It makes more sense to have a funny walks competition. Chess is an Olympic sport but not Backgammon, Bridge has applied (to the Winter Olympics!) so why not Poker?
The Olympics have got way too big. The so called Olympic village is now a small town and the facilities... At the end of an Olympics the host city gets left with a huge array of useless facilities it can't afford to maintain. I mean if it's got to be so big why have a city host it and not a country? After all, we all know that the "London Olympics" is really the British Olympics. They could at least spread the facilities around the country, then Birmingham could have a velodrome and Manchester could host the hop, skip and jump. Should that really be a sport? Why not hopskotch or rope jumping? (thanks to Udi for that one). The "Rio Olympics" in 6 years time should really be the "Brazil Olympics". Let Brazil decide where the facilities should be built in stead of making it all based in Rio.
Then there is the whole question of nationalism. The Olympics is the biggest nationalist pageant in the world. All those national delegations walk by holding their flag, the name of their state and if they win we all have to hear their horrible anthems. Yet the host is not a nation but a city! If you don't have a state tough luck. The Kurds don't get to send a delegation, there are no Native Americans or Scots.
Why not just have the delegations come from cities too? Come to that why have them represent places, why not ideals. We could have the Christian delegation, the Scientologists, the Communists, the Liberals and the guys who are just in it for the money (they'll probably be the main delegation). Those who want to represent a state could simply be given a UN symbol and be designated "nationalists".
Winning athletes could choose the song they want to hear at the ceremony or perhaps just read out their poetry. Alternatively one could make singing an Olympic sport and let the competitors sing at the awards ceremonies.
My son was at the Tel-Aviv school championships this week and I saw them handing out medals: the little children got on a podium marked 2,1,3 just like the Olympics and a little girl came out holding a tray in front of her with the medals on it. She then hung the medals round their necks. The ancient Greeks didn't give medals they just put some olive twigs round peoples heads. Medals seem a bit militaristic - the Olympics originated just before the first world war when the European cult of nationalism was at its peak. So why not have some Hawaiian girls come out and hang wreaths of flowers on the winners necks? or special beaded necklaces? or a nice jacket? I expect a pile of cash would do nicely as well. Maybe the ceremony could be made to suit the sport. Cyclists could get a bicycle, runners a pair of shoes and horse riders a sugar lump.
Basically I think that its time the Olympics had a major makeover.
First of all it shouldn't be hosted by a single city but by the country, and the facilities should be spread around the country so everyone gets to benefit.
Secondly they should create some strict definition of what is an Olympic sport and throw out anything that isn't relevant. Then they should add sports that people actually do. I for example, would like to see cycling across town in heavy traffic made into a sport. Perhaps one could combine it: make car driving and motor cycle driving into Olympic sports (are they really less sports then horse riding?) and then have them compete at the same time that the marathon was taking place. The cyclists could then ride across town through all the traffic.
Oh, I nearly forgot. Space invaders, pong and Wii tennis. Those have got to become Olympic sports.