The late President Emeritus Professor Guido de Marco (right) gave the opening speech at he seminar.

What is the conflict between Arabs and Israelis about?

Closing comments by British High Commissioner to Malta, Nick Archer (podium), Former Maltese Foreign Minister Alex Sceberras Trigona, President Emeritus Professor Guido de Marco, Ambassador George Salibaand A Bishtawi.

Closing comments by British High Commissioner to Malta, Nick Archer (podium), Former Maltese Foreign Minister Alex Sceberras Trigona, President Emeritus Professor Guido de Marco, Ambassador George Salibaand A Bishtawi.


Understanding the Middle East Crisis:

What is the conflict between Arabs and Israelis about?

[Full text of the speech on ‘The Arab-Muslim / Israeli conflict – tension before and after the 1948 declaration of Israeli independence’ given by historian and novelist A.S. Bishtawi at the Chevening Seminar, held at the University of Malta on Saturday 16th September 2006]


Ladies and gentlemen, honourable guests, good morning to you all;

A couple of years ago I was asked by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, to help him write a book about his vision for the future development of Dubai. During one of the many interviews he gave me over several months, he told me how he was invited by some of his top aides to begin a program of educating government officials by giving a presentation on the topic of leadership.

With good intention, he told me, he accepted the invitation. After all, he said, leadership was a subject he knew very well. He practices leadership every day, and nobody in Dubai knows more about it than he did. As the time approached to deliver on his promise, he was puzzled to discover that although he was very familiar with leadership, writing about it and defining it were extremely difficult.

I remembered this story as I was preparing some notes for today’s talk. I’m Palestinian by birth, having been born in Nazareth, and I have been a journalist and writer most of my adult life. I can’t recall the number of articles, interviews, and discussions of the Palestinian and other Middle Eastern issues I have undertaken, but almost every time I have been invited to share my thoughts with an audience on these issues I don’t find it easier, not in a way that provides sufficient clarity and scope. One of the reasons is that I feel I am burned with the task of explaining some very complex and multi-dimensional themes which are difficult to put into context. There is another problem, and that is although I am Palestinian I am also British and Maltese, so my scope is necessarily wider and takes into consideration points and aspect that are not held by many Arabs and Palestinians.

Arabs say that the gravest problems are the ones that force you to laugh in the face of their magnitude. When we look at the Middle East today, we are bound to realize that it is facing problems dangers of grave proportion, so let’s try to begin on a light note.   

Once, there was this genie who had been inadvertently released from his lamp by a man curious to see what lay hidden inside. The genie, materializing in the air above the man, expressed his gratitude and rewarded him with the granting of a single wish. The man’s first request was the construction of a bridge linking Malta to Britain, as he liked to take his holidays there. The genie screamed in horror: ‘Can you imagine,’ he cried, ‘How manydevelopment permits I would need to complete this project? Can you imagine the politicians I would have to deal with? I just can’t do it, please choose something else.’ The man thought for a while and said: ‘OK, please help me to understand the Middle East problem.’ The genie suddenly fell silent. ‘Hmm,’ he enquired, ‘This bridge you are talking about, do you want it with one lane or two?’

There can be infinite versions of a narrative. One could concern understanding a wife, another understanding George W. Bush, a third understanding taxation laws, and that’s natural. Most narratives can also be told in many different versions. I, as a historian, view history as such- a narrative. This is probably why I find it difficult to discuss Middle Eastern issues the way I really want to, because other people have their own versions of the narratives of history that is interesting to listen to and that includes the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Of all the conflicts which have raged incessantly for decades throughout the world, there is perhaps none more complicated, more subject to different opinions, more divisive and more relevant for the entire population of the world than that of the Middle East. Its causes are as diverse as could be, and the passions of its protagonists so strong, that the reverberations of each explosion literally ring out across oceans and continents.

If one wants to trace the present situation to its root and develop a tangible understanding of the conflict, then one would have to begin with the Crusades, a series no less than nine gruesome wars which dominated the Eastern Mediterranean between 1095 and 1291. Neither Christianity nor Islam emerged out of the smoking rubble and scarred battlefields of the Holy Land the same.

The conflict was bloody and destructive, but it was not conclusive. The impact of these wars left an everlasting impression on the mindsets of Europeans and accelerated development throughout their bitterly disunited continent. However, the Muslim world also changed forever. The cruelty of the invaders, often reciprocated, was felt more so by Muslims whose lands were under attack. They grew bitter and far more radical. Scholarly historian and expert on the Crusades, Steven Runciman, states in his book The Kingdom Of Acre: “…Islam was not intolerant in its early days…The savage intolerance shown by the Crusades was answered by growing intolerance amongst the Muslims…the Muslims enclosed themselves behind the curtain of their faith; and an intolerant faith is incapable of progress.”

There is another reason why one should begin with the Crusades, and that is because the Crusaders were Europeans- the founders of what we know today as the West. Israel, undoubtedly, is a Western creation. But it is not entirely that. To understand the long-established Jewish dream of a free and independent homeland, one must consider the centuries-old pogroms and persecution which have afflicted those of Jewish faith and blood wherever they have settled.

While the Crusades were largely a campaign of conquest against the distant and little-understood Islamic lands of the East, Jewry intertwined within the fragmented and chaotic heartlands of European Christianity also suffered extensive and unrelenting cruelty and discrimination.

Following the capture of Jerusalem by Crusading armies in 1096, the population of the ethically-diverse city, Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox Christian, were slaughtered alike. Jews were expelled and had their property seized in present-day France, Germany and England, the latter of which expelled its entire Jewish population in 1189 with massacres at London and York. Re-admission was granted only in return for ransom, which was used to fund the Crusades.

The violence only intensified, and the so-called Shepherds’ Crusades in 1251 and 1320 resulted in widespread, murderous rampages in Spain, Eastern and Northern France, and Germany during which mobs often annihilated Jewish towns and slaughtered thousands. In most of these countries and others Jews were accused of spreading the plague and many thousands were either killed or forced to convert to Christianity. In the second half of the 15th century, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain gave their Christianised Jewish population a choice: leave, convert to Christianity, or face torture and death and confiscation of rights and property.

This was followed by extortive taxes, restrictions on marriage and on numbers of children, and temporary expulsions in Prussia between 1744 and 1782. Jews in Imperial Russia were forcibly confined to urban areas in the south-western region of the country in 1792, and were barred from certain professions and higher education.

The false accusation of sedition and treason placed upon the shoulders of Jews inspired several pogroms against Jewish communities from 1881 to 1884, 1903 to 1906 and 1914 to 1921, which were simply ignored by the Russian authorities. By 1920, two million Russian Jews had fled the country, mainly to the United States but several thousands to Palestine. Stalin’s campaign of discrediting and imprisoning many of Russia’s most prominent Jewish figures between 1948 and 1953 completed their alienation and exclusion from society.

It is believed that in 1880, Arab Palestinians- both Muslim and Christian- constituted 95% of the total population (450,000) in the land we know as Palestine. 40,000 Russian Jews, like tens of thousands European Jews before them who found refuge in the Arab world, emigrated to the Holy Land between 1882 and 1903. Palestine, like much of the Eastern Mediterranean, was at the time a province of the Ottoman Empire and administrated largely by native Arabs. However, Christians and Jews enjoyed a large degree of social and commercial autonomy. A further wave of immigration occurred between 1904 and 1914, resulting in the establishment of the first of many armed Jewish organisations, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting newly-claimed territory. This intensified the frustration of the native inhabitants, including pre-Zionist Jews, who feared confrontation with their Arab neighbours and countrymen.

it must be remembered that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 by then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild guaranteed the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,’ and not the national home. It further stipulated that ‘nothing shall be done which many prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’ This, combined with the British conquest of Palestine from Ottoman Turkey the following year and the subsequent creation of the British Mandate, resulted in another large wave of immigration that lasted until 1923. The embers of conflict between native Arabs and newly-settled Jews were only fanned by the establishment of increasingly extreme Jewish militant groups, such as the Stern Gang. These advocated forcible expansion and multiplication of Jewish settlements and violent confrontation with the surrounding Arab population, rather than the pre-existing objective of protection. The arrival between 1924 and 1929 of another 80,000 Jews, many of whom had been barred from entering their preferred place of refuge, the United States due to its strict immigration quotas, was merely a sample of what was to come within two decades.

Oxford historian Elizabeth Monroe’s study, Britain’s Moment in the Middle East, remarks on the results of the Balfour Declaration: “Measured by British interests alone, the Balfour Declaration was one of the greatest mistakes in our imperial history.”

It should be remembered that some of Her Majesty’s officials were sympathetic to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine as early as 1906. However, the Declaration itself was a reward for the help of prominent Jewish officials within the German government during the First World War, who had been instrumental in convincing the Americans to join Britain and France against their German foes. In the winter of 1916, Great Britain came to realise that defeating Germany amidst the incessant slaughter, mud and disease of static trench warfare would be impossible without the involvement of the United States. The Zimmerman Telegram was the proof that anglophile U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had waited for. The telegram, named after the German Foreign Minister who sent it, instructed the German Ambassador in Mexico City to offer the Mexicans help against the United States to re-conquer the land lost during the 1846-1848 war between the two countries but only if the United States declared war on Germany.

Forests have been felled to accommodate books written about the origins of the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is one passage which I find sufficient to describe what happened during the British Mandate (1919-1948), and it is the one provided by British historian and delegate to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Sir Arnold Toynbee. The reason why there are Palestinian refugees, he said, because: “Jewish immigration was imposed on the Palestinian Arabs by British military power…The tragedy in Palestine is not just a local one; it is a tragedy for the World, because it is an injustice that is a menace to the World’s peace. Britain’s guilt is not diminished by the humiliating fact that she is now impotent to redress the wrong that has been done.” (Written in his foreword to ‘The Palestine Diary’ by Sami Hendawi.)

One Man’s Terrorist…
As if the influx of long-persecuted Russian Jewry was not enough, a quarter of a million German Jews were allowed into Palestine by British authorities in the aftermath of World War One. These numbers alarmed the Mandate authorities because the original intention of the Balfour Declaration was to grant the Jews a limited national homeland in Palestine, not to turn Palestine into an exclusively Jewish homeland at the expense of the Arabs.

To regulate the overwhelming flood of Jewish immigrants, the British in 1933 imposed quotas of 75,000 entrants during every five years. Obviously, this was not acceptable to the Jews either within or those outside Palestine who sought to join their brethren, thus a campaign of intimidation and retribution against the British authorities ensued. One of the best known atrocities committed by Jewish terrorists targeted the King David Hotel.

When one talks about terrorism in the Middle East, one has to be aware of several important points. The first is exemplified in the popular saying that ones man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The second is that the attack on the King David Hotel on 22nd July 1946, in which 91 people were killed, is considered by many as the first terrorist attack in the Middle East.  

In July 2006, some Israelis including former Prime Minister and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu, attended a 60th anniversary celebration of the bombing, which was organized by the Menachem Begin Centre. The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and the Consul-General in Jerusalem said: “We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated.”

During the 1940s, wave after was of hundreds of thousands of Jews swept over Palestine. This time, collective Western guilt and pity in the aftermath of the Holocaust led them many Western governments to turn a blind eye to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were either forced to flee or deported from their homeland. I was unfortunate enough to be one of those exiles. The many massacres committed by rampaging Jewish terrorists, such as those at the villages of Deir Yassin, Sharafat, Kufar Kasem and Qibya, were drowned out by the tides of sorrow and horror that accompanied endless streams of Jewish refugees. The many massacres perpetuated against the Jews in Europe were replicated in Palestine less than three years later, this time by Jews themselves. The same shocking barbarism, reports of mutilation and rape and cold-blooded, unprovoked slaughter disappeared along with the lives and hopes and dreams of the dead and expelled. New Jewish settlements took root upon the ruins of Arab villages, and overnight land and property that had been owned by families became Jewish, a process that was assisted by a distinctly callous ‘Abandoned Property’ law. One of the thousands of victims that fell to this law was my father. The wealth accumulated during a lifetime of work was suddenly confiscated for no crime or sin committed.

We will talk a bit more about terrorism shortly, but now I’ll attempt to characterise the essential aspects of the current Arab-Israeli conflict.

Is it a religious war? Is it a war launched by Muslims against Jews?

Let’s try to answer by suggesting another question: Was there ever an Islamic war waged against Judaism? The answer, clearly, is no. Judaism, like Christianity, is respected by Islam. I haven’t counted how many times the words Jew or Jewish appear in the Quran, but it must be in the hundreds. When Mohammed ascends to Heaven, he was met by Moses. Many Arabs have Hebrew names: Yussef (Joseph), Mariam (Mary), Ibrahim (Abraham), Sarah, etc. Even in Arab folklore, there is a large space reserved for interesting stories narrated by Jews. The story of the Jewish doctor in the Arabian Nights is one example. Saladin’s doctor was Jewish. Jewish doctors were at hand to treat Andalusian Kings and Jews were employed in many Arab countries as financial advisers and chief tax collectors.

Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews left Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, and many other Arab countries to settle in the newly-declared State of Israel. One of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cabinet members is a Moroccan Jew- Amir Peretz, and so were many Jewish ministers and senior officials in previous Israeli governments. What does this tell us? That Jews who were expelled and persecuted in Europe and Russia have always found a home in the Arab world or how could we explain the presence of tens of Jewish quarters in many parts of the Arab World? Even Jewish culture, which was systematically eradicated from German society in the years leading up to and during the Holocaust, remains and always has been a valued element of Arab and Islamic culture and history. It is true that some Jews who found refuge in the Middle East over the centuries were poor and lived in slums, but after 400 years of Ottoman occupation, most Arabs did not fare any better.

When we think of the present conflict between Arabs and Israelis let’s not forget that the greatest achievements of the Andalusians are not Alhambra Palace or Grenada, nor the Mezquita of Cordoba, nor Al-Medina Al-Zahra but the fact that followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam combined their creativity and scientific knowledge to create one of the greatest civilisations the world had ever known. Even Jews have said that those times in Andalusia were sent from Heaven.

This brings us to another question: if the Arab-Israeli conflict is not about religion or ethnicity or any kind of ideology, then what is it about?

It is about Palestinian land. A large number of Israelis seem to be suffering from an acute obsession to grab Palestinian land. The killing and maiming, the traumatisation of every new generation, the destruction of homes and schools, the 58-year long occupation, the swarms of refugees, the cruel denial of rights and independence and most unforgivableable of all, the deliberate theft of hope and happiness, and the hundreds of other symptoms of this horrific conflict are the by-products of almost six decades of incessant Israeli land-grabbing. Even when meting punishment for God know what, the preferred punishment if the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Where in the world people are punished by destroying their homes? How could it be tolerated let alone justified or even defended?

For almost 60 years we’ve been fooled but let’s be fooled no more. Israel is not a bastion of Western democracy fighting terrorism- Israel is fighting Palestine. The Palestinians are not fighting the Israelis because they are Jews, but because they are stealing their land and killing their relatives and doing everything possible to ensure that they and their children have no future and yes, with the assistance of Americans who supply and maintain their war machine, fund their colonies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and grant them total immunity to international law at the UN Security Council in 99% of cases brought to the attention of the Security Council.

None of this needs to happen, but unfortunately it does, because Israel’s thirst for Palestinian land is unquenchable. Too much has been said about Israel’s nuclear weapons but these, if indeed they do exist, have never been a source of worry for the Palestinians. The real worry is another type of WMD that Israel has deployed against the Palestinians for the last 58 years:


Israeli governments, left, right and centre, have been deploying gigantic, ugly bulldozers alongside artillery, tanks and soldiers for years. The excuses usually centre around vague and abstract references to the need for buffer zones between eternally innocent Israelis and the perpetual Palestinian terrorist, but the prime aim is simply to obtain more free real estate.

Those eager to own an apartment in Manhattan must be prepared to dish out $1 million or more but for tens of thousands of Israeli settlers Palestinian land is free and it comes complete with beautiful surrounding countryside consisting of confiscated Palestinian orchards and olive groves.

One Israeli report estimates that two-fifths of the land used to build settlements in the West Bank is owned by Palestinians. In the case of the settlement of Maaleh Adumim the proportion of Palestinian-owned land is more than double the estimate but still one has to ask oneself where did the other portion of land come from? Some Israelis claim not all land claimed by Palestinians is Palestinian but if not Palestinian whose?

It look a full mobilisation of the police and some units of the army to move the settlers outside Gaza but they were not going to be thrown on the street like Palestinian. Their residences were given to them free but when they left Gaza they received $300,000 or more of government compensation. Palestinians don’t just have their land taken away by force but are sometimes beaten half to death when they resist. Some are even killed by bullets, shells, missiles or bombs of any imaginable payload and deadly configuration. They die in their homes, on the streets, in classrooms or in offices, and when they go out to buy bread or ice cream; both male and female, young and old, and sometimes in most days of most months of most years.

The Palestinians are part of a much larger nation, so the occupation of Palestine in a way is not just the occupation of a single country, but the loss of a historically and culturally important part of each and every son and daughter of the 330 million Arabs. Most Arabs share their sense of frustration and anger as if their own country was under occupation, be they Moroccan to the extreme West of the Middle East or Omani to the East, and anywhere else in between. More than 330 million Arabs have more in common than many provinces and regions of long-established countries such as the United States. They speak, basically, one language (albeit with various accents and dialects), and are mostly Muslim. They eat similar food, share centuries of history, and have the same culture. Above all, they do feel for one another’s suffering.

It is therefore natural that the plight of the Palestinians has been, is, and will be a major source of Arab anger and frustration at the daily suffering they are receiving at the hands of the Israelis. The Israelis have vacated Gaza and large parts of the West Bank but both areas have not been liberated from the ills and consequences of occupation.

Here is one description of vacated Gaza: ‘In large parts of Gaza nowadays, there is no electricity. Israel bombed the only power station in Gaza, and more than half the electricity supply will be cut off for at least another year. There’s hardly any water. Since there is no electricity, supplying homes with water is nearly impossible. Gaza is filthier and smellier than ever: Because of the embargo Israel and the world have imposed on the elected authority, no salaries are being paid and the street cleaners have been on strike for the past few weeks. Piles of garbage and obnoxious clouds of stink strangle the coastal strip, turning it into Calcutta.’

Before any of my respected audience hastens to say I am being biased, let me remind her or him that these words are those of Gideon Levi, an Israeli commentator writing for Ha’aretz newspaper on 4th September 2006.

In addition to 58 years of almost continual suffering inflicted on the Palestinians, Israel has been involved in no less than six wars against Arabs- 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1978, 1982-2000, and 2006. The result of each of these wars was either more occupation, widespread destruction of property and infrastructure, systematic imprisonment and killing, but usually a combination of these. Israel gained more land, but each mile of additional territory is a hundred miles further away from peace.

And aside from Palestine, successive Israeli governments have longed for Lebanese territory and even more importantly, billions of gallons of precious water from the River Litani. Ariel Sharon attacked Lebanon in 1982, and his proclaimed aim then was to expel the PLO. From amongst the rubble and death of Southern Lebanon that resulted from his invasion, a far more dangerous foe arose. That was Hezbollah.

Originally a religious school which was inspired to take up arms and fight back amid a brutal occupation, Hezbollah liberated Southern Lebanon following its nightmarish 22-year-long Israeli occupation between 1982 and 2000. Since the beginning of Israeli hostilities in this latest conflict, the group (which does everything from collecting rubbish to running hospitals in certain parts of the Israeli-devastated country) has won broad support among all sections of Lebanese society, 40 per cent of which is Christian.

Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms region has been under Israeli occupation for 18 years, while Lebanese prisoners have spent as many as 18 years in torture-ridden Israeli prisons, and Israel continually refuses to hand over maps revealing the positions of their landmines which frequently maim innocent people, including children.

Viewed so close in time, the war against Hezbollah is probably the most important war in the Middle East thus far, and here is the reason provided by the leading historian of modern warfare, Gabriel Kolko: ‘Weapons-poor fighters will have far more sophisticated guerrilla tactics as well as far more lethal equipment, which deprives the heavily equipped and armed nations of the advantages of their overwhelming firepower, as demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq. The battle between a few thousand Hezbollah fighters and a massive, ultra-modern Israeli army backed and financed by the US proves this. Among many things, the war in Lebanon is a window of the future. The outcome suggests that either the Israelis cease their policy of destruction and intimidation and accept the political prerequisites of peace with the Arab world, or they too will eventually be devastated by cheaper and more accurate missiles and nuclear weapons in the hands of at least two Arab nations and Iran.’ (Gabriel Kolko’s latest book is The Age of War. He wrote this article for Japan Focus, republished in Asia Times 30th August 2006).

Some 130,000 apartments damaged or destroyed cannot be ‘collateral damage’. In Lebanon, during the recent conflict, the destruction of entire towns and villages in Southern Lebanon was neither a mistake nor over-enthusiasm on the part of Israeli pilots. One wonders whether power plants were bombed because hundreds of Hezbollah fighters, armed to the teeth, hid beneath floorboards and between walls, or because the aim of the invasion was to make life as difficult as possible for the Lebanese population. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that he intended to ‘set Lebanon back 20 years’. The Israelis knew that destroying Hezbollah cannot be achieved without destroyed its popular base of more than one millionShia. At the end, Israel failed to crush Hezbollah because it failed to displace and crush the Shia of Lebanon.

Following the massive destruction of Lebanese homes and infrastructure in the most recent war, Oslo is well and truly dead but when Arabs went along with the Palestinians in accepting the its Accords (1993), they didn’t do so because it was the preferred solution or the only one. Rather, it was in a way a recognition on their part that they had systematically failed to help the Palestinians. Oslo is dead not because Israel does not want peace, but because when confronted by the choice between peace and land, it chose land. This was the case in the past, and it is the case now. Even when Israel’s military broad sword was blunted in Lebanon, the government of Ehud Olmert is advertising tenders to build more settlements.

The good Jihad and the bad Jihad
One remembers the thousands of articles in the Western media singing the praise of Jihad in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation between 1979-1989. One remembers the hundreds of documentaries and news reports about the noble Mujahideen fighting the cruel Soviets, and one remembers very clearly how the US was helping Islam fight the Soviet infidels.

What a difference Jihad can be if it is against Americans in Iraq or Israelis in Palestine.

Jihad against the USSR was good and was encouraged by the CIA and financed by Saudi money, but Jihad against Israeli and American occupation is supposed to be bad. The Russian occupation of Afghanistan was undeniably barbaric and imperialist in intention. It was rightfully resisted, yet we are expected to believe that the American occupation of Iraq is benign and should be welcomed. In many instances, some in the Middle East wonder whether the definition of a terrorist is now pathetically reduced to somebody who wears a uniform and another who does not. How is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan different from the American invasion of Iraq? The media, or most of it, has failed everybody except governments. This reveals a wicked selectivity of judgment and morality among those who argue in favour of continued occupation of Palestine and Iraq.

Let’s be clear about one thing. I am not condoning terrorism or violence in general. Murder is evil and should be stopped whether committed by Muslims, Christians or Jews. Muslims must be expected to condemn unprovoked terrorism, but Muslims should not be made to feel that they are personally responsible for all of its ills. They should not be expected to give up their rights and freedom because they could be looked down upon by others for their defiance.

Today, more than ever, one has to be very careful in applying collective labels that are not easy to understand. Jihad in one way is simply amobilisation. Muslim lands are under attack. In this first 21st century, very few areas in the world are still occupied by foreign powers but this is not so in the Arab world. Arab land is today occupied in Iraq, Palestine, Syria and even Morocco. Of course, there are extremists in all societies but one should be careful when somebody like the moderate and widely-respected Muslim scholar Yussef Al Qaradawi is accused of extremism. Islam is not Christianity so it shouldn’t be judged in Christian terms. Islam does not have the hierarchy of Christianity so an imam (who leads prayers) is not equal to a priest nor a Muslim scholar (a’lem) to an archbishop. Islam is a bond between a believer and his creator. If an imam is ill or unable to lead the prayers any competent Muslim can replace him. It is preferable for Muslims to pray jointly, but a Muslim can pray at home. If he is unable to stand he can pray sitting down. If he can’t find water to wash with, he can gesture. In brief, it is much simpler than most people believe.

There isn’t a single interpretation of the Muslim holy book (the Quran) so there are “attempts” at interpretation. For Arabic speakers, it is not a difficult book to read and understand. The difficulties English speakers encounter when they try to read the Quran is mostly the fault of unimaginative translators who produced one version after another of soulless and sometimes meaningless text. How is it possible for an Arab who understands English to be moved by the language of the Quran in its unaltered Arabic version, then force himself to read a few pages of the translated Quran and find it dull and out of context?

The moral of this is that in condemning terrorism, all of us must be very careful not to condemn 1.7 billion Muslims as terrorists. Even the condemners themselves are not exempt from the labels they apply, because in many cases their reactionary, collective, ignorant and even racist labels are part of its cause.

The Way Forward
Predicting the future is a hazardous business and predicting the future of a turbulent region like the Middle East is even more so, yet nobody has ever lost money on betting in favour of pessimism. I am an optimist by nature, but the more I hear young Arabs and Muslims speak about today’s affairs the more I am overcome by pessimism. One has to ask oneself, what garbage it is when one speaks about the clash of civilization. How is Catholic Ecuador, for example, involved in this clash of civilization against Muslim countries, or Switzerland, or countless other countries not involved in the occupation, killing, or subjugation of Arabs and Muslims?

I will leave it to my respected audience to think about this, but I am sorry to say that I cannot share with you any optimism about the future of the Middle East, so please forgive me while I say a few words to explain the reasons.

As it happens in wars, there are always victors and vanquished. The Israelis can argue as much as they like about winning in terms of comparative death toll, and the numbers of militants killed, and numbers of tunnels and rocket launch sites destroyed but the fact remains that Israel will have to think more than twice before attacking Hezbollah again, because Hezbollah today is a force of deterrence.

And as Hezbollah’s fighters learned vital lessons from reading and hearing about confrontations with American troops in Iraq, Hamas has learned a vital lesson from Hezbollah- the decisive power of deterrence. Israelis today complain that Hamas is able to import all the weapons they need through Egypt, except aircraft and tanks. The Israelis have built a separation wall, but they know from their bitter experience with Hezbollah that missiles can easily fly over them.

How long will it take Hamas to build such a deterrent capability?

Probably around two years.

Now let’s think briefly about deterrence when applied to either party of the conflict. When Hezbollah gains a deterrent power it guarantees its existence. The same applies to Hamas, or any other Arab organization or country. For Israel it is different. When its deterrence capabilities are neutralized, its very existence becomes precarious.

The late President Emeritus Professor Guido de Marco (right) gave the opening speech at he seminar.

The late President Emeritus Professor Guido de Marco (right) gave the opening speech at he seminar.

Political and Cultural Diversity Within the Mediterranean


Political and Cultural Diversity Within the Mediterranean

[Key opening speech by A.S. Bishtawi to the conference: ‘Barcelona: The Next 10 years, Bridging the Gap’, organised by ELSA (The European Law Students Association) and held at the Riviera Barecolo Spa Resort, Mtarfa, Malta on the 14th of October 2006.]

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning;



Buenos días,


Well, I shall not go on. I just wanted to give you an example of how many greeting forms you can use to address Europeans whereas one is sufficient for 57 Arab and Muslim countries: Assalam Alaikum (or peace upon you).

I shall discuss the dazzling diversity of the Mediterranean peoples in more detail in just a moment but let’s begin by saying that like a great number of other issues, all things Mediterranean can be introduced in terms of good news and bad news.

It is still early in the morning and I am hopeful this event will be a very useful opportunity for discussion and understanding, so let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

A quick surf through the ancient and not so ancient history of the Mediterranean region reveals the type of bad news that may lead certain students lacking in courage and vision to conclude that all will be lost one day, and to look to the future with pessimism and trepidation.

This gigantic lake we surround, while poor in marine life because of overfishing, is bordered by shores which are very rich in human colour and innovation. This innovation created, not far from its southern shores, some of the most momentous achievements in the history of mankind not simply by giving birth to human civilisation but also by enriching it over the millennia and spreading it to the four corners of the ancient world.

For all of us justifiably concerned with the urgent issue of how to breathe new life and vigour into the relationship between the European Union and its Southern Arab neighbors and Turkey, it would be helpful to look at this relationship from the widest perspective possible, for here too one cannot understand the present, nor predict the future, let alone help in formulating an understanding of its trends, unless one considers the past.

The contemporary Mediterranean, as many of you will certainly understand, was shaped into the diverse region it is today not by the passage of time alone, but by the interaction, both peaceful and bloody, of the peoples of the region almost 3,000 years ago. For with the advance of civilization and improvement in agriculture and crafts, there was bountiful opportunity for trade.

There were certainly much earlier activities, but the Phoenicians turned trade into an art and their ships carried agricultural produce, pottery, tools and other items from ports along the Syrian coast to other destinations deeper and deeper into the Mediterranean. These were essentially the forays of an emerging trade-based empire, with outposts and colonies created along the shores of the sea and even further into places like Malta. But it was a hundred miles to the North, in Sicily, that Carthage, originally a Phoenician colony bought by the famous queen Elsa in return for the skin of a bull, that the conflict between East and West flared.

This was the beginning of the first Punic War (Punic is Latin for ‘Phoenician’) between Rome and Carthage. Initially the experienced Carthaginian navy prevailed against the newly-seafaring Romans, but Rome soon learned from its mistakes and moved the the battle to the walls of Carthage, which was eventually destroyedits lands sprinkled with salt to ensure longterm barrenness.

Further conflicts led to the seizure from Carthage by the Romans of important coastal strips and islands including Sardinia and Corsica. After three wars intermittently spanning about 120 years a new age of Mediterranean civilization passed into the sphere of influence of the first intercontinental European power, and the Mediterranean was declared by the Romans “mare nostrum” or “our sea”.

By the end of the first century B.C., the Roman Empire effectively controlled the Mediterranean with most of its trade routes and absorbed the entire Eastern Mediterranean region, turning most of Europe and North Africa into a single political and economic unit.

The rule of Rome was followed by that of Constantinople, its eastern cousin, which we know as the Byzantine Empire, ruling areas that stretched all the way to Euphrates river until Arab armies conquered the Levant and Egypt between 634 and 641 AD. By 750 AD, the Arabs were in control of vast stretches of land larger than those controlled by the Roman Empire, including a Western expansion into Europe that included Spain, Carthage’s most important dominion after Tunisia.

Until the beginning of the 11th century, France, the greatest power in Europe, eyed its Arab/Islamic neighbour across the Pyrenees with suspicion, but Al Andalus was no less powerful and the prevalent balance of power largely kept the peace until the Cordoba Khilafa collapsed in 1009, and the TaifaKings became vulnerable to both the northern Christian states on the Iberian Peninsula and France.

Meanwhile, the Turks, another Islamic race, were expanding westward into Asia Minor and the Byzantine Emperor Alexus Cuminous turned to Pope Urban II for help. After a fiery sermon at the Council of Claremont, the First Crusade was launched and Jerusalem fell one year before the 11th century came to a close.

Following this series of no less than nine gruesome wars which ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean (in addition to isolated campaigns targeting Egypt and Tunisia), between 1095 and 1291, neither Christianity nor Islam (or shall we say East and West) emerged out of the smoking rubble and scarred battlefields of the Holy Land the same.

The conflict was bloody and destructive, but it was not conclusive. The impact of these wars left an everlasting impression on mindsets of Europeans and accelerated development throughout what had been a bitterly disunited continent, however, the Muslim world also changed forever. The cruelty of the invaders, often reciprocated, was felt more so by Muslims whose lands were under attack. They grew bitter and far more radical and some sought revenge.

A century or so after the fall of Acre, major advances into the lands of Christian Byzantium were made by the Ottomans, and in 1453 Mohammed the Conqueror stormed Constantinople and the long life of one of the greatest empires of the ancient world came to an end.

Three centuries later, a western thrust towards the East began again when Great Britain and France, enemies for the previous 300 to 400 years, combined their forces to destroy the Othman Sultanate. The masters of Turkey in the few years leading to World War I were impressed by the German Empire and sided with it against Britain, France and Italy but the Turks bet on the wrong horse. Their prized south-eastern colonial possessions were captured and eventually split between the victorious allies. As a matter of fact every single Arab country we know today was occupied by either Great Britain, France or Italy with the exception of Saudi Arabia, and the occupation continued until the 1950s and 1960s of the 20th century.

So, ladies and gentlemen, this is the bad news. Whether involving the Persians and the Macedonians, the Carthaginians and the Romans, the Arabs and the Byzantines, the Crusaders and Saladin, the European powers and the Ottomans, the long history of the Mediterranean region can be viewed as the scene of some of the greatest conflicts that have shaped today’s world.

Will the differences between the North and South of the Mediterranean lead to another conflict soon? Will racial, religious, political, social and cultural prejudices and intolerance push all of us towards a new catastrophe? Will we have a lasting peace or simply an interval before the next conflict flares?

I shall attempt to answer these questions and others later, but first I would like to share with you my thoughts on the good news that has always existed alongside the bad, but has unfortunately gone unnoticed by the lazy history student until he removes all the veils of prejudice and looks at the region from an entirely different perspective.

And I would like to begin by stating that there isn’t one method of studying history; there isn’t one theory, one angle, or one approach because we are dealing with people, and people are complex and multi-faceted. History is not solely the accumulative bits and pieces of information which researchers gather from chronicles and old references, but also perceptions held by people concerning certain important events in history.

History is really a narrative and as such there is always colour and vitality that can be easily ignored by students who are only searching for hard facts.

The Crusades, for example, were bloody and gruesome in every sense but look at its positive consequences?

What were Venice, Pisa and Genoa before the crusades? What were they afterwards? The so called ‘trade revolution’ was to a large extent the product of the Crusades, during which knights and arms and other logistics were sent away and booty and slaves brought back by the shipload. Many of the Crusaders that invaded the Levant were familiar only with silver coins, and many had never held or seen a gold coin until they reached the East.

Those who tell us the Crusaders lived only to fight did not tell us the truth. It is not true that the only sounds they were familiar with were those of clattering swords or the charge of the cavalry into battle for in the Middle East they listened to new music, tasted new food, drank new drinks like soda (quinine for headaches) and tonic waters, wore new clothes and jewelry and read new books and were exposed to an exotic culture they never knew before.

The Crusades were not merely battles. Muslims and Christians were not at each other’s throats all the time. Trade thrived between Muslims and Christians and caravans from both sides crossed into each other’s held territory in return for a certain tax.

And when Napoleon Bonaparte led 38,000 men to Egypt in July 1798 he didn’t bring along only the most modern army in Europe but scholars and scientists and enlightenment. Napoleon captivated the hearts of the Egyptians. No wonder, then, that Egypt in the closing years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th became the birthplace of the modern Arab renaissance.

And it is true as I have just said that the British and French were occupiers of most Arab countries but it is not true that they pillaged the wealth of Arab nation. As of matter of fact Britain was feeding millions of Arabs with grain from Australia because 400 years of Ottoman occupation pushed millions of Arabs to the verge of starvation.

And it is true that British and French soldiers established military bases in the countries they invaded but it is equally true that they established parliaments and political parties and schools and hospitals, some of which have survived to this very day.

The great Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun noted that the conquered always imitate the conqueror in all ways and manners but I would add only if these ways and manners are better than his own. It is no wonder then that the exposure to French culture led to the publication in Egypt of the first Arab novel. It is no wonder that the availability of European books and their translations generated a taste for European literature that continues to this day and it remains the most influential in contemporary Arab writing. European fashion and tastes were adopted by millions of Arabs and French is widely spoken in many of its former Arab colonies.

Now, I have traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Arab world and lived and worked in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and others. There are vernaculars and customs particular to each Arab country, and in many instances even between large provinces, but I can say with confidence that most of the people living in the vast stretch of land between Mauritania and Kuwait are members of the Arab nation. They have one standard language, almost one history and they largely follow Islam. Moreover their most important traditions and social customs are not dissimilar.

Of course there are differences but I would not describe them as significant and they certainly do not set one country apart from the rest of the Arab nation.

But when we speak about social and cultural differences between one Arab country and another we have to acknowledge the existence of more important differences between one European country and another, and I am not referring simply to greetings. We are all aware of these differences but they are not considered an obstacle in the path of further European convergence.

But ladies and gentlemen, does it matter?

Does it matter if one wears a hat and another a kufiah; a scarf or hijab, a jalabiah or a suit? Look at us. We are all different. Different does not- and should not- mean better. Does wearing a tie make one more civilized than others who don’t? Does eating falafel make one backward but eating schnitzel progressive?

Not at all. These are simply differences dictated by local customs, regional climate and standards of living more than anything else. It also helps to create diversity which makes us, humans, interesting.

Still, there is one major difference between Arabs in particular and Muslims in general, and what we call ‘the West’.

How is it, one may ask, that for 1400 years Arabs have failed to rule themselves like the West does? On this point and this point alone, if those in the West would like to feel superior then I think they have the right to do so.

My judgment is not unqualified.


Because in a number of instances where Arabs exercised their right to vote, the West was not pleased with the result. This happened in Algeria and it happened in Palestine. The Palestinians didn’t vote for Hamas because of its religious credentials but because Hamas, unlike Fatah, is not corrupt. And look at what happened in Iran 53 years ago? The democratically elected government of Mohammed Mosadeq was ousted in a military coup that was organized and financed by British agents and the CIA’s man in the Middle East at the time, Kermit Roosevelt. The Shah Reza Pahlevi, a brutal dictator, was installed because he consented to a new agreement to distribute Iran’s oil wealth amongst the multi-national corporations.

Is it any wonder, then, that millions of Arabs and Muslims brand certain Western leaders as hypocrites because they advocate democracy in the Middle East but continue to support some of the worst dictators left in the world?

And let’s be frank. For almost 100 years Western powers have been meddling in the Middle East. They have invaded countries, toppled governments, forced dictators upon people and given them total support but still they preached democracy and labeled all those that opposed them as evil extremists and terrorists.

Let’s be even more frank. When we talk about violence today we have to remember that some of the most violent conflicts in modern times were between European countries. And let’s remember when preaching democracy that some of the worst dictators in modern times were Europeans: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar etc.

Let’s also remember that not all people cherish peace; not all people cherish harmony, not all people want to live and let live, for in many instances interests, whether economic or political, are considered more important than human life, wellbeing, and happiness. This happened in the past, and I am a realist, so I will presume it will happen again in the future.

Some Arabs and Muslims view the entire West as evil but they are wrong. They look at history and find nothing but conspiracies against them but they are wrong again and they must be made to understand that things have changed. They must be made to understand that there are millions in the West who wish Arabs and Muslims no harm and they would like them to be free, democratic and prosperous and they are ready to do whatever they can to achieve all this.

And I would like to believe that these aims were on the mind of European politicians when, in Barcelona on the 27th and 28th of November 1995, the Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs was held. We were told in the literature at the time that the conference marked the starting point of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (the Barcelona Process), a wide framework of political, economic and social relations between the Member States of the European Union and Partners of the Southern Mediterranean.

Some of the more important objectives of the conference were to:

1.  Define a common area of peace and stability,

2.  Establish a zone of shared prosperity and the gradual setting up of a free-trade area

3.  Rapprochement between peoples through a social, cultural and human partnership aimed at encouraging understanding between cultures and exchanges between civil societies.

It does not take a genius to conclude the process failed to achieve any of its main objectives and one may go as far as claiming that we are in a situation where the opposite appears to have been achieved.

We can all blame it on each other but we should avoid the luxury of indulging in the popular exercise of finger-pointing, because we can’t afford to dismiss one of the more serious opportunities to achieve peace, stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean region.

We could spend weeks discussing what went wrong but I will it make simple: Europe did not have a partner at the Barcelona Conference and without a partner failure is assured.

Certain European states may have contemplated the use of the process to enhance their own interests in some of the southern states but there is no doubt in my mind that Europe wants stability above all else and the best way of achieving this goal is to adopt the appropriate common position.

What is in common amongst all non-European partners with the exception of Turkey is that they are all dictatorships. They are ruling without the consent of their people. There are all interested in survival, not in peace and stability. They rule by stifling dissent and the continual impoverishment of the people so they are not interested in freedom and prosperity. They want the peoples’ anger and frustration to be channeled outwards, towards the West, so their propaganda machines are encouraging hatred and animosity.

Moreover, Europe has been naïve. By providing these governments with aid, some European politicians assumed they could use the funds as leverage to induce openness and advancement of human rights. They were wrong. Most governments used the money to bolster their own institutions and become further entrenched.

Ten years ago at Barcelona the Middle East was the largest open prison in the world, with close to 300 million people within its compound. Ten years later the Middle East is still the largest open prison in the world. The Arabs today represent about 5% of the World’s population but they are ruled by 40% of the world’s dictators. Do Europeans want to tell me that these dictators are their partners in a process to achieve stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean region?

The history of the Middle East does not start with 9/11 as we are led to believe. The West stands accused of implanting Israel in the body of Palestine. It stands accused both directly and indirectly of responsibility for the almost daily traumatisation of Arab and Muslims everywhere due to the unbelievable savagery of the Israeli occupation. Iraq is torn apart by a similarly brutal occupation and radicalization in the Arab and Muslim Worlds is on the increase.

It would be a huge mistake, therefore, if Europe were to conclude now that not much has been achieved in the past 10 years and it is time to bury the ailing Barcelona initiative. Europe cannot afford to make such a decision. Europe must understand that the instability in the Middle East is not the direct result of misunderstanding between the nations of the region but the direct result of the understanding by the dictators that their best chances of remaining in power lie in chaos, instability and poverty and not the opposite. The failure of the process is not the failure of the nations but that of politicians, not of societies but of governments.

Something must be done. If for not for respect of universal human values, then for economic reasons. Since 9/11, the cost of security has sky-rocketed and is running into trillions of U.S. Dollars per year. At some stage, Western economies may buckle under the weight of such commitments, especially with the urgent need to cater for an increasingly ageing population.

I have a number of proposals on how to reactivate the process, as well as ways and means of enhancing it, but I would like you first to think of what I have just said, to collect your thoughts on this subject and work out a plan, but I would like you please to consider with me the current situation.

There are far too many conferences, discussions, negotiations, meetings, seminars, workshops that have been held in various locations at great expenditure of time and money, but which produced astonishingly meagre results, or none at all. In far too many follow-up meetings, items on the agenda yet to be discussed haven’t even been reached yet. Still, we are told by diplomats and politicians that they don’t have the luxury to be pessimistic about the outcome of any of the difficult issues that have plagued the Mediterranean basin for decades…that work must go on, and it will take time.

For how much longer?

Already one generation of Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians has passed away without seeing the tunnel that leads to peace, let alone the light at the end of such a tunnel. The lives of two more generations have been empty of any hope of peace and prosperity, and the infants of the fourth in Gaza, Beit Hanoun, Ramallah, Lebanon and in most cities and towns of central Iraq are casualties of military onslaught, violence and fear.

Because it is viewed by successive U.S. administrations as essential to maintaining a permanent foothold in the Middle East, Europe has been essentially barred from any meaningful engagement in finding a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Americans would not have it. When Europe was finally permitted by the administration of president George W. Bush to be involved it was to send troops to South Lebanon following the recent war, in a move considered by many Lebanese and Arabs as aimed at protecting Israel.

Europe needs peace with its southern neighbors in order to achieve prosperity for its many nations. The battle for peace is ten times harder to win than battles of war but it is far longer-lasting and fundamental to the present and future of us all. Peace and prosperity are too important to be left only to politicians and dictators. Only when people like you and others in all societies and all relevant sections of societies concerned are adequatelyengaged can success become possible.

Politicians these days are not under the pressures of the 1960s and 1970s to produce results. For many, permanent conflicts ensure permanent employment. The massacres, the killing, the violence, the poverty, the sieges and the countless other facets of conflict are the “collateral damage” of political inaction. At best, action is nothing more than sedative or a pain-killer only temporary. In reality such actions, when taken, are wishful thinking that borders on deceit.

Absent from today’s world is the force that helped shape many opinions in the 1960s and early 1970s– the student movements.

A few weeks ago my elder son, Sammy, was accepted for a course in International Relations at the University of Malta. Anxious, like most other new entrants, to know more about this new and rich phase of his life, he wanted to know what it is like to be a freshman. I told him it would be verydifferent from high school. It is not a 9am to 3:30pm routine. At most, he can expect 15-20 lectures a week.

“What did you do the rest of time?” he asked.

“We were demonstrating.”

He looked puzzled. “Against what?”

Against anything, I told him. Against the Suez War of 1956, against the American involvement in Vietnam, to protest increases in he prices of bread and petrol, and sometimes to demand better sweets in shops. The Maltese know this very well. Maltese schoolchildren demonstrated for chocolate not so long ago and like us, they were confronted by police armed with tear-gas and truncheons. At the time, we had better sweets in plentiful supply-and the American ambassador understood our concerns well.

We were inspired by the student movements in France, and we condemned wars and oppression and the politicians had to take note of what we wanted and little by little policies were changed.

Students still demonstrate but governments in the most democratic of countries are ignoring them. Millions flooded the streets of London, Rome, Paris and many other capitals of the world to voice their objection at the Iraq war but it was launched regardless.

Like the media, students in many countries are either towing the government line, choosing compliance, or are paralysed by inaction. It would be grossly unfair to blame the students for all the sins of politicians but the fruit of inaction is inertia and we will all pay a heavy price for inertia one way or another.

The Americans have failed in Iraq and they have failed in Afghanistan and they have failed in Palestine and Lebanon, and Arabs and Muslims alike are now looking to Europe for help.

If you provide it you will have stability sooner than later.

If you don’t you will have a conflict sooner or later.

It is your choice.

The Middle East: A dream or a nightmare

There is considerable controversy surrounding the death of Nicholas Berg but that is not the point his father Michael has been making since his son’s tragic death in Iraq. How he died is not important. What is important is that policies to end life in Iraq have been made. Nick Berg was one of their victims. Ahmad, the eight year old Iraqi who was shot by US troops, was another and so are most of the more than 800 US troops who died in Iraq after May 2003, and the Iraqis and Americans who will die before this wretched occupation and incessant exercise to kill come to an end.

Policies to end life in Palestine have been made. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most enduring in the present times but the easiest to understand-it’s a conflict over Palestinian land. For 56 years Palestinians have been living one step ahead of Israeli bulldozers devouring their land. The attempt to de-create Palestine is followed almost daily by attempts to de-create Palestinians. In the past four years alone more than 3,000 Palestinians were wiped out, three times as many Israelis. Over 25,000 Palestinians were injured or maimed for life, five times as many Israelis. What do Palestinians want? “First the (Israeli) army must get out of our territory”, said Zacharia Zubeidi, commander of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Jenin. “If Israel leaves Jenin altogether, and does not come back, doesn’t bring in tanks and kill us every day, there’s no need even to raise up weapons.”

Policies to end life in the Middle East have been made by many Arab governments. Yes, they have killed their own people in streets, dungeons or inside their own homes because they don’t want to share power. Policies to suppress the universal rights of human beings abound. Many are based on emergency laws that permit the detention of any suspect indefinitely. Some died in prison without charge or a visit from their wives or children. Some died even as the official press criticised Americans for torturing Iraqis in Abu Ghraib.

Policies to stifle democracy and free speech are being made even today to enforce suppressive and cruel past policies but no one should be fooled into believing the ruler’s justification for all this killing and suppression. The collective branding of the opposition has changed but the aim has not. Arabs who called for reform were branded pro colonialists and thrown in prison. Later it was fashionable to brand them “communists” then “Islamic fundamentalists” and now “terrorists”. This is the most vile of all labelling. It allows innocent people to be shot on sight. It denies them legal rights. It impounds their money. It cancels the rights of every dissident and permits arrests and torture en mass and the screening of dead faces of so called “terrorists” on state television. It encourages these governments to hunt or try to kidnap dissidents anywhere.

The war against terrorism is being used as a tool to scare whole nations into paying blood and treasure to support expansionist policies. “Of all the ways Mr. Bush persuaded Americans to back the invasion of Iraq last year the most plainly dishonest was his effort to link his war of choice (on Iraq) with the battle against terrorists worldwide,” The New York Times said. “There are two unpleasant alternatives: either Mr. Bush knew he was not telling the truth, or he has a capacity for politically motivated self-deception that is terrifying in the post-9/11 world.”

After inflaming it, most tyrants are joining this war on terrorism. For many Middle East governments this is now a lucrative business. They get free weapons, police training, international legitimacy and a free hand to do whatever they please. What a change three or four years can make. In the mid 1990s a strange phenomenon emerged. Tolerance, the soul of democracy, permitted true Islam to be peacefully preached in mainly Christian capitals like London and Paris without fear of intimidation from rulers of Islamic capitals.

British and French Ministers and members of parliament were telling Arab ambassadors they can’t buy into the claim that all Arab dissidents are Muslim fundamentalists and terrorists. Not anymore. Excesses were allowed by Muslim extremists with doubtful credentials to stir Islamophobia in London and Paris. “The perception that our government is pandering to the neoconservatives of America has given rise to the belief that all Muslims are implicated in the aggression,” Labour peer Baroness Uddin said. “Each of us is constantly being asked to apologise for acts of terror that befall the world.” Almost suddenly elected presidents, prime ministers and tyrants are speaking with one voice that echoes Bush’s famous war cry after 9/11:You are either with us or against us.

More than 75 percent of Arabs -225 million- were born under tyrannical regimes. Tens of thousands of young men and women were detained over the years many on the strength of suspicion or rumours or “re-emption”, to borrow a term we have been hearing recently from Washington and London. Thousands died in prisons under torture many times more cruel than that meted by American soldiers in Iraq’s prisons. Thousands of Arabs suffered permanent psychological or physical damage and many took their own life to escape the suffering. Like Jewish settlers who invoke God to justify armed robbery of Palestinian territories, and like Bush who invokes freedom and democracy to justify invading Iraq, Arab tyrannical rulers have hid their crimes behind lofty cause – fighting imperialism, fighting Israel, defending the Arab nation’s honour and other nonsense.

In some Arab countries tens of millions of people are living in medieval fiefdoms dedicated to the prosperity of a small number of corrupt politicians, generals, princes and sheikhs. Members of royal families have multiplied and so did their expenses. They need a bigger share of the economy while the share of entire populations has contracted. In some countries there are no decent jobs for anybody who defies governments. In other supposedly wealthy countries they are no jobs. Most of the 225 million young Arabs under 36 have no hope in the present so they have no hope in the future. M ore often than not, young men are turning to Jihad as a short cut to Heaven to escape their hell on Earth.

Arabs are not fooled by their rulers and the Americans should not be either. Rulers who are looked in the eye by Bush and “inspired” to tell journalists waiting outside the audience room they support Bush’s policies in the Middle East, are the same rulers who go back and declare that American policies in the region will create hundreds of Bin Ladens. The rulers who claim publicly they are against the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, are the same rulers who send generals to the Occupied Territories to coordinate with their Israeli counterparts policies aimed at more suppression of Palestinians once Israelis move out if they move out. Rightly, Palestinians are demanding a homeland in the West Bank and Gaza but the world should know Egypt and Jordan denied Palestinians a state when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza for close to 20 years.

Western leaders meet too many Arab rulers but that does not mean all Arabs are corrupt. Western leaders discuss “bilateral issues” with visiting Arab rulers but that does not mean all Arab are illiterate. Fifty years of failed American policies in the Middle East is not the outcome of failed dialogue with Arabs but successful dialogue with the rulers. They stir the anger of the populace against US and Israeli policies with one jaw and feed American intelligence with mischievous claims about dissidents at home with another. For the past 50 years this has been a win-win situation for Arab rulers. They get American help to fight the opposition at home, and they channel the people’s anger away from them towards the US.

There is a stirring in the Arab street and the rulers are becoming aware of the dangers ahead. “Make your choice before it is too late for all of us,” they warn the US and other Western powers. “It is either us or the Taliban. It is either I or Bin Laden. It is either dissidents killed or jailed or terrorists bent on murdering Westerns in streets and housing compounds. When they hear the word “democracy” they have a different answer. “Look at Turkey and pay heed,” they say. “You either support my government or support a parliament that is certainly to vote against your policies every time a motion is introduced.”

Bush made his choice and the Middle East has neither security nor democracy nor any hope of either in the foreseeable future. Not content with a poor attempt to re-write the present, he is involved in another poor attempt to re-write the past so it may fit in his grand design for Iraq and other countries in the Middle East. He would like to claim a monopoly on freedom and democracy but the monopoly he seeks in Iraq is the monopoly on exercising violence. Only a fool may think he can support dictators and democracy at the same time. Only a fool may think he can can call for freedom and allow rulers to stifle freedom. Only a fool can call for peace in the Middle East and work hard to create violence.

Bush and Blair may look at the Middle East and see a nightmare but neither will admit his responsibility for the creation of the nightmare. Neither will admit he made a mistake by invading Iraq. Bush has not regretted publicly the outrageous support he gave Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the outrageous addition to the injustices suffered by Palestinians by denying more than four million exiles the right to return home. Blair was Labour’s asset. He is now a liability but he would rather remove Labour from power than remove himself. Journalists who questioned the war and the torture lost their jobs but not the politicians who sent soldiers to their death. Bush is blaming the CIA, Ahmad Chalabi and the “enemies of freedom” for the disastrous situation in Iraq but, like Blair, the wants to steady the course of a ship that long lost its rudder.

Accountability has been substituted for denial, truth for spin and resolution for fudging. Spin doctors and public relations stunt engineers rule supreme in the echelons of western power. They never had it so good. Bush reiterates the word freedom so often one is forgiven for thinking it is a copyrighted American invention. Somebody ought to remind Bush the Statue of Liberty is a French gift and the Middle East had more freedom before his tanks rolled into Iraq not less. The Middle East had democracy and free speech before Bush was born but the Israeli-Arab conflict killed the experiment because democracy is dissent and dissent is not tolerated by nations under attack. The Americans, of all nations, should know this.

Fifteen months into this wretched occupation of Iraq, Arabs are still trying to understand what are Bush’s real intentions in their region. He is not a great communicator but Blair is, and he, more than Bush, should take most of the responsibility for selling a doubtful audience his false reasons for war. He should say the truth but every time he opens his mouth he gives the people of the Middle East a headache. This prime minister continues to believe in himself even though most do not believe in him. He believes he is right when most believe he is wrong. He has concealed his real role well but people are pointing at him and say: There goes the dean of all Neocons. As somebody who reads books rather than depend on short sessions of briefings by the converted, Blair should have realised that empires belong to past era of history; that sooner or later the violence he and Bush sent to the Middle East will met by even more violence once the shock is absorbed and the real intentions understood.

Bush and Blair have given hundreds of thousands of Arabs the power of violence and the Middle East -the crossroads of civilisations and the birthplace of three religions- has been sent hurtling towards a violent course the Middle East will suffer from for many years to come. On average, it takes the Arab nation two years to stir against foreign threats. This time it was much shorter. Iraqis were telling each other they can’t believe Bush is spending 150 billion dollars and sacrificing the lives of several hundred soldiers to give Iraqis democracy.

Like Arabs, Americans want peace and prosperity but Bush brought them neither. “What Saddam did was awful, but what the Americans are doing is worse,” said Abu Ahmed, a laborer who lives with his wife and four sons in a government-built apartment house in Baghdad. “They say they are bringing us freedom. But this is what they bring-destruction.” The defeat in Iraq is a defeat for Bush’s hallucinations of grandeur not for America’s noble ideals. And yes, Iraqis saved Iraq and the Middle East from foolish designs of Bush and Blair. One hopes the Americans will realise one day that those Iraqi fighters saved the US from further disastrous conquests; that the Middle East is home to millions who hate the policies of US governments but it is also home to millions who look up to the US and admire American values and respect for democracy.

What happens next is up to the US. No foreign power has been able to control Iraq for long. The occupation is clearly the problem in Iraq not the solution. The presence of US troops in Iraq does not mean the US can take oil for free. They are prepared to pay for it. It has no economic advantage because it caused the price of oil to shoot up and costs of security to increase. It does not mean more security for the US because the occupation is inviting growing numbers of Jihadis from other Arab and Muslim countries. For the first time in over 50 years secular Arab movements are joining religious movements in the fight against the US occupation and the evolvement of a Pan Arab, Pan Islamic liberation movement will radically change the Middle East. Instead of firing the sparks of democracy and freedom in the Middle East, the occupation of Iraq is extinguishing both. Instead of driving Arabs to more secularism it is reviving militant Islam and giving power to mullahs and imams and other religious aspirants.

It is mind boggling to promote a convicted fraudster like Ahmad Chalabi to be leader of Iraq. By the time the US administration realised he will never be accepted by Iraqis as their president it was too late, but the mistake was repeated by installing Ahmad Chalabi mark II, the infamous Iyad Allawi. Rather than solving Bush’s problems in Iraq he will complicate them. If he invites the coalition to kill more Iraqis the US will be blamed. And long after Allawi resumed his comfortable exile in the UK, the US will continue to be harassed by Iraqis who want revenge for the killing of loved ones.

Bush did the Iraqis and all other Arabs a great favour by removing Saddam Hussein but the heavy price the Iraqis paid has outweighed the benefit. Bush could not even match Saddam in the provision of security and electricity. The US soldiers who are supposed to provide security for Iraq are over stretched. They can hardly provide it for themselves. They don’t feel good when they see Iraqis dance around dead American bodies and they loathe their mission. Once viewed with admiration and respect, US soldiers are viewed with hatred and contempt and many American soldiers find it hard to understand why they are being killed when their aim is to improve the lots of those killing them but the true answer lies somewhere else.

“Look at this,” said Ghassan Abu Ahmed to an American reporter, raising his hand in a sweeping gesture toward the tableau of American military might. “This is freedom? It is crazy.” The scene warranted the comment. “A pair of AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships thumped back and forth overhead, scouring residential streets for insurgents. Dun-colored Bradley Fighting Vehicles snorted and wheeled around, their tracks gouging holes in the tarmac. A dozen Humvees stood sentry, closing off the four-lane avenue to Iraqi cars, while nervous American soldiers with M-16 automatic rifles forbade local residents from approaching.”

Sooner or later Saddam would have been assassinated and mutilated in the street by angry crowds that meted the same justice on previous prime ministers and heads of state before him. Fortunately he can’t live forever and the tails that will succeed him will be looking for the head in vain. It is a desert justice that has caught up with criminals for hundreds of years but dealing with the army of the only super power in the world is another matter. Iraqis can resent, fight and wait but the blood is boiling. “Once grateful to Americans for ridding them of Saddam Hussein,” the AP reported, “many in this Baghdad slum have come to hate U.S. troops for bringing chaos — and not much else — to their door. “It’s like these tanks are rolling over my own body,” Habib said bitterly. “I don’t care if the fighting hurts our businesses as long as we don’t see them in our country.”

It takes a fool to launch a war but few wars are more foolish than the Iraq war. What is needed now is a wise man to end it. Arabs should not be forced to become enemies of the US. Americans are not colonialists. The era of colonialism, like the era of empires, is over. People in the Middle East will defend their homes. They will reverse any foreign occupation. Anybody who thinks they can’t should read their history. All invasions since the 11th century ended up in disasters but the Arabs have paid a heavy price and not just in blood and treasure.

As Americans know all too well the truth is not the first victim of wars but personal liberties. The Patriot Act is a very good example but Arabs have hundreds of patriot acts intended to pry on private liberties and freedoms of all types enacted in the name of fighting Israel, imperialism and terrorists. Even the new Iraq has a new one that will not produce a new Saddam Hussein in the end but a dictator with another name. The Americans have 140,000 soldiers in Iraq and they can bomb groups of people in cities like Fallujah without being seen but they have very little political influence, and they will have to accept what the turmoil in Iraq produces and try to make it look good with the help of loyal and compliant media.

The Middle East needs not be the nightmare it is becoming. It needs a vision to turn it into a dream. A dream of peace and prosperity not of violence and occupation. A dream like that invoked by Martin Luther King Jr. and re-invoked again by a father who has just lost a child in horrific circumstances. “The people of America and the world have told me that they have a dream and a vision,” Michael Berg said, “that dream is a dream of peace, a vision of all nations living together in harmony and in love.”

Bush has launched two wars in three years to take American liberty, prosperity and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq but he was successful in neither and both countries continue to suffer from the lack of security that both countries had before the invasions. Afghanistan is poorer than during the rein of the Taliban and Iraqis have joined the ranks of the poorest nations of the world. It boasts the second largest proven oil reserves in the world but it’s bankrupt.

Both cases are the result of failure. Had the US spent a portion of the money earmarked for war and counter terrorism on providing jobs and improving living conditions, the insurgency in both countries would have been limited and devoid of any substantial public support. Had Bush admitted mistakes were made and tried to convince Iraqis to embark on a fresh start things in that country may have been different. Bush, instead, resorted to denial and wishful thinking. All are wrong except him and his advisers. With such a frame of mind all, on the contrary, seem to be correct.

“If we demonstrate an America that has a foreign policy that is smarter, more engaged … and more respectful of the world, we’re going to bring people to our side,” John Kerry, the presidential contender, said. “We’re not only not going to put additional troops there, that’s the way to bring our troops home.”

Iraq is less secure today than it was on the eve of the invasion and terrorist groups are mushrooming rather than contracting yet the official line from the White House is that “the U.S. and the world are much safer now that the new Iraq is taking on terrorism and marching toward democracy.”

Lincoln Chafee, a moderate in the GOP, complained recently of the continuing denial. “I feel there’s been a whole host of mistakes,” said Chafee, a moderate in the GOP. “Among them,” the Senator said, “was insufficient troop levels.”

The US, Chafee Said, is spending $1 billion a week in Iraq yet he has heard that electricity does not work in some places, some schools are not open, and water treatment plants remain out of commission. The senator said the country is more dangerous now than when he visited in October.

Chafee, like many others, complained about the continuing noises that threaten to enlarge the conflict in the Middle East to include countries like Iran and Syria. Chafee thinks the Bush administration needs to work more closely with Iran and Syria.

Afghanistan is yesterday’s news and Iraq may start to disappear from front pages and prime time news bulletins but the war on terrorism has not been won. There are many reasons for that but one important factor is that American policies in the Middle East are unjust and they will continue to produce terrorists. No wonder many Middle East analysts consider him a recruiter of terrorisms rather than a terminator.

The Middle East would like to believe Bush when he speaks about liberty and democracy but they can’t. They want democracy but their rulers are the second biggest obstacle to achieve this goal. The first is the president of the US. “The tail does what the head tells it to do,” Middle East people say about the relationship between their rulers and the president of the US. Only when the head decides the Middle East will be safer in the hands of men and women who want nothing more than to raise their children in peace and prosperity the tails will wag in obedience. Like most Arabs, Michael Berg wanted his son to live in peace and prosperity. He did not.

It’s a shame he is not running for president so all children, American, Arabs and Israelis, may enjoy peace and prosperity and not suffer another hundred years of war and devastation.

* The writer is a novelist and historian and was co-founder of Sharq Al Awsat and Al Hayat newspapers

A Crop of Anti Humans

It is not true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Some pictures are worth no more than a single expletive because they are mute. For a picture to be worth that many words it must speak. A particular picture from the American military album of operation “Iraqi Torture” seen by hundreds of millions of people all over the world does not just speak-it screams.
And every time you look at it, it looks back at you with anger and screams in your mind a thousand different words.

Iraqis are among the toughest in the Arab world. You don’t pick a fight with a Yemeni, an Algerian or an Iraqi. They are all hot tempered but of the three the Iraqis are probably the most extreme. An Iraqi does not just sit back and say, “I am tired”. He’ll throw himself in the seat and say, “I am totally obliterated”. They are also the ones who have produced some of the most romantic poetry in Arabic. Almost a quarter of all books published in the Arab world used to be shipped to Iraq.

Of all past histories in the Middle East Iraq’s, probably, is the bloodiest. It has always been rich and magnificent and many invaders wanted to cart away its treasures or control its natural resources. It is also the eastern gate to the Middle East. Crushing Iraq opened the way to the Sham area which comprises Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. But the price paid by invaders lusting for Iraq has been always high. Once inside the Sham area they suddenly realise the gate behind them has been shut and many a great army was buried in the Middle East in its entirety. Like the immortals of the Greek myth, Iraqis rise up quickly. The speed with which they managed to organise armed resistance against US occupation is the outstanding achievement in this wretched war not the US military ‘cakewalk’ over the Tigris bridges.

As the Americans know, Iraq’s defeats are deceptive. To conquer them you have to be either immortal or strip them of their unique rebellious nature, self confidence and pride. To do that you have to be anti-human. But that’s not enough. You have to convince your Iraqi victim that you are what you claim to be–a beast with no mercy. To kill any hope that deep down you may still be human, you have to produce bestial aids to prove to your victim that he has two lines of the anti humans to cross; that there is no escape; that all hope must be abandoned.

It is not difficult for humans to turn anti human– it happens all the time. Less frequent are cases where dogs revert to their true wolf-like nature but they are still considered man’s best friend. Not the ones seen in the American album of torture, though. Those unmuzzled military dogs have not reverted to their killer instinct naturally. They were made to revert using human blood and flesh. The soldiers seem to use full strength to restrain them. They have tasted human flesh and they want more.

“You cannot imagine those acts were committed by a human being,” said Kim Hong-Sim, a 23-year-old gift shop employee in North Korea, the most isolated state in the world. “The country appears to have no discipline.”

“Pimps…don’t do what the Americans do,” said Abdel Wadoud Muhbal, a currency trader in the Iraqi capital. “Who takes a bearded man, a Muslim, and lays him down with his face in another man’s genitals? They want Jihad.”

Americans eat human beings and nightmarishly shred women and place severed heads and human parts neatly in plastic bags but only in movies. This is real. Who sent this evil crop to the Middle East? Who told them it is OK to kill Iraqis? It is OK to torture them? It is natural and human to be un-human?

Let’s not blame the students for understanding too well the lessons of the teacher. Let’s not attempt to find easy scapegoats in the few bad apples from Appalachia who came to Iraq to have some fun in the presumed picnic that turned out to be a dive into the unknown.

President George W. Bush told them to do it. It was not a direct order but every time Iraq is mentioned, out comes the now all too familiar labelling of Iraqi men and women who are standing in his way. Anybody unlucky enough to be detained in any circumstance is considered one of the “terrorists, thugs, killers, losers, deadenders, remnants of the old regime, haters of freedom etc.” The Commander in Chief has singled out those hapless people as enemies in hundreds of occasions in the past two years.

His commanders on the ground in Iraq repeat the same arrogant argument. In an interview with LA times Col. Larry Brown, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s operations officer, said he was unhappy that the Fallujah brigade had not performed as well as he had hoped. Brown said religious fanatics, disenfranchised tribal leaders, former members of Saddam’s Baath Party, criminals, foreign terrorists and people disaffected by the fighting are vying to dominate the city. The thing that unites them is they want us out,” he said.

Why is that a crime, Colonel Brown? You wanted the English out? You are the foreigner in Iraq, not the Iraqis.

No proof has ever been provided by Bush to link Iraq to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington but the message is tirelessly repeated on every possible occasion. One prominent terrorism expert, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Bush may be trying to blunt increasing criticism of the Iraq campaign by underlining the link in the public’s mind between Iraq and security at home. “I wonder if there’s not a connection to the president’s speech (Monday 24 May) when he mentioned terrorism 18 times in the context of Iraq. Isn’t this a very convenient way of linking back to the United States that Iraq is part of the broader war on terrorism?”

This is not fooling many people outside Bush’s constituency anymore. “The global security agenda promulgated by the US administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle,” wrote Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan in the report’s introduction. “Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty.”

The notion of fighting a campaign against terrorism so as to support human rights, while simultaneously trampling on them to achieve this, was no more than double speak. “The United States has lost its moral high ground and its ability to lead on peace and human rights elsewhere,” Khan said at a press conference in London on May 26 to launch the annual report.

While the commander in chief is the one to put on trial, that does not mean the soldiers are blameless. They have done things in Iraq they would not do in their own country. Even if they were given explicit orders to commit these acts in America they would not have done them. It is not just inhuman to commit such crimes in America but also illegal. For even lesser crimes you can be put behind bars for a very long time.

In Iraq it was different. It is not because Iraqis have a darker skin; there are more Americans with dark skin in America than in Iraq. It is not because Iraqis have a different tongue and culture; millions in America have different cultures and mother tongues. Whether they were originally part of a crop of anti-humans or became so in Iraq is difficult to ascertain. What we know, and let’s be frank about this, is that they enjoyed what they were doing. Some knelt within inches of a dead Iraqi’s bruised face, then smiled…waiting for the photo to be taken.

How would Sabrina Harmon (photo) feel if the dead man was her father and the sunshine smile was on a moustached face of an Iraqi soldier? One day she will have to bring life to this world. What would she tell her children? How will they feel when they see that photo which will be with us for eternity?

Perhaps one shouldn’t ask because one can see the answer in the photo. The dogs were beasts then we made them our friends and we have made them beasts again. The photo is saying as much. “I am supposed to be a giver of life but this is what I have become. I, too, have been made a beast and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Middle East commentators have said repeatedly that Arabs do not understand the depth of American shock of the 9/11 attacks. It could be because the American government and media did not explain it well enough. It is also possible many Americans are still deeply traumatised by the attacks and some are trying to find expressions of the trauma in traumatising others even if they know they are innocent.

Is that the case?

The invasion of Iraq will be reversed and the US may find itself forced to leave the entire Middle East. There will be new presidents, new agreements and new friendships but hatred will outlive all of these. Some people, on both sides, will do something, somewhere, sometime and the haunting memory of Iraq will be wide awake in seconds. Not many Americans are aware what American soldiers have done in Iraq but some do: Said a New York Times editorial: “It seems gloomily possible that in years to come, when people in the Middle East recall the invasion of Iraq they will speak not of lost American lives or the toppling of a brutal dictator. The most enduring image of the occupation may be those pictures of grinning American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners.”

Iraqis are victims of American torture in Abu Ghraib and other prisons and detention centres across Iraq just like other innocent Arabs and Muslims detained in Guantanamo and Afghanistan, but this is a human tragedy before it is an Iraqi one. People all over the world have looked at these photographs with shock and disbelief. The moral standing of the US in the world has been shaken and the political and economic leadership will be challenged as well. The Bush administration should avoid chastising other governments for abuse and violations of human rights. Even North Koreans are shocked.

The Christian Science Monitor suggested European public disgust at the pictures probably rules out any chance that America’s NATO allies will offer military help securing the transition to Iraqi rule in Baghdad. In the long run, some observers worry, the photographs could perpetuate a graver transatlantic rift. “They might help create an ‘Iraq generation’ in Europe like the ‘Vietnam generation,'” suggests Bernhard May, an expert on European relations with the US at the influential German Foreign Policy Society in Berlin. “If a whole generation comes to think of America in terms of the Iraq war, then we are in trouble for years to come.”

The picture in the Middle East is gloomier: “I will hate Americans and British people for the rest of my life,” said Rana Izmerley, whose father died in American custody, “you said you were coming to bring democracy, and yet you kill my father. By accepting your governments, you accept what they do here in Iraq. You offer no proof that he did something wrong, you refuse him a lawyer and then you kill him. Why?”

Some soldiers who committed the crimes at Abu Ghraib have been put on trial and a few were sentenced but fellow US soldiers are still paying the price. Many mistakes (and ambitions) are fuelling the resistance to the occupation but the torture at Abu Ghraib and other detention centres throughout Iraq removed from the minds of many Iraqis the false hope that Americans are in their country to help. “These are the things that make Iraqis pick up a weapon and want to kill American soldiers,” said Ghaleb Ribahi, 32 . “When I saw those pictures, I wanted to pick up a weapon too.”

Ghaleb may not have picked up a weapon, but many did. The evidence can be seen in steadily mounting US losses since.

Arabs in the UK: Large in numbers, minuscule in influence and openly insulted by the high and lowly

The Arab Community in Britain: The Absent Presence

The paper deals with the nature of Arab presence in Britain, its influence in various aspects of life in this country, and future prospects. While the author points out that the overall framework of the picture of the Arab community has not fundamentally changed over the past ten years, there have been changes to the details of the picture, having become more complex and requiring a deeper study.

Bishtawi draws attention to continuing remarkable variations in the statistics provided by official and independent sources about the Arab community. Estimates of their number begin with 70 000, and end up with half a million.

The paper considers the economic dimension of Arab presence in Britain against the background of Arab-British economic partnership, being viewed both from the North and South. Information is provided about trade between Britain and the Arab world. A unique character is noted, whereby the balance of trade is tilted heavily in Britain’s favour, with an average ratio of 3 to 1. Among Britain’s trade partners are some of the most important oil producers in the world, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. Despite competition from the US, Britain believes that it can still increase its share in Arab markets. About 50 000 Britons reside in Arab countries, mostly in the Gulf States (nearly 45 000).

While no accurate figures are available about the value of direct Arab investments in Britain at present, Bishtawi believes that they are less than they had been in the late 1980s. A big change has affected, however, their structure as private investments have replaced government or quasi-governmental investments. The reduction of direct Arab investments in Britain is attributed partly to the consequences of the war to liberate Kuwait, coupled with the general drop in oil prices and the deficit in the balance of payments of Gulf states. It is estimated that even with the recent rise in oil prices, an average price of $20 per barrel will not be sufficient to rebuild the financial reserves which existed in the late 1980s.

Against such a background, the paper moves on to consider “the economic picture of Arab presence in Britain”. Here, it notes that only a little proportion of the overall trade between the Arab countries and Britain goes through the Arab community in Britain, or through Arab companies operating in Britain. This is attributed to a number of factors, including the relatively short duration of Arab presence in this country, and their marginal influence in affecting an increased control of part of this trade in their hands. The most important factors cited for this state of affairs are, however, the direct contact which Britain enjoys with a number of important Arab states thanks to its old ties with them, and the dominance of the “agency” aspect in Arab economies, thus negating the need for a mediator residing in London, for example.

A better level of participation by the Arab community in the transfer of Arab investments to Britain, such as property investments, is only reflected on the Arab community through a limited number of jobs in small banks and investment companies which are not normally labour intensive.

A small number of Arab companies with big capitalisation exist in Britain, but most of them are of small size and operate in specific fields, such as property marketing and services, tourism and marketing sectors. These, however, only provide a limited number of jobs. The Gulf war, the decline in oil revenues and reduced spending power of a large section of Gulf citizens, affected these companies, curtailing their activities or forcing them to close down. The end of the civil war in Lebanon and the restoration of stability there also reduced the number of Lebanese-owned companies in the services and foods sector. Media and advertising institutions were also active in London, providing a significant number of jobs. But these institutions have been going through a period of retreat for three years now.

The paper draws attention to the sharp variation in the general economic scene of the Arab community in Britain, with a number of billionaires and millionaires, and some of the well off who are considered to belong to the upper strata of the middle class. A large proportion of the community, however, is made up of employees and wage earners who suffer financial problems that are not much different from those faced by Britons in similar conditions, especially if they are burdened with heavy mortgages. Many Arabs also live on social benefits.

The problem of identity is then discussed by the paper. While Arabs are generally able to integrate in the societies where they live with noticeable ease, something in their oriental character always pulls them towards their homeland. Bishtawi states that he cannot therefore imagine someone would want to live in an non-Arab country unless there was an economic, political or social reason, or a combination of these reasons and others, which forced him to migrate. Some Arabs in Britain, therefore, continue to hope for a return one day to their homeland, thus perpetuating a state of uncertainty.

With proper economic conditions and receding hope of an improvement in conditions back home, the immigrant communities gradually begin to transform, over a relatively long period, into resident communities. This was the case for a large proportion of Lebanese and Palestinians in North and South America, and also for Yemenis who resided in Cardiff, Birmingham and other places in Britain. But it is still early for this to happen for a significant part of Arabs who came to Britain more recently.

The case of the Arab community doe not differ much from that of others, such as the Jews who came from Germany, the people of Hong Kong, Indians and Pakistanis. Most of these people came mainly because of difficult political, social and economic conditions in their countries. Their return is no longer possible, even if the economic conditions back home improve, because the new generation has got used to life in Britain. This is what is happening to a large number of the sons and daughters of Arabs in Britain.

Finally, Bishtawi gives a summary which includes a number of personal observations about Arab presence in Britain. He believes that as far as the influence exercised by a certain community is concerned, their numbers are not as important as the level of organisation they possess. A priority on the level of Arab action must be given to helping the new generation to strengthen ties with their roots before being totally assimilated in British society. Social, cultural and educational objectives must be given priority over political objectives, postponing thoughts of Arab unity until it is achieved in the Arab world.

Bishtawi also expresses the opinion that more emphasis and effort must be put into setting up communal centres in the areas where Arabs are concentrated, i.e. consolidating the pyramid’s base rather than its head (the latter being the elitist approach of Arab efforts at present). There is a need for a proper infrastructure for providing services to enhance the coherence of Arab communities. While there are no fears of threats to the ethnic communities in Britain at present, due to the strong growth of British economy, coordination is important and ought to start now, in preparation for any contingency in future.

Translated by Salam Ali

A synopsis of the paper presented by A.S Bishtawi, head of the Economics and Information Technology Section in Al Hayat Arab daily, to the 3rd Conference of the Arab Community (16-17 October 1999)

The Clash of Languages as an extension of the clash of people

Consider the following encounters between a Palestinian (A) seeking responses to greetings for research purposes and a young Maronite woman (B) both working in a London office:

A: Sabah al khair. (Good Morning in Arabic)
B: Bonjour.

Several days later…
A: Good morning.
B: Good morning.

Several days later…
A: Assalam Alaikum (Peace be upon you in Arabic with an Islamic tone)
B nods slightly with a faint resentful smile.

Analyses of the responses seem to illustrate several aspects of code-choice or code-selection.
By responding in French to what may be considered, in different circumstances, a perfectly acceptable form of morning greeting to other Lebanese, B is asserting two main social and political points:

1- That she is an integral part of that particular French cultural system adopted for decades by a majority of Maronites, and assisted, directly and indirectly, in making them the most powerful group in Lebanon until the eruption of the civil war in 1975 after which some may consider them as persecuted as the Palestinians who have the misfortune of living there,

2- And that she distances herself not just from the implied identity of speaking the same language, but more importantly from speaking the same language with a Palestinian, viewed by a large number of Maronites, and indeed other sects, as an important factor in the destruction of Lebanon and the ensuing political restructuring of the traditional power base in Lebanon.

Language co-existence
A’s greeting in English in the second encounter is a compromise; a neutral response in a natural place (London). This seems to have drawn a similar neutral response partially dictated by the necessity of preserving a tolerable degree of co-existence.

One, however, pauses in trying to explain the third response. Notwithstanding the existence of inexplicable psychological factors which may have played a part in drawing a completely negative response, such may be explained as a two-pronged rejection initially provoked by: (a) using a form of greeting alien to Maronites, albeit acceptable to other Lebanese, and (b) knowingly employing a form of greeting preserved largely for Muslims who threatened the supremacy of the Maronites.

It would be obvious, however, that a different role or setting would produce a different response. B’s response as an employee to a greeting of “sabah al khair” from the Managing Director in a London office is “sabah al khair”. A greeting form by a foreign student of Arabic of “Assalam Alaikum” to a Maronite, say in East Beirut, which is predominately Christian, would be challenged as “provocative”.

The same form of greeting addressed to Maronites manning a checkpoint in East Beirut during the civil war would have invited instant arrest if not a hail of bullets. Conversely a “bonjour” to a group of Shia belonging to Hizzbullah (The Party of Allah) in West Beirut would trigger a similar severe response, while “assalam alaikum” would be regarded as a friendly, appropriate greeting.

An important question may be raised as to why did a majority of Maronites shift decisively in the past 15 years in regarding French as their correct social and political speech code when they themselves have played such a decisive role in the development of modern Arabic?1

There are several social, psychological and religious interpretations for this recent emphasis on using French, but the political reasons may be considered to have acquired a special importance in recent years. Most “educated” Lebanese speak French, but only Maronites adhere to it a means of identification with France to which they look for support.

Such attitude on the part of Christians should not be construed as rejection of Arabic per se. One of the best-known modern dictionaries in Arabic (Al Munjid) is still produced by Christians. A story is told in East Beirut of a mother who, upon seeing her new fair neighbours for the first time, suspected them to be foreigners and sent her son to investigate.
“They are Arabs,” the son told her upon returning.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I heard them say: “bonjour!”

Language as status

Lebanon is a small country of just over 4,000 sq m. with very limited resources. Three years before French forces withdrew in 1946, public senior positions were divided among the various religious communities in accordance with a National Covenant. The Christians, being a majority them, became the most influential. By the 1979s Muslims, with a Shia majority, were in the majority while Maronite Christians had shrunk to around 25%. Muslims began to campaign for larger political and economic share but were resisted because a larger share meant a smaller share for the Christians.

The French were the Christians’ staunchest allies in the war against Muslims who were supported mainly by Syria and Iran. A closer idetification with the France, as protector, brought along an increased shift to French which was ironic since Lebanese Christians played such a decisive role in the development of modern Arabic.2 Loyalty to France and the need to be linguistically distinct were additional factors. At the same time there was a progressive decrease in the selection of Arabic because it was the code of their opponents.

The Shia, generally, were the unprivileged lot of Lebanon. For them and other Muslims, learning French was necessary for jobs and for conducting business with Christians. The civil war, which began in 1974 and involved most communities whose shifts of allegiances were as quick as the code-shifts, resulted in the disintegration of the economic base and the loss of jobs. A large number of Shia moved to the Gulf searching for jobs. For a considerable section of Muslims, French lost its former economic and social value while Arabic gained in importance resulting in a simultaneous decrease of French and an increase of Arabic. Continued animosity led a dominantly Muslim area like West Beirut, to drop French gradually as a second language and adopt English.

In neutral settings Beirut dialect became the only code permitted by the different members of Lebanese communities. Persistent switches to Arabic with higher classical content would produce strong reactions on the part of Maronites, while persistent switches to French would produce equally strong reactions on the part of Shia. For extremists on both sides using the wrong code-choice at the wrong setting was not just dangerous but potentially lethal.

While Beiruti-code was still the “universal” code for most residents of the Capital, subtle variations of code-speech were employed to single out specific “enemies” such as the Palestinians. At the height of the civil war Phalange militias (Maronites) used to produce a tomato to people stopped at checkpoints and ask them to name it. If the suspects used the word “banadora”, they were released, but as Palestinians who tend to use a slightly different pronunciation i.e. “bandora” would be instantly arrested and some were reportedly shot. The “Shibboleth” test of the Bible was very much alive in Lebanon of the Civil War.

We have seen how the political conflict in Lebanon led to linguistic division of its communities. If the present code-shifting continues unchecked, and there are many indications it will, enough momentum will be generated to push the political strife into new dangerous grounds which will put the future of the country at risk. Without ignoring the importance of political, economic and social factors in the eruption of the civil war, it seems possible the “linguistic compromise” embodied in the acceptability of one “national” code, i.e. Beiruti dialect, would still have provided a vital linguistic ingredient for the survival of unified Lebanon.

The “official” language of Lebanon since independence was not Arabic, but the Beiruti Arabic dialect that provides common linguistic ground. As the Christian community shifts away from that code into French, and the Muslim community move further into Arabic, an essential this essential element will be lost.

Inglehart and Woodward ask the moot question whether a viable nation must be made up largely on one language group. “If this is true,” they add, “recent events in India, Canada, Belgium, Nigeria and several other areas give one cause to think that there may be some basis for drawing that conclusion”.3

While historians may argue endlessly what started the Lebanese conflict in 1974, the political and economic dominance of the Christian was a focal target by Muslims who had become the majority. For historical, political, economic and religious reasons, the French were the Christians’ staunchest allies in a vicious war against Muslims who were supported mainly by Syria and Iran. Aside from that, an important aspect of this type of “conversational switching”4 remains a case where “regular patterns of concomitant variations at the social and linguistic levels are brought to light only through a painstaking analysis of speech and of the social situation in which speech unfolds.” 5

1- See Hans Wehr’s introduction to A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Wehr, Hans, J. Milton Cowan ed., 1974, Librairie Du Liban.

2- See Hans Wehr’s introduction to A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Wehr, Hans, J. Milton Cowan ed., 1974, Librairie Du Liban.

3- 2 p 358

4- in addition to this etc. see 4 of 8

5-(2) p 8

One of the mystery islands listed by the 10th century Arab historian Al Masoodi is real and it is in South Korea

I have many ever-fresh memories of my trip to South Korea (Actually the people there prefer the name: Korea as they hope one day they will reunite with the North (Inshallah), but one which I find embarrassing to remember even after all those long years is when I kissed he hand of a lady who went to a great deal of trouble to make the trip successful but before I could do anything about it, and under the glaring lights of the reception hall of the grand hotel she grabbed my hand and kissed it. The other notable event is the satisfaction I had when I discovered at last that the mythical island of women the 10 century Arab historian Al Masoodi talked about actually exists. It is opposite the mainland in the south of the country and it is called Chujo. The Arab historian was right about the Island of Women but little he knew that it has the highest rate of divorcees in South Korea but it is also one of the most popular honeymoon destinations.

If Arab kings and presidents were to call for elections Chirac would win

Western leaders meet too many Arab rulers so they may be forgiven for thinking all Arabs are corrupt. They discuss “bilateral issues” with visiting Arab rulers so they may be forgiven for thinking all Arab are illiterate. The Arabs, like all other nations, do have their extremists but that does not mean all Arabs are terrorists. The claim by spin doctors that Saddam Hussein is an Arab Adolph Hitler should be ignored and the fact restated that all the heavy weight dictators of a tormented 20th century were neither Arab nor Muslims. Most of the petty ones were, and still are.

It is scientifically proven that puppets have a habit of doing what the puppeteer wants them to do. Fifty years of failed American policies in the Middle East is not the outcome of failed dialogue with Arabs but successful dialogue with their rulers. They stir the anger of the populace against US and Israeli policies with one jaw and feed American intelligence with mischievous claims about dissidents at home with another. For the past 50 years this has been a win-win situation for Arab rulers– They get American help and protection to fight the opposition at home, and they channel the people’s anger away from them towards the US. The circle is always complete.

There is a stirring in the Arab street and the rulers are becoming aware of the dangers ahead. “Make your choice before it is too late for all of us,” they warn US diplomats. “It is either us or the Taliban. It is either I or Bin Laden. It is either dissidents killed or jailed or terrorists bent on murdering Westerners in streets and housing compounds.”

When they hear the word “democracy” they have a different answer: “Look at Turkey and pay heed,” they warn. “You either support my government or support a parliament that is certain to vote against your policies every time a motion is introduced. The people loath your version of democracy, your concept of freedom and your ideals but that does not concern me so let’s do business.”

Two years ago Bush made the choice to bring security and democracy to the Middle East but the region has neither security nor democracy nor any hope of either as long as US troops remain in the Middle East. Not content with a poor attempt to re-write the present, he is involved in another poor attempt to re-write the past so it may fit in his grand design for Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
He would like to claim a monopoly on freedom and democracy but the monopoly he seeks in Iraq is a monopoly on exercising violence. Only a fool may think he can support dictators and democracy at the same time. Only a fool may think he can call for freedom and allow rulers to stifle freedom. Only a fool can call for stability in the Middle East and work hard to create violence.

Bush and Blair may look at the Middle East and see a nightmare but neither will admit his responsibility for the creation of this nightmare. Neither will admit he made a mistake by invading Iraq. Bush has not regretted publicly the outrageous support he gave Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the outrageous addition to the injustices suffered by Palestinians by denying more than four million exiles the right to return home. Blair was Labour’s asset. He is now a liability but he would rather remove Labour from power than remove himself. Journalists who questioned the war and the torture lost their jobs but not the politicians who sent soldiers to their death. Bush is blaming the CIA, Ahmad Chalabi and the “enemies of freedom” for the grim situation in Iraq but, like Blair, the wants to steady the course of a ship that long lost its rudder.

Accountability has been substituted for denial, truth for spin and resolution for fudging. Spin doctors and public relations stunt engineers rule supreme in the echelons of western power. They never had it so good. Bush reiterates the word freedom so often one is forgiven for thinking it is a copyrighted American invention. Somebody ought to remind Bush the Statue of Liberty is a French gift and the Middle East had more freedom before his tanks rolled into Iraq not less. Some parts of the Middle East enjoyed democracy and free speech for years but the Israeli-Arab conflict killed the process because democracy is dissent and dissent is not tolerated by nations under attack. The Americans, of all nations, should know this.

What happens next is up to the US. No foreign power has been able to control Iraq for long. The occupation is clearly the problem in Iraq not the solution. In the present mayhem more soldiers mean more targets. The reason why more American soldiers were killed in November than in any other month since the invasion is because they more visible than in any other month.

American policies, yet again, are forcing changes on the Middle East. For the first time in over 50 years, secular Arab movements are joining religious movements in the fight against the US occupation. The evolvement of a Pan Arab, Pan Islamic liberation movement will radically change the Middle East. Instead of firing the sparks of democracy and freedom in the region, the occupation of Iraq is extinguishing both. Instead of driving Arabs towards secularism it is reviving militant Islam and giving power to ayatollahs, mullahs and imams. Since the invasion of Iraq, proponents of democracy in Iran are losing ground to conservatives. By next year they may be in full control.

It is mind boggling to first promote a convicted fraudster like Ahmad Chalabi to be leader of Iraq, and then the infamous Iyad Allawi. Rather than solving Bush’s problems in Iraq he will complicate them. If he invites the coalition to kill more Iraqis the US will be blamed. And long after Allawi resumes his comfortable exile in the UK, the US will continue to be harassed by Iraqis who want revenge for the killing of tens of thousands of loved ones.

Bush did the Iraqis and all other Arabs a great favour by removing Saddam Hussein but the heavy price the Iraqis paid has outweighed the benefit. Bush could not even match Saddam in the provision of security and electricity. The US soldiers who are supposed to provide security for Iraq are over stretched.. They don’t feel good when they see Iraqis dance around dead American bodies, and some loathe their mission. Once regarded with admiration and respect, US soldiers are viewed with hatred and contempt. Many American soldiers find it hard to understand why they are being killed when their aim is to improve the lives of people intent on killing them. Here is an answer:

“Look at this,” said Ghassan Abu Ahmed to an American reporter, raising his hand in a sweeping gesture toward the tableau of American military might. “This is freedom? It is crazy.” The scene warranted the comment. “A pair of AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships thumped back and forth overhead, scouring residential streets for insurgents. Dun-colored Bradley Fighting Vehicles snorted and wheeled around, their tracks gouging holes in the tarmac. A dozen Humvees stood sentry, closing off the four-lane avenue to Iraqi cars, while nervous American soldiers with M-16 automatic rifles forbade local residents from approaching.”

It takes a fool to launch a war but few wars are more foolish than the this one. What is needed now is a wise man to end it. Arabs should not be forced to become enemies of the US. Americans are not colonialists. The era of colonialism, like the era of empires, is over. People in the Middle East will defend their homes. They will reverse any foreign occupation. Anybody who thinks they can’t should read their history. All invasions since the 11th century ended up in disaster but the Arabs have paid a heavy price and not just in blood and treasure.

As Americans know all too well the truth is not the first victim of wars but personal liberties. The Patriot Act is a very good example but Arabs have hundreds of patriot acts designed to pry on private liberties and freedoms of all types enacted in the name of fighting Israel, imperialism and terrorists. Even the new Iraq has a new one that will not produce a Saddam Hussein in the end but a close enough replica to remind Iraqis of the previous one.

Many dictators around the world hold regular elections but that does not make them democratic. It takes more than elections to create democracy. The US has learnt valuable lessons from its bitter experience in Iraq and they will not be forgotten. Had the military been in command in Turkey, American troops would not have been denied access to Iraq from the north. Turkey was not invaded by the US and its cities were not destroyed yet its parliament rejected American requests. What would a free Iraqi parliament do? And others in the Middle East?

Let’s be frank-American interests in the Middle East will not be served by democracies but by dictators. A glimpse at Pakistan is sufficient to know why. Here is a military dictator cum head of state who committed himself to give up the post of commander in chief of the army but decided to keep his uniform after all because it helps him to fight terrorism. The fact that he chose to renegade on an agreement to relinquish the top military position on the eve of an official visit to the US is a clear sign of Washington’s blessing.

The people are fed up. They want democracy so they can get rid of all these dictators but they won’t have it as long as these protected dictators are sitting on their chests. They all claim to have the support of the people but no one does. If all Arab kings and presidents decide suddenly to stand for elections for whatever reason, Arab masses would head for the booths and elect Jacques Chirac.

He lives in France, in case you do not know, but he is the most popular politician in the Middle East. In most cases it is easy to separate ordinary citizens from the chaff in parades by the posters they carry. If it is the president’s picture, the king’s, the emir’s etc, they must be agents of one intelligence service or another, or else relatives. Otherwise decent citizens would be holding the photo of son excellence very high with pride, and for very good reasons.

Anybody who compares the respect accorded to the late Yasser Arafat by Chirac with the chaos of his funeral in Cairo would immediately recognise the difference between a democracy and a circus. But Chirac did much more than that. He taught the Middle East through his amazing care for Arafat that democracy above all is respect for human dignity and decency and not merely a political system. It must be civilised and civilising at the same time and promoted by the civilised and the civilising. It draws its strength from convictions deep inside not from hell and gunpowder. Democracy, Chirac told the Middle East through actions not words, is not a concrete statue to kneel beneath but a beautiful mistress one must love and enjoy and care for forever.

People who compare US president George Bush to Hulagu Khan make a big mistake. Both raked Iraq but Hulagu never pretended he is doing it for the sake of democracy. Iraqis may be given the opportunity to vote in January but they will not be given democracy.

Prove us wrong, Mr President.

The Jaw-Jaw Lebanese


The persistent question confronting students of sociolinguistics is whether code-switching is governed by rule or constrained by convention. This essay addresses itself to this problem by looking into certain aspects of the communicative behaviour of a group of Lebanese bilinguals in a London environment before discussing the impact left by a continuing civil war on certain speech characteristics of Christian and Muslim communities who sought in linguistic distinctiveness a natural extension of their divergent political views.

Throughout this essay both “bilingual” and “multilingual” are used indiscriminately to mean individuals with more than one speech code at their disposal. “Community”, unless specified, is used to encompass all Lebanese, while “neutral” is proposed to mean any environment unaffected directly by the Lebanese conflict such as an office in London where a large number of Lebanese are employed.

Certain aspects of bilingualism involving Arabic are dealt with by Ferguson (1959, 1970), Andrzejewski (1963) and others. Studies of special interest include those discussed by Fishman (1965), Sankoff (1971), Hymes (1971), Bell (1976), Lambert (1967), Lyons (1970), and Pride (1970).

The Open Question

Analyzing multilingual settings, Fishman found it clear “that habitual language choice in multilingual speech communities or speech networks is far from being a random matter of momentary inclination… ‘Proper’ usage dictates that only one of the theoretically co-available languages or varieties will be chosen by particular classes of interlocutors on particular kinds of occasions to discuss particular kinds of topics.”1 Sankoff, on the other hand, arrives at the conclusion that “multi-code situations often appear to be marked by extremely frequent and rapid switching which, to put it bluntly, defies explanation, if by explanation one means accounting for every switch.”2

The dilemma here is obvious. If one were to assert that code-switching is rule-governed, one must be in possession of the necessary data to define every rule and account for every switch. If, on the other hand, one were able to account for certain switches and not others, the moot question is whether incomplete data gathering and methods of analysis are responsible for such partial interpretation, or whether answers to all questions are impossible because the subject dealt with, i.e. human behaviour, is impossible to interpret fully under any circumstances, and will remain so until means of interpretation reach a degree of sophistication and precision unavailable as yet.

Pride observes that “the large-scale sociolinguistics survey might appear bound to accept the possibility and importance of predictability, in order to present objectively verifiable results valid for a wide community; but this is an open question.”3 Other sociolinguists, conscious, like Pride, of the inconclusiveness of the situation, found it necessary to suggest an “assertion which emphasized probability with such words as ‘normally, and ‘usually’, or phrases such as ‘tends to’ and ‘the majority of speakers’.4


Qualified emphasis is particularity useful in attempting to interpret certain aspects of the communicative behaviour of any speech-community, but more so of complex social and linguistic structures such are the ones in Lebanon where over 4 million people form intricate societies with highly complex repertoires. Many speak Arabic, English and French, but there are other minorities who control additional codes like Armenians, Jews, Kurds and Assyrians.

Consider the following transcription of a communicative encounter in a London newspaper office between a young Lebanese Sunni (B) travelling to Paris the following morning, and a young Lebanese Shia woman (A) trying to find out if she will have enough time to buy a personal organizer called “Filofax” for him to take to a woman friend she knows in Paris. The conversation is conducted in the presence of (C) who does not interfere:5

01 A: Ai sa’a tayyartak? (What time is your plane?)
02 B: Ma fi tayyara, train. (No plane )
03 A: Sahih btakhid ittrain? (Is it true you’ll take a train?)
04 B: Aeh. (Yes)
05 A: Leih? (Why?)
06 B: Leih? Bkhaf min attyarah, maleish. (Why? I’m afraid of planes, it is so.)
07 A: La, hueh arkhas ‘ala kul hal, mahek? (No, it is cheaper anyway, is it not?)
08 B: Arkhas, aeh. (Yes, cheaper.)
09 A: Tayyeb hallaq bjareb iza l’shieh- inteh mttawel hown? (All right, I’ll try if until the evening. will you be late here?)
10 B: Al yom heyitni mttawel. (Today it appears I’ll be late).
11 A: Iza bilha’ ba’d addhr jiba. (If I’ll manage to get it in the afternoon.)
12 B: Min wain biddik tjibiya? (Where will you get it from?)
13 A: Ma ba’ref ma bidi rouh ‘and Harrods. (I don’t know, I have to go to Harrods)
14 B: Fi bi Leicester Square mahalat. (There are shops in Leicester Square.)
15 A: La bas hiyi li anno it’s the latest model. (No, but it is because etc.)
16 B: Shoo latest model yani? (What does latest model mean)?
17 A: Ma hini kul sana fdtalaoo shi jdeed wa hiyeh baa’titli very specific 18 details. Iza idirit anti hoon la shi assaa’ saba’?
(Every year they produce something new and she has sent me etc. If I can. Are you here until 7 o’clock?)
19 B: Ayeh. Ba’dain hadiki issit assa’udi Investment Company ma sar shi. 20 abadan le anou azzalami al mafrood ybiani al maalomat inshahat. 21 Tallatelik bi references ali anna ma fi shi.
(It is so. And about the story of the Saudi Investment Company- nothing happened at all because the man who was supposed to sell me the information was fired. I have looked at the references we have but there’s nothing.)
22 B: Ma hini it’s very small. (They- etc.)
23 A: Fiki titalaii bel Who’s Who in the Arab World. I think they’re
24 registered in Jersey. This is why it’s very tough to get information 25 about them.
(You can look it up etc.)
26 A: Jersey America?
27 B: Jersey hhad Guernsey. C’est un paradis fiscal.
(The Jersey near Guernsey. It’s a tax haven.)
28 A: C’est un paradis fiscal comment?
(A tax haven, in what sense?)
29 B: Comme le Luxembourg, comme Antigua. bitsajli sharekeh ma fi hada 30 fi yaref a’na shi la el profits la el capital. Innas behitto fiha 31 hsabat pour l’evasion fiscale.
(Like Luxembourg, like Antigua. You register a company and nobody can know anything about its profits or capital. People open there accounts to avoid paying taxes.)
32 A: Evasion fiscale! Tayyeb, merci.
(Tax evasion! O.K. then, thank you).

The above is a communicative event6 whose basic parameters are already known. A and B are in their mid-twenties; both are university graduates, and both are journalists with Arabic as their mother tongue. The topic is informal, and it is evident that both have an appropriate level of competence7 of the three languages involved.


Participants ——- Interact with Interact with

Topics ——— Interact with ———- Settings

English sandwich words and English code switching are mostly dictated by setting (London), and topic. A phrase like “very specific details” (lines 17, 18) is “handier” in this context than labouring for the Arabic equivalent. The “triggering” of French (line 27) is significant because the available data on participants, topic and setting are not enough to provide an explanation. Questioning A about its likely reasons proved equally unfruitful.

We suggest three possibilities:

a) Assistance: Having discovered that A is not exactly sure where Jersey is, B tries to illustrate one important function of the Island by trying to draw her attention to the fact that it is a tax heaven. Just before doing so, he decides switching to French may be more appropriate because she stands a better chance of understanding the term.

b) Rivalry: B, as a member of the Sunni Community, the second most important politically and economically in Lebanon after the Christians and therefore an equal challenge by the Shia who are trying to gain more influence from both, decides to drive the point that he is better educated not simply by using a specialised term she most probably does not know, by also by using it in a code (French) she claims to know extremely well.

c) Resentment: Although B explains he is taking the train because he fears flying, A, nevertheless, suggests he is doing so because the train is cheaper (line 7). B becomes resentful at the implied accusation of misery, particularly in front of C, and seeking to protect his interests as a Sunni, and possibly as a male, he initiates verbal planning to respond to the insult by employing a financial term he pre-judged she would not understand, thus exposing her limited education.

But while one, a combination, or none of the above suggestions may or may not be applicable in this case, it is not always guaranteed that a more detailed analysis of the parameters and variables involved will alone produce more accurate results since some of the clues must to be provided by the participants who may be either unaware of any “true” reasons or have an interest in providing misleading information. The task may be further complicated by extra social and psychological influences absorbed during the process of learning a foreign language. This is explained by Lambert when he points out that “the whole process of becoming bilingual can be expected to involve major conflicts of values and allegiances, and bilinguals could make various types of adjustments to the bicultural demands made on them.”9

Psychological constraints are treated by Bell (1976) as the second type of rule for code-switching. The first are “sociolinguistics rules which would match linguistic choices with social constraints, at the micro level of individual use or the macro level of national language choice and psycholinguistic rules which would relate choice to psychological constraints, inherent in the verbal planning which precedes speech.”10

The communicative encounter cited above is an example of code-switching involving different languages. An Arab newspaper editor who starts an editorial meeting using formal Arabic; switches to “semiformal”11 code to warn heads of sections against causing the newspaper to be banned for no good reason, and tells a joke in informal code to diffuse the mounting tension created by his warning, is an example of monolingual code-switching, and so would be the constrained selection of variations of particular dialects and styles. Such selections are a “matter of degree rather than of kind; monolingual style-switching and bilingual language-switching are quantitatively rather qualitatively different.”12


One important feature of the above conversation is the consistency by both participants to use what may be generally described as “Arabic Beiruti dialect” despite the fact that both produce materials in standard Arabic.13 Should A and B have been joined by a third participants, say a Maronite from East Beirut, more French would have been used, but the “base” code will most probably remain the same type of dialect. If the same topic were to have been discussed by two Maronites the base code would be French (judging by conversations frequently overheard between members of the same community) with the “appropriate” switching to Beiruti dialect and English, depending on the particular constraints that may be in play.

French has been second language to a majority of Christians since the early 1920s. The civil war that began in 1974 set Muslims against Christians in a vicious conflict over the re-allocation of national wealth and political power, in addition to several other local, inter-Arab and international factors. Loyalty and closer political and cultural identification with France, the Christians’ staunch supporter, were instrumental in the progressive selection of French in social, informal and certain educational domains where textbooks, originally in Arabic, have been rewritten in French. It must be stated, however, that such code-shifting has affected sections of the Christian community more than others, depending on variables of locality, age, education, involvement in the conflict and how they feel towards France14. But if this code-shift was born out of loyalty and identification to France, it may seem natural that disloyalty and resentment of their Muslim, and therefore Arabic speaking, opponents were instrumental in precipitating the simultaneous gradual de-selection of Arabic.

At he same time the Shia, the majority of Muslims, were increasing the selection of Arabic to emphasize an opposing distinctiveness, and to express closer religious and linguistic identification with their Syrian and Iranian supporters, while decreasing the selection of the code of their Christian and French adversaries. This, however, was not the only reason. Prior to the eruption of the civil war speaking French was necessary to work for and conduct business with the Christians who dominated the economic scene. When this base was largely destroyed, French ceased to be that important.

Meanwhile, job opportunities were sought in the Gulf countries that were embarking on massive infrastructure projects. The need for increased acceptability by the new employers did not just involve increased code-shifting to Arabic by the vast numbers of Lebanese Muslims who went there, but also the progressive selection of English, spoken widely in the Gulf. A combination of these and other factors caused the Muslim dominated West Beirut to adopt English as a second language.15

We have looked at aspects of Lebanese communicative behaviour and sought to specify, through the examples discussed, some of the dynamic situational constraints that may influence code-switching and code-shifting. In doing so only “assertion which emphasizes probability” was possible. The absence of total predictability of verbal behaviour appear to reflect, in all but the most artificial or structured ones, not just the deficiency of the available data and the methods of analysis but also the unpredictability of human behaviour at large.


1-Fishman, J. A. (1965) The Relationship between Micro-and Macro-Sociolinguistics in the Study of Who Speaks What Language to Whom and When. In Pride, J.B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) Sociolinguistics, Penguin. p 15.

2-Sankoff, G (1971) Language Use in Multilingual Societies: Some Alternative Approaches. In Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) (1972). Sociolinguistics. Penguin. p 36.

3-Pride, J.B. (1970) Sociolinguistics. In Lyons, John (ed.) (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (1). Penguin. p 292.

4-Bell, R Lecture on Code Switching (1); Constraints on speech-communities, choice, switch and shift.

5-Several Lebanese, including the two interlocutors, were informed two months earlier that there was a possibility of recording selected conversations limited research purposes. A tape-recorder at the desk where this particular conversation took place is used most of the day to take copy from correspondents.

6-speech situation has been illustrated as a party, while conversation at the party is aspeech event, and a joke with the conversation a speech act. See Lyons, John, Coates, Richard, Deuchar, Margaret, Gazdar, Gerald (eds.) (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (2). Penguin. p 280.

7-“Linguistic competence,” Hymes says, “is understood as concerned with the tacit knowledge of language structure, that is, knowledge that is commonly not conscious or available for spontaneous report, but necessarily implicit in what the (ideal) speaker-listener can say.” Hymes, D. H. On Communicative Competence (1971). In Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.)Sociolinguistics. Penguin. p 271.

8-After Bell, R topic 8. Other factors suggested by Jakobson (1960) and Hymes (1962) include channel, message form, mood or tone and intentions and effects. See Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) (1972). Sociolinguistics. Penguin. p 35.

9-Lambert, W. E (1967) A Social Psychology of Bilingualism. In Pride, J.B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) Sociolinguistics, Penguin, p 336.

10-Bell, R. T (1976), Sociolinguistics; goals, approaches and problems, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London 1976. p 141.
11-Used in this context to meant “a highly classical vocabulary with few or no inflectional endings, with certain features of classical syntax, but with a fundamentally colloquial base in morphology and syntax, and a general admixture of colloquial vocabulary”. See Giglioli, Pier Paolo (ed.) (1972). Language and Social Context. Penguin. p 240.

12-Bell, R, Lecture on Code Switching (Topic 8).

13-The term is used here in a narrow sense to mean the type of Arabic used by newspapers and other media as opposed to classical Arabic texts.

14-Many Lebanese Christians have felt betrayed by France and the West generally for not providing sufficient military and political assistance that would have tilted the balance in their favour.

15-The war left a marked impact on the speech of most Lebanese. An argument, for example, would be “blown to smithereens”, extra work would bring “complete destruction”. Moreover, 17 Lebanese were asked what would they understand by the utterance “I saw her duck,” and they all thought of “duck” as a verb.


Bell, R. T (1976) Sociolinguistics; goals, approaches and problems, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London 1976.
P 141. Also Lectures On Sociolinguistics (1989)

Fishman, J. A. (1965) The Relationship between Micro-and Macro-Sociolinguistics in the Study of Who Speaks What Language to Whom and When. In Pride, J.B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.)
Sociolinguistics. Penguin. P 15.

Hymes, D. H. (1971) On Communicative Competence. In Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.)Sociolinguistics. Penguin. P 271.

Lambert, W. E (1967) A Social Psychology of Bilingualism. In Pride, J.B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) Sociolinguistics, Penguin. P 336.

Lyons, J, et al (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (2). Penguin. P 280.

Pride, J.B. (1970) Sociolinguistics. In Lyons, John (ed.) (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (1).Penguin. P 292.

Sankoff, G (1971) Language Use in Multilingual Societies: Some Alternative Approaches. In Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) (1972). Sociolinguistics. Penguin. P 36.

Polytechnic of Central London, Faculty of Languages. SOCIOLINGUISTICS
February 1990 (2941 words)


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that languages need at least 100,000 speakers to survive the ages. And although wars, persecution, government policies and economic hardships make preserving a limited language a continuous struggle the majority (if not all) of Palestinians have preserved their Arabic thanks to their relatively large number (almost five millions) backed by another 295 million Arabs. As a matter of fact some Palestinians in the occupied territories (The West Bank and Gaza Strip) speak Hebrew so well and look so identical to some Jews that Israelis sometimes find it hard to distinguish between them and other Israelis and may go to great length in a semblance of casual conversation to find out the true identity of the speaker.

Several definitions proposed by students of sociolinguistics for speech community appear to be ‘constrained’ by geographical criterion whether such connection is openly stated or embraced by implication. While geographical boundaries for the speech community may be deemed necessary in certain cases, it may appear unjustified in others. This essay seeks to propose how such a geographical determinant would view Palestinians living in Lebanon or any other countries where they may be found in significant numbers, a speech community but not all Palestinians living in all of these countries.

There are a large number of studies on speech communities rationalized by the importance of this subject as the primary unit of analysis for sociolinguists. Some of these include Gumperz (1968, 1972), Blom & Gumperz (1972), Fishman (1966), Hymes (1977), Bauman & Sherzer (1974), Labov (1970), bell (1976) and many others.

The ‘Shibboleth’ test
As Lebanese communities shifted from one speech code to another, both mono lingually and bilingually, under the influence of language loyalty, religion, and the fast changing social, political and and psychological variables, brought about mainly by the war (1974 -1989)1 there remained a speech code used by Christians and Muslims in certain informal and business domains, refined during decades of relative political and economic stability and came to be regarded by a large number of Lebanese as an embodiment of a compromise before internal and external factors plunged the country into an open conflict. As long as ‘normal’ circumstances prevailed it was neither necessary, nor indeed possible, except for the more linguistically conscious, to distinguish the ethnic, social and political background between one speaker and another as long as all adhered to using that particular code. But as the war intensified, militias of all sides became aware of the urgency to stop ‘infiltrators’ from crossing into their new geographical boundaries by finding additional means of identification in the absence of any major distinguishing physical markings.

The linguistic ‘weapon’ was born out of such need and many others, and certain members of the various militias were now able to examine the peculiarities of the different speech codes among members of other warring factions to detect phonetic and semantic variations which may reveal their true identity. Such skills must have reached a very advanced level judging from the hundreds of young people found shot under bridges, behind walls or in wells close to where ‘flying’ checkpoints were erected by both major factions as they sought to seek revenge for previous similar acts, or merely to eliminate as many members of their opponents as possible. Clearly some of the victims were identifiable through papers found on them, or physically, to ascertain whether suspects were circumcised or not and therefore Muslims or Christians, but others were singled out as members of rival factions through their code variations.

It is said by many eye witnesses that certain Lebanese Phalange militias used to produce a tomato to people they stop at checkpoints during the civil war and ask them to name it. If the suspects used banadora, they were allowed to continue to their original destination having satisfied their questioners they were Lebanese and sons and daughters of Lebanese, but if some used bandora they would be recognised as Palestinians, and shot on the spot or driven away for interrogation. If there was cause for suspicion that the person or persons concerned do not ‘sound’ completely Lebanese, other speech tests were used. They would listen carefully for special words like ‘issa’ (now), or ‘khia’ (brother), or any stylistic variation known to be part of the repertoire of ways of speaking 2 of Palestinians.

Speech community, or communities?
The ‘tomato’ test would have applied to may of those Palestinians who lived in camps scattered around Beirut and other major towns, and were sociably and politically restricted to their boundaries, thus limiting any major social and linguistic changes. These, however, do not constitute all Palestinians in Lebanon. A large number of Palestinian Christians were assimilated in the Christian communities of Lebanon to beef-up the number of Christians as the number of Muslims began to increase threatening the very foundation of the power-sharing formula among the various religious communities in accordance with the National Covenant of 1943. The desire to be fully assimilated as well as other motivational factors have contributed in the conscious elimination of the original social and speech Palestinian characteristics and extended to the children. Some Muslim Palestinians, likewise, were integrated in the Lebanese Muslim community because of their wealth, special services or other attributes, and remained so.

For Palestinians outside Lebanon the ‘tomato’ test would produce different results. Those living in the West Bank will mostly use bandora, and would, therefore, fail the test. In Gaza Strip the pronunciation mostly used is “tamatem”, which can easily be traced to the Egyptians who controlled the Strip until 1967, while Palestinian working in the Gulf countries, over 300,000, may use any of three variations depending on where they originally came from and subject to the fundamental constrains of participants, topic and setting.

But while it is difficult in many cases to identify a Palestinians on phonetic, semantic and grammatical variation, there are known cases where they have been identified by Patan taxi drivers working in the Gulf after a brief communicative event even with the Patans limited knowledge of Arabic. In Syria, Iraq, Jordan and other Arab countries, social integration, political pressures, and educational systems have combined to produce many young Palestinians unfamiliar not just with the stylistic variations of ‘Palestinian Arabic’ but also with the social norms and cultural values that usually determine the selection of a particular speech code in a particular domain.
In the case of Lebanon the bulk of over 400,000 Palestinians remained socially and geographically restricted to the camps to a large extent. Such restriction, also prevalent in Jordan, Syria and Egypt, limited the scope for improving the quality of life for most inhabitants, but it helped in other ways in preserving strong family and social bonds and promoting solidarity among its members and maintaining the ability to express them.

Thus, when Abu Ali went back to the mosque after the Friday prayers and asked whether anybody has seen the “sakko”, used mainly by people from Nazareth and its surrounding villages for “jacket” he had left behind, they looked at each other questioningly wondering what the word means. But when he explained and they pressed him for more details and he suddenly threw his hands in the air in despair and cried “Aah”! they were able to determine from the way the sound was uttered that it could not have been caused by the loss of a jacket but rather for something far more serious, they interpreted the sound correctly because Abu Ali had lost one of his sons a few days before. Moreover, when Abu Walid was threatened by a grocer he accused of over-pricing, he expressed his defiance by proclaiming that he could put all Lebanese in his “khorani”. Should the grocer have known that the word for the people of At-Tire means “bottom” there would have been a big fight, but in the absence of such knowledge the contextual slot was filled by “pocket” the word most commonly used at such an event.

If Abu Walid offered a fellow Palestinian visitor a glass of tea he expects him to say “Allah ysalim diatak” (God protect your hands) or any similar acceptable social utterances. When the visitor finishes his tea he is expected to say “daymeh” (may you always be able to be generous), and Abu Walid is expected to say “sahtain” (twice to your health). because if her were to say “saha”, common to all Lebanese, the visitor’s interpretation would be that he was not fully welcome.

On a wider context, these same people must reflect the social and linguistic knowledge shared by most members of their speech community; must choose the appropriate words when comforting a man who lost his son, and use different words to a woman who lost a husband; answer if they were asked, and stop talking if an older man or a socially higher person decides to intervene; know the difference between addressing an imam (The Preacher at Mosques), and addressing a cousin, and joins, when it is appropriate in singing a song the words of which have acquired shades of meaning slightly different to the meaning interpreted by other communities.

Bauman & Sherzer define the speech community “in terms of the shared or mutually complementary knowledge and ability (competence of its members for the production and interpretation of socially appropriate speech). Such a community is an organization of diversity, insofar as this knowledge and ability (i.e. access to and command of resources for speaking) are differentially distributed among its members; the production and interpretation of speech are thus variable and complementary, rather than homogeneous and constant through the community.”3 Clearly such definition would apply to to the Palestinians in Burj Al Barajneh camp in Beirut or to others in the camps in Sidon although a question may be called as to whether the Palestinians in Lebanon constitute just one speech community or several.

The situation of Lebanon applies to a lesser or larger extent to other Palestinians in other Arab countries especially where considerable numbers have been restricted for social or political reasons. Words expressing kinship such as “yama, yaba, khia, shaqfeh, nitfeh, khaita” and many others constitute an important part of the repertoire of most Palestinians and would be recognised thus by other Arabs, or sometimes by a Patan taxi driver. A Syrian Palestinian would use “khaita” (sister) to express closeness,

while he would use “okhti” if he is addressing a Syrian woman. But whether he is in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan or Iraq, a Palestinian has among his repertoire several socially appropriate linguistic variations to use in certain social events. He may tell a bereaved mother “al awad bi salamatek”, or “yeslam rasek”, or “Allah yerhamo”, or he may not say anything at all, but he would not say it with a smile, nor take his groceries with him, or shout it from a window. Also if you say an unshaven man you would not say “had I known I could have lent you may razor,” but “khair!” (May it be good news) recognising he may be grieving over a close relative. Happier occasions would also “instruct” people to use socially appropriate speech. Of course there will be variations between one Palestinian speech community and another because “no very sharp distinction can be drawn between the dialect of one region and that of another neighbouring region. However narrowly we define the speech community, by geographical and social criteria, we shall always find a certain degree of systematic variation in the speech of its members.”4

If these dialectical variations are to be permissible within the speech community, would it not follow that speech communities identified in countries x, y and z would make speech communities x, y and z one collective speech community on a larger or “super” scale? Not so according to Gumperz who declares the speech community as “any human aggregate characterized by regular and frequent interaction by means of shared body of verbal signs and set off from similar aggregates by significant differences of language usage. Most groups of any permanence, be they small bands bounded by face to face contact, modern nations divisible into smaller subregions, or even occupational associations or neighborhood gangs, may be treated as speech communities, provided they show linguistic peculiarities that warrant special study.”5 This definition was later expanded so that “members of a speech community need not all speak the same language nor use the same linguistic forms on similar occasions. All that is required is that there be at least one language in common and that rules governing basic communication strategies be shared.”6

A crucial phrase in Gumperz’s definition is that the human aggregate be “characterised byregular and frequent interaction,” and, therefore, implying a geographical dimension. The boundaries separating communities of Palestinians are of physical and not linguistic nature, and therefore the regular and frequent interaction is not maintained. Even in cases where they may have they money to travel and meet relatives living in other countries, they may not have passports. Security measures are especially tight and further restrict the movement inside the same country at times, while interaction with the people of West Bank and Gaza is impossible because of the Israeli occupation.

Bauman and Shertzer’s illustration of the Gumperz’s expanded definition is that of a New Yorker who is “Usually a participating member of the New York speech community as well as the United States speech community.”7 The intention of this example is plainly clear, but taken literary it would appear doubly problematic because it does not only involve geographical constraint (the collective borders of the USA), but the national one (American) as well because Palestinians are stateless. Hymes recognizes the problematic nature of trying to determine the boundaries of the speech community but only from a strict ethnographic viewpoint. “If the strict ethnographic approach requires us to extend the concept of communication to the boundaries granted it by participants of culture,” he wrote, “it also makes it necessary to restrict it to those boundaries.”8 Clearly this approach is beyond the limits of this essay, but it does, if strictly applied, raise more questions than it claims to answer because the existing boundaries of Palestinian communities are not the boundaries claimed by the participants.
But does that mean Palestinian communities can pass as individual speech communities and fail as a collective one?

Is “regular and frequent interaction” necessary?
It may be pointed out that the “regular and frequent interaction” Gumperz specified does not necessarily have to be physical interaction. The spread of communication made it able for ideas to cross borders of the most repressive regimes, as the case in Eastern Europe or China. But again, this would not apply to Palestinians because they are not in command of such communicatory media, and it has been stated that the problem of mobility for most Palestinians is not only financial but also that of travel documents and visas. If this is the case then the question that should be addressed now is why did Palestinian communities were able to preserve the characteristics of speech communities despite the fact that no “regular and frequent interaction was maintained?

The nomadic residual of the Arab psychology has helped in limiting the importance of geographical boundaries within the Arab world if only because communities inhabiting inter-Arab borders, mostly artificial anyway, are usually speech communities. To compensate for the artificiality of borders, Arab collective consciousness may have compensated for the artificiality and the transitory nature of the borders by means of increased adherence to the distinctive social and linguistic attributes.9 While such adherence for Arabs at large is important politically and culturally, it is of survival quality for Palestinians, as it was vital, say, for Armenians and Jews. Emphasis on distinctiveness is not congruent with superiority. In fact many cases show it may be the result of persecution and inferiority. This may be the case for Palestinians.

But unlike Armenians and Jews, the Palestinians live mostly in countries were Arabic and its dialects are the main codes. There have been cases were using Palestinian Arabic stylistic variations were cause for ridicule, or even murder as the “tomato” test shows, but such dialects were mostly tolerated especially where Palestinians do not constitute a major economic or security risk.

In addition to the nomadic residual, the need for identity, solidarity and closeness, made many Palestinians aware of the differences that may be created by boundaries, and were able to create additional compensatory means. This is may be why the first question a Palestinian would ask another is where he came from, probably to look up in a special “disasporic” dictionary words and utterances that may enhance their acquaintance.

We have seen how the political conflict in Lebanon led to linguistic division of its communities. If the present code-shifting continues unchecked, and there are many indications it well, it will generate enough momentum to push the political strife into new dangerous grounds which will put the future of the country at risk. Without ignoring the importance of political, economic and social factors in the eruption of the civil war it seems possible the “linguistic compromise” embodied in the acceptability of one “national” code, i.e. Beiruti dialect, would still have provided a vital linguistic ingredient for the survival of unified Lebanon.


Giglioli, Pier Paolo (ed.) (1972). Language and Social Context. Penguin.
Lyons, John (ed.) (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (1). Penguin.
Lyons, John, Coates, Richard, Deuchar, Margaret, Gazdar, Gerald (eds.) (1970). New Horizons in Linguistics (2). Penguin.
Pride, J. B. & Holmes, Janet (eds.) (1972). Sociolinguistics. Penguin.
Bell, Roger Socilinguistics; goals, approaches and problems 1976

1 Many people believe the present lull in the fighting is temporary, and that the civil war will continue in the absence of an acceptable compromise.

2 Hymes, and etc 4, 278

3 Bauman, R & Sherzer J (eds.) 1974. Exploration in the ethnography of speaking 6 (check)

41, 19

5 (4,279)

6 4, 278

7 see 4, 278

8 2, 28

9 Labov lends importance to the unconscious social judgments about languages and concludes that “social attitude towards language are extremely uniform throughout a speech community.” Such emphasis leads him to suggest the a plausible definition of a speech community would be “a group of speakers who share a set of social attitudes towards language.”

2, 293 words

Polytechnic of Central London,
Faculty of Languages.