Entries by Adel Bishtawi

What is the conflict between Arabs and Israelis about?

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.

Political and Cultural Diversity Within the Mediterranean

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.

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.

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 and screams in your mind a different thousand words.

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

I had forgotten about the subject until I read an article in (Ali, Omar, Ermes) with the title” The Invisibility of the Arab Community in Britain” dated 23 March 2002. Here is the intro: “It is hard to believe that a community of immense intellectual and financial input to the British society such as the Arab community is invisible. A community of about five hundred thousand people in Britain (The Economist 1988), of which up to three hundred thousand people live or work in London alone, with approximately 200 banks and financial institutions with 150 billion worth of investment and over 10 billion worth of business (A.S. Bishtawi paper for the third Arab community conference 1999, Directory of Arab-British companies 2001) input to the British society and up to ten daily newspapers and weekly magazines, plus about five satellite and radio stations. Not to mention tens of thousands of medical doctors, engineers, professors, academics, writers, poets, film makers, artists, etc and on top of all that, finance experts, political analysts, social experts and voluntary workers, etc.” Wow! Didn’t Kilroy know this? But then again thank God he didn’t 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, Banghlashies 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.

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

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 1979 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 identification 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. 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.

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.

The Jaw-Jaw Lebanese

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. 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.


It is claimed 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 chosen 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 of Palestinians.