Are we all racist now?

Tharwa Editorial

Although we cannot deny that the deeper causes for the conflict in Darfur seem to lie in the scarcity of resources in the region and the restricted access to them  rather than  ethnic tension, which seems to be a contributing factor only, current Arab reactions to developments in Darfur, official and popular, border on racism (to put it bluntly). The same can also be said with regard to reaction vis-à-vis Kurdish aspirations and concerns.

Arabs have been claiming for almost a century now that they are victims of racism. Indeed, and in many instance, they are. But, they seem to have been so blinded by their sense of victimhood that they often fail to see the racism (for there is no other way to put it really) influencing their own attitudes and stands vis-à-vis ethnic “minorities” living in their midst. How else can one understand the hostile reactions, especially on part of Arab intellectuals, to Kurdish demands, for instance, for some measure of control over their lives and affairs? How else can one comprehend the silence engulfing developments in Darfur, and the duplicity of the mostly-Arab Sudanese central government and Arab Janjaweed tribes in acts of genocide and mayhem against the Fur and other non-Arab ethnic groups in that beleaguered province?

Kurds and Fur do not represent some hapless immigrant communities who took refuge in Arab land, for one reason or another; they are not invaders from some neighboring country, or outer space for that matter. Rather, they are indigenous native communities living where they have always lived, just like Arabs, in their traditional ancestral land. If contemporary boundaries between “them” and the Arabs are murky and vague, if the historical claims involved tend to overlap, this is indeed quite understandable considering the history of the region with its particular demographic dynamism.

For at one point or another in their history, Arabs and non-Arabs ruled over each other, fought against each other, made peace with each other, and established kingdoms and protectorates in each other’s perceived dominions. Moreover, and as everybody knows, the current borders separating the various peoples of the region (Arabs, Kurds, Fur, Berber, etc.) have not been established by them, but by European powers in accordance with their own interests and designs, not those of the native populations. As such, all have good reasons to gripe about the current border arrangements.

In this context, Kurdish, Fur or Berber nationalisms are no more or less legitimate and justified than Arab nationalism (or Turkish or Iranian). But only Arabs have managed (or, to be more exact, have been allowed) to establish states that they describe as Arab. The aspirations of the Kurds, the Fur, the Berber, among others, were for the most part ignored.

To make things worse, rather than attempting to address the concerns of these “minorities (who are really majorities in their own territories), the national Arab states have, for decades now, been engaged in various attempts at arabizing their native non-Arab populations, or, when these policies failed, that is, when the minorities involved  refused to accept the “benefits” of Arab culture, Arab states and regimes opted for the adoption of various punitive measures, including neglecting to develop minority territories and denying minority members any real opportunity to take part in leadership positions, thus feeding further their feelings of alienation and contributing to the growth of radical elements in their midst.

The recent Kurdish riots in Qamishli (or Qamislo), for instance, reflects more a dissatisfaction with these punitive policies than outright separatists sentiments.  The same seems to apply for the Furs and the Berber. Failure to accommodate the all-too legitimate desire of various minority groups for real integration in the socioeconomic and political fabric in the countries in they dwell, will only encourage radical separatist tendencies and could plunge the region into the kind of nightmare we can now see unfold in Darfur.

On the other hand, to point out to the potential or real manipulation of issues by the leading (if not always ruling) political elites in the region, and their corruption, ignores the reality of the issues involved.

For in a region, where democracy is yet to have a chance to flourish, none of the existing political elites can be claimed to be truly representative of the aspirations of their people or to be accountable to them. This applies to all ethnic groups involved. Therefore, and as the various national intelligentsias begin to clamor for basic freedoms and rights, they should seek to fill that void, becoming more representative of the aspirations of the Streets and more brave in telling these Streets the truth concerning the realities on the ground, the realities that have been hidden from them for many decades now under the cloak of various ideologies and lies.

When intellectuals fail to deliver on this basic expectation that stems from their very role as intellectuals, when they cling to their arcane nationalist discourse and employ it to justify or whitewash continued government repressions against one ethnic group or another, supposedly for the sake of their national dream and sovereignty, the leading manipulative and corrupt elites will emerge as the sole winners at the end of the day. The intellectuals and the Streets, regardless of their ethnic or sectarian makeup, will continue to be the losers, just as they are now.