First of all, there was no Arab civilization in the 19th and 20th centuries. Arabs have long become subsumed under the Ottoman Civilization, a staunchly Turkish entity despite its ethnic diversity, and they had long ceased to be significant contributors to the basic operations of that entity, except as fodder, that is, as conscripted soldiers and farmers.
Second, and though Juan Cole is right in pointing out the existence of objective factors behind the quagmire in which we currently find ourselves, we, as Arabs, cannot simply blame all our ills on the West (colonialism), the environment (oil and drought) and demographics (population growth). We cannot be expected to accept that we are simply the perfect victims of a confluence of extraneous factors and circumstances that are simply beyond our control. There is something in our way of life, our way of thinking, our way of interacting with the world that has also played some role here, that contributed something to this current “malaise” of ours, either though enabling our victimhood, or by preventing us from rising up to the challenges imposed on us by all the “extraneous” factors involved.
As such, and while Hesham’s analysis did indeed miss key points and did in fact come as part of a long tradition of self-flagellation, and of mourning and bemoaning our demise and our current state of affairs, there is something in it that is actually quite legitimate and useful: a desire to identify the nature of our own contributions to the processes shaping our destinies, and to see where we have gone wrong. After all, we are not dealing with an earthquake, a volcanic eruption or a hurricane here. What is unfolding in our region is something to which we have somehow contributed, and continue to contribute, positively and negatively, actively and passively, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about time that we began wondering as to the nature, significance and impact of our particular contributions, so as to move to the next phase and be able to identify those things that we need to do in order to chart a path out of this mayhem and take charge of our destinies – destinies which will forever be intricately intertwined with those of others, as well as all those “extraneous” factors influencing our lives, and the lives of others.
In short, we are forever part of the objective realities shaping our destinies. But how? That is the question that will forever haunt us, and should.