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Arab Identity - Muslim Challenge

Syrian poet Adonis, in an interview with Dubai TV, addresses democracy and the Arab people. Watch the video or read the transcript - both available at MEMRI. Nouri offers an excellent commentary on the interview (via Terrorism Unveiled).

Adonis, Ali Ahmad Sa'id, is asked of his view of the "Greater Middle East" plan. In his response, he states that if "Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others." And goes on to state that the a precondition of that is the re-evaluation of religion so that it becomes "a personal and spiritual experience." He also lays challenge to the Arab fear of personal freedom and to address Arab extinction - "We have become extinct. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world."

And then the heart of the intellectual crisis behind the Arabs' predicament - "The Muslims today - forgive me for saying this - with their accepted interpretation [of the religious text], are the first to destroy Islam, whereas those who criticize the Muslims - the non-believers, the infidels, as they call them - are the ones who perceive in Islam the vitality that could adapt it to life. These infidels serve Islam better than the believers."

In the summer of 2004, when Shibley Telhami wrote in the LA Times about the "Growing Muslim Identity" (no longer available at the LATimes site but found here), it was apparent to me that the problem is not Muslims who identified more with their faith than their nationality or ethnicity. From my viewpoint, it was that so much of what it is to be Arab has become the what it is to be a Muslim.

As Adonis makes clear, being a Muslim should be a personal choice and further, it should not in any way limit the believer's ability to support a free society - even if that society permits (or encourages) others live outside the bounds of his faith. Democracy in the Palestinian Territories or in Iraq is a good thing. Yet if it is abused to create a religious state or to subjugate those of another (or no) faith - it should be clear that the principles behind successful democratic societies are not yet shared by those people. And that must be addressed from within.

Muslims, not Arabs, must be at the forefront of rejecting intolerance in the name of their faith. They must find or reclaim the values and principles of their religion and, when necessary, build upon them in defense of personal responsibility before their god.

Being more Arab than Muslim didn't happen overnight. And the fall and rebirth of an Arab society of Muslims and non-Muslims will not be delivered at the hands of a foreign nation. But as Nouri notes, our prompting, encouragement and support of those who've begun the long journey will serve a purpose. Even if it is only to spur the discussion.