The Complex Nature of Arab Nationalism and Islamism in the Arab World

While the concepts of the “nation” and the “state” have long been present, the “nation-state”, is broadly agreed upon within International Relations community to have been “codified”  by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.[1] Regardless of whether non-Western polities would have adapted the nation-state concept themselves in time, colonial powers crudely instilled the concept in the Middle East, with much of the Middle Eastern map drawn by Great Britain and France as part of the Sykes-Picot agreement after Ottoman rule of the Middle East.[2] Therefore, Arab nationalism has been a force of unity for the Arab people, from opposition to the Ottoman Empire, then to the colonial powers of Europe, and then to US hegemony. As “nationalism” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the “loyalty or devotion to a nation,” [3] “Arab nationalism”, then, is not quite the same as the nationalism one might think of in the West. The nation Arab nationalists are devoting to has historical, political, cultural, and socio-economic differences than the nation of Western nationalists, and therefore, will be, according to Anderson, imagined in different ways.

The school of thought that sees Arab nationalism and Islamism as separate, mutually exclusive identities and phenomena identifies the perceived failure of Arab nationalism with the devastating Arab defeat by Israel in the June 1967 war. In this case, the nationalist projects that were rampant in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and across the Arab world in the early 1950s, were overtaken by a surge in Islamic sentiment.[4] The collapse of the United Arab Republic in 1961 that caused Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser to suffer, as the leader of the “Arab nationalist march,”[5] is seen as another turning point from a nationalist era to an Islamist era in the Arab world.

Here it is viewed that the dwindling of Arab nationalism with its strong rhetoric in anti-imperialist sentiment is believed to be due to Britain’s departure from Egypt and Iraq, the Arab states who had “espoused the ideas of Arab nationalism” suffering the humiliation of ’67, and the gradual shift in power to the more conservative states, which has resulted in an era where “Islam became a way for people to address their grievances from an authentic, respected viewpoint.”[6] The “sun set on nationalism” and “rose on Islamic militancy”, as radical Islamists challenged governments throughout the region, such as the Baathist Iraqi government in the 1970s, the Baathists in Syria in the 1980s and the secular Algerian leaderships in the 1990s.[7]

Yet the idea that Arab nationalism died and was replaced by Islamism relies on the assumption that Arab nationalism and Islamism are merely contradictory, and is a fallacy that suffers from oversimplification. It neglects the history of Islam, the Islamic movements that helped shape the political discourse and Arab society much before the 1960s, the decline of Ottoman and Persian power and how this affected the role of Islam in the Arab world, and so on. Instead, understanding Islamism as a part of the wider “Islamic phenomenon” allows one to acknowledge the deeply complex nature of it, with expressions such as al-ba’th al-islami (Islamic resurrection), al-ittijah al-islami (Islamic tendency) and al-sahwah al-islamiyyah (Islamic awakening); commonly used to refer to the Islamic phenomenon and portraying the cyclical nature of it.[8] The Islamic phenomenon is an intrinsic part of Arab society, thereby inevitably intertwined with each part of Arab society, including Arab nationalism.

Chouraqui uses Descartes’ Discourse on the Method to argue understanding Arab nationalism and Islamism as separate and opposing ideologies confuses the concept of origin with foundation.[9] In this sense, the origin of both these movements have similarities: an anti-West dynamic against the colonial European powers and then US hegemony, while the foundation of these movements, in other words, what these movements consists of, differs – as, while Arab nationalism embraces Western ideas, Islamism fundamentally rejects Western ideas and values.[10] Historically, the two have co-existed, overlapping, and been used by the other for their own aims. Islamism has been used to strengthen nationalist sentiment, such as through Al-Azhar as a unifying ideological tool.[11] Another instance of the two overlapping are the Iraqi Baathists, a nationalist force who held a deeply complex relationship with Islamic forces – in 1993 beginning to embark on a Return to Faith Campaign (which ultimately aimed to emphasis Islamic identity) and in 2003 collaborating with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which would later on become Islamic State, and thus, “by 2014, the Baathists and the jihadists were back to being allies.”[12]

The Egyptian Arab Spring witnessed Islamists, liberals, conservatives, all united in overthrowing the Mubarak regime. Tahrir Square was not split by sectarianism nor by ideology, as “inside the field no one asked about religion, no one cared. All Egyptians…all protesting, all united.”[13] Despite this unity disintegrating after the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, the unity during the revolutions and uprisings prove the two may work together in ways nationalism in the West and Islamism have not. The widespread suspicion that Nasser had approached the Muslim Brotherhood at some point in his life for a national cause further shows a larger phenomenon whereby Islamist and nationalist groups in the Arab world hold the potential to aid each other.

As Arab nationalism and Islamism are not mutually exclusive, then the argument that rising nationalism has a purely fundamentally contradictory relationship with jihadi terrorists as Islamist forces is faulty and proves oversimplified. The relationship between rising nationalism and Islamist fundamentalism is not necessarily purely fundamentally contradictory. While ideologically Arab nationalism and Islamism seem to be contradictory, with one rooted in transnational goals and the other in national, in practice this has not been the case. Therefore, the relationship between the two entities are deeply complex in the Arab world.

[1] Benno Teschke, “Theorizing the Westphalian System of States: International Relations from Absolutism to Capitalism”, European Journal of International Relations 8 No. 1 (2002), 6, https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066102008001001.

[2] Tarek Osman, “Why Border Lines Drawn with a Ruler in WWI Still Rock the Middle East,” BBC, December 14, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-25299553.

[3] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Nationality,” accessed July 23, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism.

[4] Dorothy Zirkle, “Arab Nationalism Versus Islamic Fundamentalism as a Unifying Factor in the Middle East,” (Dissertation, Boston College, 2007).

[5] Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003), 167.

[6] Zirkle, “Arab Nationalism Versus Islamic Fundamentalism,” 88, 98.

[7] Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, 296.

[8] R. Hrair Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985), 4.

[9] Nathanael Chouraqui, “Are Arab Nationalism & Islamism Two Sides of the Same Coin?” E-international Relations Students (2016). Received from: http://www.e-ir.info/2016/09/02/are-arab-nationalism-and-islamism-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Isabel Coles and Ned Parker, “The Baathists: How Saddam’s Men Helped Islamic State Rule,” Reuters, December 11, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/mideast-crisis-iraq-islamicstate/.

[13] Nermeen Edrees, “Egypt: Inside Tahrir Square,” Global Voices February 4, 2011, Accessed July 23, 2018, https://globalvoices.org/2011/02/04/egypt-inside-tahrir-square/.

Counter-Terrorism and Terrorism: A Cycle?

In order to examine and understand the connection between terrorism and counter-terrorism today, one must first become acquainted with the theories and perspective within critical terrorism studies – that is that there is such a thing as “traditional” terrorism studies, a discipline that is problematic in its state-centered-ness, and therefore is biased and has goals and ideologies wholly from the state perspective. The current war on terror has justified many pre-emptive wars such as the Iraq invasion, and measures that are extreme – such as Guantanamo Bay, a recession of civil liberties in America regarding privacy and in torture and therefore in human rights, and so on. Terrorism is a weaponized term that gives justification to the labeler, and delegitimizes those that are being labelled as such. Therefore, when counter-terrorist entities and state deem a certain group as a terrorist organisation- this immediately holds a level of de-legitimization of their grievances and therefore exempts any need to even listen to them, no less consider their grievances. The labelling of “Terrorism” as such provides an oversimplified notion of the barbaric “them” versus the civilized “us” that are under threat.

Following anthropologist Zulaika’s writings, it becomes clear counter-terrorist actors are often not rational. He argues counter-terrorism as a self-fulfilling prophecy, that makes terrorism seem a “Taboo” and mythologises the fearful barbaric “other”, the “terrorist”- and in fact, this is counter-productive to the goals of counter-terrorism as it provides more fear and therefore perceived power of the so-called terrorists. He terms this the “myth of the culture of terror.” He uses the word “myth” because it is not factual, and in this sense, is witchcraft-like, as counter-terrorist actors – intelligence agencies, military strategists, politicians, security agency, in other words, the security-military complex- give in to this fear more than certain facts. This can be seen with the Bush administration regarding the Iraq invasion, and similarly to Paul Bremer’s decisions in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. In other words, counter-terrorist actors act as if there is an inevitable up-coming attack, that is deemed bigger and worse and scarier, than all previous, and therefore all measures of security and defense and offense are necessary, but simultaneously, and paradoxically, this will in no means be sufficient to squander the opposition. Here “belief precedes knowledge”, as Zulaika wrote. In conclusion, using the idea of witchcraft and the notions attached to it highlights the irrationality that often corresponds to counter-terrorist thinking and actions.

Heath-Kelly’s “Can we Laugh Yet? Reading Post-9/11 Counterterrorism Policy as Magical Realism” (2012) uses the methodology of policy analysts as well as literary criticism to see the War on Terror as a text, one in the genre of magical realism. Here she argues the War on Terror is considered to be funny when examined as a magical realist text. By seeing the mainstream rhetoric on the War on Terror as laughable, it therefore allows one to engage with the fantasy/humour of counter-radicalisation policies. To believe in the rationality and support counter-radicalisation as it is today is to believe in “secure boundaries of rationalism” and also the witchcraft-like ideologies of terrorists. Laughter is derived from absurdity, and the War on Terror is funny because of the juxtaposition of its ridiculousness and its seriousness. Magical Realism is a literary style that focuses on the paradox of the modern rationalism beside the supernatural/absurdism, i.e. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka. It actually encourages rebellion and resistance to monolithic structures. The space of laughter here is seen as the “third space”, which Heath-Kelly then goes on to say the War on Terror is a magical realist text, where we, the readers, are in the third-space and so we are part of the joke; we exist in the space in-between the real and supernatural. The solution put forth here is to recognise the humor, or else become a part of it and become an actor in this ridiculousness. UK’s “CONTEST” Prevent Strand/strategy is an example of this magical realism within the rhetoric on counterterrorism within the larger framework of the War On Terror – the juxtaposition is between the grim everyday reality with the magical extremist ideas; fear of terrorism as a threat to human life greatly exceeds the fear of disease, hunger, or accident. As long as the War on Terror claims the enemy, the supernatural, is inevitable, any means are justified to counter it.

            In chapters 8 and the Introduction of Joseba Zulaika’s book, “Terrorism: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy”, he expands upon why terrorism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Counter-terrorism has become self-fulfilling and now promotes terrorism. Perhaps one of the most blatant examples is the war in Iraq, where Paul Bremer movements fueled the insurgency that later became AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) which later on evolved to eventually become ISIS. What are the blind spots in Counter-terrorism thinking that led to the self-fulfilling nature of the War on Terror? The crisis of knowledge and the lack of understanding and the ignorance of the terrorists themselves, their language, culture, and histories, is what Zulaika terms a “willful ignorance” of the grievances of terrorists.

CT (Counter-terrorism) thinking follows the “It is not if, but when”, and therefore, suddenly, the terrorist expert becomes the prophet. This is problematic as terrorist strategy relies on random attacks and therefore unpredictability. CT then becomes a knee-jerk like reaction, lacking logic, and consistently acting on a worst-case scenario possibility, as if it is happening already, or the only possibility is that it will happen and therefore the threshold for what is considered irrational to counter-terror the attack and terrorists drops massively. This is a catch-22, a time-loop, as the interface of both Terrorism and Counter-terrorism are both constructing a reality, an endless play on mirror images, as Zulaika writes.

The War on Terror has led to the Patriot Act being passed (lack of privacy laws, military operations allowed even more, etc.), it has legitimized preventative wars, it has turned neoconservative fantasies into policy priorities, and monopolized the American Dream by saying this is in jeopardy due to terrorism. Yet both the counter-terrorist and terrorist are playing, and this can be seen in the Iraq War and 9/11. Zulaika states that the question then becomes, “to what extent does counter-terrorism actually promote the very thing it purports to fight?” As terrorism cannot exist without counter-terrorism, counter-terrorism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Counter-terrorism thinking, “belief precedes knowledge”. For example, if you “know” Saddam Hussein is evil, a threat, then this justifies fabricating the necessary lies in order to eliminate the supposed threat for the alleged greater good. This desire not to know, and this blindness and inability to read the information at hand and to systematically manipulate the intelligence is almost like witchcraft.

The Paul Bremer vs. David Petraeus case showing this very well: as David Petraeus was against Bremer’s “de-Baathification” as a “de-Nazification” campaign and said to focus on the local leaders, local culture, which is the opposite of typical CT strategy (to “never negotiate with terrorists”). It was Petraeus’ methods that actually solved things and made things better. Meanwhile, Bremer acted against the recommendation of the military, the intelligence community and most likely from orders from Washington (we know he ignored Rumsfeld’s instructions), and this helped create the very thing it tries to abominate, acting under a “not if, but when” mentality- like waiting as CIA did for 9/11 to happen and so when it does happen it’s like a self-fulling prophecy. Azande, a witchcraft society that is an ethnic group in North Central Africa, hold norms in their society that are derived on the assumption that observations are beneath beliefs, and similarly, in CT culture, some things are unquestionably and are above and before observations. For example: notions of evil, terrorism, insurgency, war, this “oracular mentality” of “witchcraft societies”.

Richard Jackson’s “The Epistemological Crisis of Counterterrorism” (2014) examines what he calls the “bizarre” counter-terrorist practices, often from Western countries, that are costly, counter-productive, and that only make sense in the “paranoid logic” of the “new paradigm”. He lays out four characteristics of this epistemological crisis:

  1. rejection of previous knowledge about terrorism and the embrace of total uncertainty or “anti-knowledge” about any aspect of future terrorist threats
  2. extreme precautionary dogmatism in which the “unknown” is reflexively governed through preemptive action
  3. legitimization and institutionalization of imagination and fantasy as a necessary counterterrorist tool
  4. acceptance of a permanent ontological condition of “waiting for terror” in relation to the next attack (Zulaika and Douglass)

In other words, the epistemological crisis is constituted by three things:

  1. “The known (there will always be more terrorist attacks, and we are waiting – “it is not if but when” mentality)
  2. The unknown- we cannot know when the next inevitable attack will occur (justifies killing many for the sake of some; Guantanamo Bay detention centers, drone killing programme)
  3. The Moral Imperative: we have to do everything in our power to prevent the unknown but inevitable coming terrorist attack.

This can be seen in Rumsfeld’s speech of “war against the unknown”, given in 2002 at the National Defence University, which was also very similar to the speech given by UK Home Secretary David Blunkett in November 2002.

Rumsfeld once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” This goes back to Zulaika’s argument that CT thinking is founded upon the “It is not if, but when”, acting upon the possibility of the worst-case scenario in all instances; a mere knee-jerk reaction. There is, in CT thinking, a “willful ignorance” of these actually known things:

  • foreign military intervention would lead to anti-American terrorism
  • invasion of Iraq would provoke more anti-western terrorism
  • Guantanamo Bay (torture and abuse) would provoke more terrorism
  • drone killing programme in Afghanistan and Pakistan show that this enrages local populations and inflates anti-Americanism and therefore more attacks.

Yet there is a willful ignorance of these things. Bin Laden’s speech largely not heard by the American or even the Western audience, seen as some sort of taboo to even listen to him. The “Prepare” strand of the UK’s Counter-terrorism initiative CONTEST works on the assumption that there is an impending attack, focusing on things like “pre-crime” and “Risky citizens”. The consequences of the epistemological crisis in counter-terrorist thinking is that it has become a form of a policy paradigm that justifies pre-emptive war, drone programs, control orders, torture, mass surveillance, and more, where the “security-industrial complex” is counter-intuitive politics of fear which benefits those in power, and is manipulated for electoral gain and to influence political projects and so on. The widespread idea that it is OK to kill many people for this deep rooted “Evil, and that the symptoms or signs become the root or cause of terrorism instead of understanding terrorist’s subjectivity, takes away for the chance of rational thinking in counter-terrorism and therefore is counter-intuitive to counter-terrorist thinking. Ultimately, it is harmful to human society and the progression of man.

China-Africa Relations: Parasitism or Mutualism?

With the rise of China as a new global power, and with relatively new phenomena like CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative, and in contrast to Trump’s pullout from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) during his first day in office, China is already a contesting force to the US as a global power with the ability to shape agendas around the globe. Therefore, examining China as an important and powerful player in global politics today is essential to understanding current international relations and the current international political economy.

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https://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00052201.html

The term “client-patron relationship”, as it is used in the discipline of international relations, refers to the dependency theory to cast light on the international political economy, first perpetuated by the Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch. The exploitation of third world country by developed countries may be understood as a form of patron-cliency. A well known example may be the US and Iraq.

Today, it is no secret that China has newfound and deep interests in Africa – cementing Africa as its top trading partner and donor. Forum on China-African Corporation (FOCAC), created in 2000, witnessed current Chinese President Xi JinPing promising a loan of $60 billion in aid. The understanding of Africa as a largely severely underdeveloped continent in desperate need of infrastructure, aid and commodities, leads many to argue that it is a relationship of mutualism, where both sides benefit. So how does China benefit? Directly, cheap labor and the gratitude of many African countries. Indirectly, however, China’s expanding political influence through it’s economic expansion grants China much of Africa’s political support in organisations such as the UN.

It is arguable that the viewpoint that China’s expansion and current investment into Africa is an expansionist, post-colonialist matter is a Western view. Many within Africa view the partnership as mutually beneficial. Mehari Taddele Maru explains it succinctly in Al Jazeera (see original article here: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/africa-loves-china-190103121552367.html?fbclid=IwAR0m4dI95-VjoPxW8lSiMgzSI8w8K5wR_sEH7nj4Q4rna44X5howGZ7Ce7U) , that, quite simply, the viewpoint on the China-Africa relationship can be largely categorised into two groups:

  1. The “Sino-Phobic” View: This is the largely West-centric viewpoint, largely given that China is conducting a form of new colonialism with it’s actions in Africa with the intent of advancing Chinese values, power, economy, and therefore influence and dominance.
  2. The “Pro-China” View: China is a saviour, coming to haul Africa out of the rubble. This argues Africa not as the victim of Chinese colonisation, and that China has an “unconditional” coorporation with the African governments.

China has given numerous soft loans to African governments, as well as aiding African peace and security projects, such as UN peacekeeping missions, and confuding AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia). It is worth noting that, according to the World Bank, China has lifted around 800 million people out of poverty. However, many African politicians, spokesmen, educators, and so on, are wary of these new developments,

Mohamed Fayez, Asian Affairs expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, has stated that “this helps the development of countries with an established partnership with Beijing, but it is all in the service of BRI [Belt Road Initiative].” (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/25336.aspx)

Only time can tell. But if we look to history, examining the causal chain of events that occur when a developed country provides aid and invests in an developing country, or multiple countries as a collective (as is the case here), it becomes clear what sort of relationship China-Africa truly has.

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https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/xi-declares-new-chapter-in-china-africa-relations