By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban
Despite transport and communications difficulties in the 19th and early 20th century, our ancestors defied the dangers of oceans, death and disease to get to the backyard of the United States, where they built schools, hospitals and clubs. They built monuments which remain a witness of Arab civilization, language, culture and humanity in that far continent.
The Arabs witnessed, among other things, the struggle fought by the native peoples of South America against colonizers who saw nothing in these countries except their natural resources; and who have no value for the life, history or civilization of human beings unless they were white 'foreigners' with blue eyes.
Our ancestors created a strong link between the peoples of the Maya and Inca civilizations and the Arab people, the results of which we still enjoy generation after generation. Nevertheless, the second language in most Arab countries remains French, after English, not Spanish or Portuguese, although maintaining the links built by our ancestors is one of the most important things present generations should do.
Most Arabs do not actually make a real effort to rediscover this continent and to understand the common links between the Arab civilization and the native civilizations of the continent. This is something difficult to understand. Is it the intellectual and cultural colonization of the Arabs which prevents them from communicating with those who identify with their causes; or is it rather the lack of insight and vision at a time that the thing Arabs most urgently need is the right vision and the right decision at the right time?
Our hosts in South America talk to you about the Maya and Inca civilizations and how the Inca where the first to use stones in building, how their culture respected human life and human diversity regardless of race, religion or color. However, that civilization was eliminated by European settlers.
While touring South America, you realize that most of the information you receive comes through western lenses colored with Western purposes and policies drawn for you and for those who became victims before you in South America. You love the people and would want to learn more the secret of this coexistence between Africans, Indians, Arabs, Spaniards and Italians in one melting pot.
For a brief moment, you wish for this model to become global; but as soon as you return home, you realize that you are the victim of Western perceptions which decide war, peace, punishment, death and life wrapped up in a veneer of democracy, human rights, security and peace seeking. It might be an interesting coincidence that while all these ideas were occurring to me on my way back from that rising continent neglected by the Arabs, I watched the press conference held by US President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu talked about the Arabs like any colonizer talking about the colonized. He ignored the existence of the Palestinian people and reduced them and their history and civilizations to being 'Iranian agents'.
After watching, reading and analyzing, you understand that President Obama and his guest had planned to change the image of the relationship between them circulating in the media recently by stressing the warmth which prevailed in the meeting, the depth of the relationship and the strategic link between the United States and Israel. In this press conference, the threats to both countries were described as the same. President Obama portrayed Israel as the center of the region and all the Arabs surrounding it were 'hostile neighbors', which makes it incumbent on the United States to support this 'democratic' entity seeking security in the middle of a hostile environment. As to the Palestinians, he said: "I think it's very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language; that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel".
This was the most prominent mention of the Palestinians in the press conference, whose right to freedom and salvation from Israeli occupation was manipulated to fix what was claimed to be a deteriorating relationship between the United States and Israel. As to solutions, hopes are pinned on proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and for talks to go on for years and years while Israel eats up the West Bank and Jerusalem and builds settlements while headlines speak of 'freezing' settlements or for this 'freeze' to end in September, while the Silwan neighborhood has not seen any freezing. Settlers have continued to uproot the native population, destroy their houses and expel them.
The New York Times (July 5, 2010) testifies that American taxpayers receive a huge discount on their taxes when they pay money to enable settlers to steal the land of the Palestinians and destroy their history and civilization (see article titled "Tax-exempt funds aid settlements in West Bank"). This, while the people of Gaza are deprived of food and medicine, and Arabs and Muslims are prevented from sending aid to hospitals in Gaza because it is considered an assistance to terrorism, a punishable act under American law. The article says: "A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade".
Arabs should not hesitate to take the decision. They should go to South America to see for themselves what Western settler colonialism did to the native peoples and their civilization, in order to re-read and understand what is happening in their region today, and to understand Western plans which target them all in terms of their language, thought, existence and future, whether they knew the fact or persisted in ignoring it.
Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She's got Ph.D. in English Literature from Warwick University, United Kingdom. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through [email protected]
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.