Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Love it or Leave It

John Carroll is billed as "a professor of sociology at La Trobe University." For some reason, he felt moved to pen a feature article in The Australian called Taming hatred in our midst (23/8/08). It was subtitled, "Our democracy can help dissolve Islamic radicalism if we are permitted to do so."

I was struck by the following:

Carroll told of how, at last year's Brisbane Writers Festival, he found himself on a panel with Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, "which had published Osama bin Laden speeches." "Mr Atwan," Carroll noted, "was keen to portray himself as a moderate Muslim, Palestinian-born, who had lived in the West for 3 decades... His speech became heated as he progressed. Then, in the question time that followed the other 2 speakers, he launched into a tirade against the West and its centuries of imperialism, blaming it for all the ills that beset the Muslim world. Most people in the packed audience... became uneasy. In part, I suspect, it was simply that Australians mistrust fanatics of any persuasion. I am fed up with 'blame the West' dogma and responded accordingly. I pointed out that during 3-quarters of the 500-year rise of the modern West, it was the Islamic Ottoman Empire that had controlled most of the Middle East... if colonialism was to blame for the geopolitical failure of Islam, then the main culprits were the Turks... In Brisbane, the deep ambivalence that a Muslim such as Bari Atwan bears towards the West was striking. On the one hand, he chooses to live in London and enjoy the freedom to publish his newspaper. Presumably, he likes the comforts of a modern Western metropolis: its prosperity, its efficiency, the fact things work and the peaceful civilty of everyday life... Ambivalence is normal in immigrants... it is inevitable that many newcomers... will have mixed feelings about having uprooted themselves and cast themselves into an alien place... [but] what was different in Brisbane was the intensity of hostility - in fact, hatred - towards whatever it was in the West that galled. Flowing under a veneer of moderation was a tide of resentment."

The subject may be Atwan, but we learn far more about John Carroll:

In essence, Carroll is writing about a Palestinian without knowing the first thing about Palestine or Palestinians: Atwan is not an "immigrant," he's a refugee, born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He didn't "uproot" himself and "cast" himself into an alien place. His family and his people were uprooted by Zionist forces in 1948 in a crime against humanity called by the Palestinians the Nakba (Catastrophe). Atwan's "tirade against the West and its centuries of imperialism," is fully understandable, seeing that it was Imperial Britain that nurtured the infant Israel, and Imperial America which went on to spoil it rotten. And the Turks? Whatever their crimes against their Arab subjects - and Islam had sfa to do with that - they did not impose an ethnocentric, ethnic- cleansing settler state on them.

Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows what's eating Atwan, but Carroll clearly has no idea! Perhaps he should read Atwan's biography, A Country of Words: The Life of Abdel Bari Atwan: A Palestinian Journey from the Refugee Camp to the Front Page, due out next month.

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