From MERF website: Noel Weeks, Professor of history at Sydney University is chairman of MERF Australia.
Anybody who thinks history is irrelevant should follow closely the events consuming many Arab countries at the moment and the attitudes of Western governments and commentators to those events. It can be argued that the West is seeing the events in terms of its own dominant theory of history and ignoring the alternate possibilities.
The Western hailing of the turmoil as a “Spring” flows from reading the movements as democratic with all that connotes in the Western mind: free, progressive, secular. In turn that flows from a theory that sees democracy as the inevitable direction of history. The Arab world is following us in demanding freedom and rights.
A little knowledge of history, especially of history as experienced by Arab peoples, might allow other possibilities. And that is not to deny the reality of Western influences in what is happening.
As a start this is not the first movement in living memory which owes something to Western influence. When European imperial powers such as Britain, France and Italy withdrew progressively after World War II from the sections of the Arab world they had dominated, Arab thinkers saw the possibility of the resurgence of Arabic culture and power to the position of influence it had known in the Middle Ages. Coming together in that movement were memories of the former greatness of Arab civilization, the importation of nationalistic ideas from the West and a sense of resentment at the outside powers who had held them in subjection during the age of European empires.
Since the great age of Arab power had been under Islam, that was the model, yet the movement was not sectarian. One of the founders was Michel Aflaq, who was a member of an Arabic-speaking church whose lineage goes all the way back to the church of the Eastern Roman Empire. The aim was to unite Christian and Muslim, Sunni and Shi’ite, in a movement whose characteristics were that it was Arab, non-sectarian and democratic. Hence arose Pan-Arabism, the United Arab Republic and the Ba’ath Party.
What happened to that great dream? Saddam Hussein and the Assad family in Syria were, or are, the remnants of it, claiming Ba’ath affiliation. Yet both represent a form of military dictatorship built around a religious minority. If there is a remnant of the Ba’ath lineage it is in their attitude of toleration to the Christian church. Egypt and Libya were also military dictatorships. The fall of Saddam unleashed a wave of persecution of Christians in Iraq that forced a very large proportion to flee the country. There is a very real prospect that the same could happen in Syria, if Assad falls. There are ominous signs of a similar threat in the new Egypt.
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