Eminent Arab author and thinker Muta’ Safadi painted a vivid picture of the utter desolation of “the present Arab moment”, during the course of a lecture organized by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, December 21,2014, in Doha. Addressing the question “Why has the promise of Arab renaissance always been betrayed?”, Safadi emphasized that what is at risk today is not simply the Arab Nation’s political entities and states, but in fact the very existence of the nation, or ‘ummah.  Events underway today in the Arab Mashreq echo and expand upon what has been underway in Palestine over the past half-century and more, such that Arab human beings are now subjected to processes of demolition and displacement ultimately aimed at putting an end to their very presence.  

Safadi addresses the ACRPS meeting.

In the midst of the so-called “Arab Spring”, the Arab nation confronts events that are far and away more perilous than anything ever previously encountered, Safadi observed, noting further that the situation has spun out of control, threatening the nation’s core, and its distinct existence. There is an urgent need to cease viewing this situation from ideological perspectives, and to examine its actual reality: “We must look hard at the reality that is right in front of us, and plain to see – and stop pretending that things are the way we would like them to be”.  It was alarming, he noted, that an entire nation could err so grievously in understanding their situation.  This too was something unprecedented: a specific leadership, grouping or faction could “misread” a situation they were confronting, but it has always seemed axiomatic that an entire nation could not be so mistaken. 

Safadi, the author of a book titled The Revolutionary Experiment, posed the question in stark terms: “What happened to this [Arab] nation?  What brought on this collapse?”  After all, he elaborated, the Arab world had been born anew in the aftermath of the Second World War, and had been endowed with great hopes and dreams that accompanied the emergence of independent Arab states. But all too soon these hopes and dreams began to crumble, and today only debris and wreckage remains. The nation today aspires to nothing more than a bare minimum of security, and subsistence.

The fundamental task at hand, Safadi urged the audience, is not to simply respond to the questions that he poses with any number of answers: it is to endeavor to revive the Arab nation’s “weak faculties of scientific reason”, so that it can govern itself and better understand its ills and its failings. Perhaps, suggested Safadi, the most important factor in the Arab nation’s collapse is the widespread shedding of the Arab identity, its abandonment in revulsion at the criminality of authoritarian leaders, all too often associated with it. This is true to such an extent that “Arab” and Arabism” have become tantamount to insults. One of the repercussions of relinquishing a broader communal identity is that the Arab nation has become vulnerable to social division and fragmentation; regrettably, this disintegration and dismantling of the Arab communal identity is not something perpetrated upon the Arabs by external enemies, but rather by the Arabs themselves: “We take it upon ourselves to dismantle and shred our own selves, by our own selves, to create new entities that we imagine may offer us some kind of human or national-patriotic salvation. We have become a prey that preys upon itself and consumes itself, in the absence of any external or foreign predator…We nurture and feed our pathologies rather than face them, or undertake the effort to dissect and diagnose them, or submit them to scientific scrutiny.”

Safadi, who has, among other works, penned a novel entitled The Fate Generation, expressed his view that the Arab nation today faces a truly miserable destiny, “unless we are prepared to give up many of our bad habits” to counter the trends. Reiterating his sense that “what threatens us today is a threat to the very existence of the nation”. Pointing to present-day events in Iraq and in Syria, with governments conducting thousands of aerial bombardments on a daily basis against their own people, points to a systematic attempt at destruction, that far exceeds the mere protection of a despot’s regime.  He expressed his dismay that many Arab countries do not benefit from functional state institutions, showcasing instead “institutions of criminals, murderers, and thieves”.  In opposition to such authoritarian tyranny the unique and unprecedented phenomenon of ISIS has surfaced, with adherents who “make themselves careers of murder, slaughter and mayhem as an approach to state-building, claiming that they are putting the Islamic Way into practice – just as their blood-thirsty chief claims to be the Successor (or Caliph) to the Messenger of God.”

In closing his remarks, Safadi renewed his call for a return to the starting point of a reasoned, scientific, and Arab distillation of the lessons of contemporary Arab reality: to perceive that reality for what it is and to recognize that the inner ills of the nation must be accorded priority in any attempt at reform, “so that we can go beyond the present perilous moment, and begin to invest as simply as possible in the rich, vast potential that the Arab nation continues to possess, to save the Arab human being from a grim fate.”  “Freedom,” Safadi concluded, “begins with the conduct of the individual. Building up a sense of responsibility and agency is the fundamental challenge; to re-configure the Arab human being, to voice the conviction that “I am personally responsible for this Arab nation”.