Arabs at the Crossroads: Political Identity and Nationalism

By Boullata, Issa J. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

Arabs at the Crossroads: Political Identity and Nationalism


Boullata, Issa J., The Middle East Journal


Arabs at the Crossroads: Political Identity and Nationalism, by Hilal Khashan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. xi + 149 pages. Notes to p. 166. Bibl, to p. 180. Index to p. 189. $49.95.

Hilal Khashan, Professor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut, has in recent years published a number of fine studies on the contemporary political situation in the Arab world. In this book, he meets head-on the problem of Arab political identity-a problem he considers the central one affecting all aspects of public life in the Arab world. He believes that Arab failure to come to terms with this problem has doomed all Arab attempts at development and modernization.

In order to make his case, Khashan offers a historical survey of the Arab search for identity in the past 200 years and notes the rise of Arab nationalism to express political identity, then its decline and the Arab failure to build the modern nation-state. His analysis of the factors leading to what he considers to be the sorry present conditions is frank and direct, using the latest Western scholarship available, but also depending heavily on Arab sources little known in the West.

Khashan severely criticizes Western colonialism and Zionism, and-later-Western hegemony allied with Israel, as intruding forces serving their own interests and harshly thwarting the growth and development of Arab nationalism and identity. But Khashan spares no retarding elements in Arab society, and is particularly critical of Arab tribalism, sectarianism, religious factiousness, provincialism, mutual distrust, the myopic visions of self-seeking Arab Mites and leaders, and their subservience to the West.

The author painstakingly analyzes the resulting current fragmentation of the Arab world, as well as the provincial Arab regimes presiding over it-regimes built on political coercion and authoritarian rule. Meanwhile, Khashan shows that the Arab masses endure effacement of their identity and curtailment of their rights to a good modern life; that Arab intellectuals are-if not co-opted or suppressed-like voices in the wilderness and, at best, talking heads who converse abstractly with each other in a rarefied atmosphere divorced from the realities of everyday life.

The failure of the secular and ostensibly Western-modeled Arab regimes to modernize and to pursue economic development successfully, in addition to their successive defeats by Israel (which is callously supported by the West), gradually alienates the Arab masses from their autocratic governments and the West. …

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