Immediately after Palestinian Authority President for Life Yasser Arafat died, an Egyptian official assured the world that his government would arrange a funeral “great enough” to honor “the greatness of the man.”
As a teacher of leadership, this led me to thinking about Arafat’s complex, multi-faceted leadership. How would I honor so great a statesman? How could a single funeral honor one leader of so many rare qualities?
It seems to me one funeral just wouldn’t do it. Instead, the Egyptian government should hold five funerals.
First would be a funeral for Arafat the intellectual, the great teacher who spread to the Arab world some of the most notable ideas from recent European history – ideas like fascism and anti-Semitism – notions that before Arafat’s generation were foreign to Muslim civilization. This funeral would feature readings from a suitable Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, supplemented with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
But Arafat the intellectual did not stop at introducing Nazism to his people; he was also part of a broader movement which helped Arabs appreciate the blessings of state socialism. Not so long ago, the Arab world was more prosperous and peaceful than Europe and East Asia. But now, with benefits of Marxist economic theory, Arab societies have achieved the sort of economic dynamism of Albania and North Korea. Palestinian immigrants have grown rich in America, while their cousins lost income each year Arafat ran the Palestinian Authority (PA). Accordingly, any proper appreciation of Arafat’s leadership would readings from Marx’s Communist Manifesto, supplemented by the complete economic works of Kim ll-Sung.
But Arafat was not only an intellectual; he was also an innovative public administrator in the tradition of the late Congo President For Life Mobutu Sese Seko. Like Mobutu, Arafat reinvented public budgeting, chiefly through the creative use of Swiss bank accounts. Under Arafat’s leadership, while Palestinian Authority public services eroded more than $900 million in foreign aid simply disappeared. We may never know where. Unfortunately Mobutu has gone to his reward, so perhaps President Bush could give former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards a prison furlough, so he could represent those America public servants who follow the Arafat mode.
A third funeral should honor Arafat the promoter of democracy. Unlike George Washington, Nelson Mandela and other wimpy leaders of new nations, Arafat assured that the Palestinian people would enjoy one-man, one-vote, one-time. Arafat was elected back in 1996, and saw no need for second election…ever. He also made sure that no Palestinian leader could gain sufficient status to succeed him, meaning that Palestinians now may face years of civil war while various leaders fight to take the place of his Excellency. For this, Fidel Castro should be asked to do a reading at Arafat’s funeral.
A fourth funeral would honor Arafat the truth-teller. Perhaps President Clinton’s Mideast point man Dennis Ross, who spent years negotiating with Arafat, could bring maps showing the Palestinian people what the Israelis actually offered them, in contrast to what Arafat (and his news media) said that the Israelis offered. When then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, pushed by President Clinton, offered Palestinians a real state with 96 percent of the West Bank, Arafat responded not with a counter-offer, but with war – a second Intifada which killed thousands.
Which brings us to the fifth and final funeral, that for Arafat the man of peace. From airline hijackings to suicide bombings, Yasser Arafat pioneered unique means of political lobbying. Perhaps Palestinian kindergarteners taught to play suicide bomber could lead this funeral, or perhaps the survivors of all the Palestinians and Jews killed as a result of Arafat’s policies could somehow take part, if only we could find a stadium big enough to hold them.
With such a life of achievement, we must honor Yasser Arafat because we may never see his like again – at least I hope not.