When it comes to admitting wrongdoing, Arab countries are notorious for employing a policy of “don’t-ask don’t-tell.” Through the agency of submissive official media, they flog the fiction of a harmonious Arab unity. Atrocities that occur within the Arab “family” are downplayed in favor of a self-serving political charade—“Arab unity”—designed to perpetuate suffering and prevent reform.
But the Lebanese demonstrations against Syrian occupation have cracked the facade of Arab unity and brotherhood. The demonstrations in this small nation, which boasts the Arab world’s largest Christian minority, have revealed what has long been denied: the abuse by Arabs of other Arab nationalities and religions.
Unsurprisingly, the revelation of such dirty secrets has been met by a crackdown from the image spinners. The recurring charge volleyed at those members who seek the help of ‘Khawaga’ (Arabic for “non-Muslim foreigners”) is disloyalty to the Arab cause. Events in Iraq, Egypt, and other Arab countries have also helped revive discussions about Khawaga.
Typical is the admonition of the Lebanese by Arab journalists for seeking help from the U.N. and Western democracies against Syrian occupation. Lebanese demands for freedom from Syria are portrayed as actions of a “mob,” with Israel and America as somehow responsible for the current uprising in Lebanon and the assassination of Lebanon's ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Arab intellectuals and journalists, determined to defend Syria and its supporters within Hezbollah, claim that the Lebanese aspire to goals similar to those of the "Zionist enemy," Israel. Thus do the Lebanese demonstrators against Syrian occupation join the Kurds, Iraqis, Christians and other oppressed groups in the Middle East on the roster of those who stand accused of embarrassing the "Arab cause" by embracing democracy—democracy, after all, is now defined as yet another "Zionist conspiracy."
As an Arab woman born and raised in Egypt and Gaza, I know all too well this aspect of Arab culture, where relationships are determined by pre-established obligations. I know that the appearance of Arab and Muslim unity is placed above the human yearning for freedom, happiness, and growth. This enables the continuation of abuse. For instance, by clothing it in the garb of Arab unity, the PLO and Hezbollah carried out a campaign of terror against those in the Lebanese Christian population who could not escape their own country.
The Arab media has long colluded in such injustices. The media’s willingness to cover up Arab atrocities against their own people and its concomitant expectation that Arab victims forswear the Khawaga's help is nothing new. One need only consider the Arab media’s wildly distorted coverage of Saddam Hussein's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. And while it occasionally sings the United Nation’s praises--usually in the course of propagandistic attacks on the United States-- the Arab media has little regard for the global body. It is sufficient for the U.N. to attempt to replace the Arab world’s silence with a clear moral voice for Arab TV commentators to accuse it of being "in the pocket of the Jews!"
Where the Arab media fails, the Arab League provides no alternative. Along with Arab media, the league did nothing when Lebanon was being destroyed from within by Syria. Small wonder that oppressed minorities in Arab countries today joke that the Arab League is a do-nothing organization whose mission is to perpetuate a big lie: "Arab unity."
The fact is this: Arab countries have never been unified and, indeed, they often resent each other’s meddling. The charade of “Arab Unity” should be seen as an attempt by the Arab media to mask the Arab world’s feelings of inadequacy and hide its unwillingness to compete with the West. To the extent that the champions of “Arab Unity” have an agenda, it is to achieve power and maintain at least a show of respectability. To date, however, they have succeeded only in abusing those of their fellow Arabs who strive for freedom, democracy, and justice.