The crisis is overwhelming; the tragedy is beyond one’s cognition. We have had to swallow the frustrating and brutal counter-revolution in Egypt and Bahrain, the bloody escalation in Syria and Libya, the geographic expansion of the so-called Islamic State, and to add insult to injury: the war on Gaza. We have had to pretend we’ve got our analysis right; that we have managed to connect the dots in a rational manner at times when the regional power constellation is at its peak.
We haven’t. Despite some exalted activists posting thousands of words on Facebook and getting shared as ‘words of wisdom’, we have yet to understand why and how this has happened. We are yet to understand the political economy of the counter-revolutions. We are yet to visualize the parallel processes of the revolts and the proxy battles and when/where/how did those processes dialectically clash. We are yet to conceive what went wrong and what went right, the gains and losses of the historical uprisings. And the second step to getting to understand what is happening (I will get back to the first step later) is to admit that we haven’t understood this crisis yet.
The third step is to undermine conspiracies, even if conspiracies exist. It is easy for us, Arabs, due to the fact that our history and identities are saturated with conspiracies, most notably Sykes-Picot, to drift towards reducing a complex reality to a grand conspiracy. By undermining conspiracies, we are not denying the possibility of having them, but we are pushing towards understanding our role, as agents rather than spectators, in the macro-political developments of our countries.
The fourth step, which is an inevitable consequence of the other three steps, is to seek to understand the complex and inter-sectional political reality rather than finding a way to reduce reality to a simple statement. It is pleasing for us all to feel that we have got it, that this is all a US-Israeli-Saudi plan announced by Condoleezza Rice in 2005 as the ‘New Middle East’. Instead of such delusional intellectual achievements, we must seek to communicate the complexity. In other words, we must not simplify things. We must not reduce the crisis to one theory or conspiracy. We must, instead, admit its complexity and not shy away from understanding it.
The challenge is to communicate complexity, and not pretend simplicity. It is useful to recall the late Fred Halliday’s remark (2002) about how “there are two predictable and nearly always mistaken responses to any great upheaval: one is to say that everything has changed; the other is to say that nothing has changed”.
I believe we have had enough of reductionist analyses. We have had enough with the deterministic tone of over-confident “Facebook Commandantes”. It is time to respect the victims of the crisis, at least with not ‘liking’ photos of them dead, even if they are ‘glorified martyrs’. If you insist to reaffirm to yourself and others that you are humane and sympathetic, share photos of them alive. It is about time we give value to our lives more than we give value to our death. Giving value to our lives is the first step towards understanding why all of this has happened.
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