The Arab choice

Abdellatif Laabi

For a long time now, I have rejected such broad and ideologically-charged terms as `the West' or 'the Arabs'. For me, these ideas have acquired a plurality of meaning. I can no longer reconcile the West of the Enlightenment and the declaration of the rights of man with that of the Sixth Fleet. The Arabs, too, are so many peoples, cultures, religions, and realities. I cannot put an Arab tyrant, whoever he is, in the same category as a martyr for democracy like Mehdi Ben Barka.

Now, curiously enough, these distinctions no longer seem relevant today. Once again, the West is throwing its weight around en bloc, like some great monolith, and the Arabs, too, are seen as an equally monolithic bloc. However, among many of the Arabs, ideas and attitudes have undergone substantial development. Our open-mindedness has become a reality, our intolerances and our seclusions, less burdensome. We too are fighting for pluralism, democracy, human rights, a real dialogue between North and South, East and West, South and South... But we live in a kind of permanent apocalypse. Everything which the Arab reality offers that is generous, open, creative, is crushed by regimes whose only anxiety is to perpetuate their own power and self-serving interests. And what is often worse, is to see that the 'West' remains insensitive to the daily tragedy while at the same time accommodating, not to say supporting, the ruling classes who strangle the free-will and aspirations of their people....

Those who call on the Arabs to choose sides in this conflict demonstrate double standards and a distressing paternalism. What are you really suggesting to us, except the choice between the criminal machinations of certain of our own leaders and the equally criminal intrigues of the western world when its interests are threatened? Allow us to choose the ground of what we reckon is our real battle: the struggle for human rights and democracy in our respective countries, for a more moral international world which will no longer allow the big to systematically pauperise the poor, for a new ethical world order where the universal values of the West cease to be a dogma and allow the creative contribution of other people.

Adellatif Laabi, writing in Jeune Afrique, translated by Judith Vidal-Hall for Index on Censorship. Subscriptions to Index on Censorship are $32.50 U.S. from 39c Highbury Place, London N5 1QP, England.

Published in the Connexions Digest #53, January 1991



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