Democracy, terrorism, and national security are concepts whose definitions span a wide spectrum and are frequently contradictory. an Arab professor has raised some necessary questions about their use in the Middle East.
“Sharon is a Terrorist – And You?” That is the provocative title of an article recently penned by Kuwaiti University professor Ahmad El Baghdadi. It first appeared in the Kuwaiti paper Al Anbaa and was later picked up by the Egyptian weekly Akhbar Al Yom. The article indirectly criticized Arab leaders and directly attacked the Arab press for focusing on Israel’s actions but disregarding what Arab rulers do to their own people.
El Baghdadi is no stranger to controversy: he served a one-month prison sentence in October 1999 for allegedly defaming Islam in an article in which he claimed that the Prophet Muhammad had failed to convert infidels during his time in Mecca.
When it comes to dealing with Palestinians, El Baghdadi argues that Sharon is a terrorist. But, in contrast to his Arab counterparts, he has no record of terrorism against his own people. Since the beginning of the establishment of the Zionist entity, Sharon has been carrying out terrorist assassinations of Palestinians. But has he carried out mass terrorism against the citizens of Israel who opposed him, as happens in some Arab countries? No, claims El Baghdadi, pointing out that the Zionist entity does not terrorize and imprison its intellectuals and writers. “The Koran orders us to act fairly even to our enemies,” writes El Baghdadi.
Furthermore, while the prime minister of the Israeli entity rose to power through democratic elections, there is no such democratically elected prime minister or head of state anywhere in the Arab or Islamic worlds.
El Baghdadi then tackles the thorny issue of what differentiates “state terrorism” from “national security.” For instance, Arabs describe Israel’s violence against Palestinians as state terrorism, while the Israeli government considers it a defense of national security. Do Arab rulers, under the pretense of national security, carry out state terrorism against those of their own citizens who oppose their regimes? Undemocratic Arab regimes wrongly consider their authority to be the definition of “The Nation,” so any opposition or critic against it is a threat to the
El Baghdadi’s article then turns its attention to the political aspects of the practice of Islam in Arab countries. In criticizing the interpretation of Islam that permits the killing of civilians, he contrasts it with modern interpretations of Christian faith: “A ruling permitting the blood of an individual, or even of an animal, has not been heard from a Christian clergyman since the Middle Ages. The Muslims deserve a Nobel Prize for their inventiveness in allowing for such a religious ruling to continue.” Baghdadi also muses on whether persecuting intellectuals in the courtrooms of Arab countries, trying intellectuals for heresy, and destroying families by ruling that marriages must be broken up because one spouse is charged with apostasy may be considered forms of terrorism that exist only in the Islamic world. If Islam is a religion of tolerance, he asks, why do Arab and Muslim regimes and people show so little tolerance for those who oppose their opinions?
By the end of his article, El Baghdadi’s criticism becomes even more biting, claming that Arabs and Muslims are paying the price for their governments’ state terrorism towards their own citizens. “Arabs are persecuted and humiliated across the civilized world,” he writes. “They are rejected in both the West and the East. In restaurants, in airplanes, in buses and everywhere they are spit upon.” Baghdadi’s article raises major questions about democracy in Arab countries and also about whether the time is ripe for Arab countries to consider removing religion from their governments. Perhaps the responses to El Baghdadi’s article will provide some answers.