By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi reminds one of those irrepressible Shakespearean wits. The Bard employed them not only for necessary comic relief but also to offer his own commentary — steeped in old-fashioned common sense — on way of the world.
The Libyan leader has made a tradition of speaking his mind whenever he finds himself in the exalted company of fellow leaders from Arab League, OIC and African Union. Now Col Gaddafi doesn’t obsess too much over diplomatic niceties and decorum of the high office he holds. Which is why it’s such fun to listen to him.
You can loathe or laugh at Gaddafi, as most Arab leaders did during their summit in Damascus this past week, but you can’t ignore him.
Interestingly, Gaddafi gets away with saying things that most leaders can’t or daren’t for obvious reasons. And like the jibes of those Shakespearean jesters, his rants often show his fellow leaders the reality they don’t want to confront.
The Libyan leader was in his element once again at the Damascus summit, slamming the Arab world for its inability to prevent the tragedy of Iraq.
Talking about the sack of Baghdad and subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein, the Libyan leader reproached his fellow Arabs: “How can we accept that a foreign power comes to topple an Arab leader while we stand watching?” Then came coup de grace: “Your turn is next!”
Gaddafi went on in the same vein: “Where is the Arabs’ dignity, their future, their very existence? Our blood and our language may be one but there’s nothing that can unite us.”
Explosive stuff, huh? But this isn’t the first time Gaddafi has lectured the Arab and Muslim leaders. Almost every platform of such nature sees the Libyan leader in a sermonizing mode. He’s an inveterate iconoclast, demolishing all taboos and slaying all holy cows.
Which is why the Arab and Muslim leaders have learned to laugh at and ignore Gaddafi’s regular outbursts as some bad jokes. That’s what they often are.
Besides, Gaddafi himself is no paragon of virtues. Having championed the oppressed everywhere and fought the ‘Western imperialism’ for nearly three decades, our hero stunned everyone five years ago by capitulating before the almighty America.
Libya ‘turned itself’ in by offering to dismantle its antiquated program of totally useless Weapons of Mass Destruction. To top it all, the Arab republic recruited itself in America’s war on terror, whatever that means.
Gaddafi’s detractors blame the abrupt change of heart on what happened to yet another champion of the Arab-Muslim world. The US invaded Iraq in March 2003 and in Dec 2003 Gaddafi came forward to cooperate with the democratic West. It’s this metamorphosis that persuaded Bush his strategy for the Muslim world was indeed working!
This is why it’s so interesting to see the Libyan leader reproach fellow Arabs for not standing up to the big bullies. But regardless of Gaddafi’s compulsions five years ago and his motives for bringing up the matter now, there’s no doubt that the issue he raised remains as relevant as ever.
The Arabs are as divided as ever. Ironically, no single group anywhere in the world has so much in common. The Arabs not only share a rich, ancient language and one of the world’s oldest civilizations and cultures, they are welded together by a great vibrant faith. And they are strategically spread over a vast area of land that straddles two continents.
Yet no other group with so much in common has been as divided as the Arabs have been. In fact, perhaps never in the past were they so disunited in the face of great peril as they are today. And they are conspiring and plotting against each other to the absolute delight of their common enemy.
So is it any wonder then that a tiny, isolated entity like Israel with a population of six million and sparse resources has repeatedly snubbed the 400-million-strong Arab world?
And despite sitting on the world’s largest pile of most precious natural resources and abundant human resources, the Arab world has little clout on the world stage.
Given the world’s growing dependence on the two crucial sources of energy, oil and gas, you would think the world community would shudder at the mere thought of upsetting the Arabs.
But do you see that happening anywhere? While the West, and rest of the world, depends on the Arab oil and gas, it is Israel that they seem to listen to all the time.
The UN has passed countless resolutions asking Israel to stop the persecution of Palestinians and vacate the Arab land it has occupied for nearly half a century. In addition to the Palestinian land, the Israelis have been in illegal possession of territory that belongs to Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. And all the mighty Arabs, who once ruled the seas between Africa and China and the earth from Morocco to Mongolia, can do is plead with Israel to please behave.
This Arab summit, just like so many others in the past, was yet another grand spectacle of all that is wrong with the Arab and Muslim world.
Gaddafi may be a hopeless cynic. But is he way off in his diagnosis? The Arabs as well as the rest of the world know he isn’t.
Let alone leading to some concrete outcome, the high point of this summit was persuading the members to attend it! And as in the past, some honorable guests had a couple of issues with the host, who in this case happened to be Bashar Assad of Syria. How dare his minions hassle our friends in Lebanon?
This was a heaven-sent opportunity to get even. So the righteous talk of Arab and Muslim unity goes out the window! And who cares if this ends up helping the enemies of Arab and Muslim world. Big deal if this offers the world another opportunity to laugh at the Arab-Muslim world. So what if the Arabs are passing through one of the most difficult times in their history and issues like Palestine and Iraq cry out for their urgent attention? Yet the Arabs bemoan their weightlessness and powerlessness to fight the injustices they face on a daily basis.
At the Damascus conference, the Arabs warned Israel that they would be forced to review the so-called Arab peace plan if Israel continued its crimes against Palestinian people.
That’s so profound! I can almost hear the Israelis tremble in their pants. This must have come as a huge shock to the Zionists. After all, they had banked so much on this Arab initiative!
And that powerful call from Damascus has delivered the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world of all their woes.
After this, Israel wouldn’t so much as look in the direction of the Palestinians again. And our American and European friends wouldn’t ever again dream of defending and protecting the Zionists. No more swatting of Palestinians like flies. And no more US vetoes in the UN.
And all this of course is the result of exemplary unity in the Arab and Muslim ranks. When is the next summit?
-Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at Aijaz.Syed@hotmail.com