Year of the shoe
The shoes hurled at Bush were welcome but temporary relief from the hailstorm of woes that rained down on the Arab world in 2008, writes Galal Nassar
The world has just seen 2008 out the door. Good riddance! The very least that can be said is that it was a brutal year for all. I imagine people from the North and South alike will join me in praying that the year we have just ushered in will be kinder.
This is the season of the Eastern and Western Christmases. These and the New Year's celebrations have been taking place against the backdrop of the worst global economic crisis since 1929. The outlook has grown steadily gloomier with almost daily news of the bankruptcy of another major firm, the downfall of another institution that was practically an icon of the financial world, or a financial fraud reaping millions of dollars in one case. These disasters, moreover, are reaping an ever-increasing toll on the right of millions of ordinary people to work, shelter, food, education, healthcare and a dignified life. Worse yet, all reports and analyses suggest that the global economic crisis is only at its beginning.
As the global economy crumbles, the machinery of war continues to rumble in many parts of the world, destroying the lives of millions of innocent civilians. Indeed, human thirst for catastrophe appears unquenchable, for we are also observing the systematic destruction of our planet due to global warming, desertification and endless pollution of the land, seas and air.
The Arab and Muslim world seems to have come in for more than its share of calamity, and the repercussions of calamity, starting as always with torn and battered Palestine. The Israeli brutish attacks on Gaza end the year in a dramatic tone. The Zionist blockade remains as cruel and relentless as ever, while global silence at this horrendous crime places us all, without exception, under the suspicion of complicity. Iraq, trampled upon and shattered, is now being bound and trussed with various agreements and treaties so as to keep it under foreign occupation and domination, preparatory to carving it into weak and conflicting statelets and severing it once and for all from its Arab environ. There is nothing coincidental about the increasingly strident calls for a Shia state based around the oil wells in the south on the lines of oil rich Kurdistan in the north.
The drive to spread destruction and disintegration in this part of the world does not stop at Iraq. It has extended its claws from Mauritania to the Gulf, passing through Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Lebanon, and the more it tightens its grip the more we see our dreams of progress, development and a dignified life recede.
Against the general sense of weakness and common humiliating acknowledgement of our inability to act, Muntadhar Al-Zaidi's unique protest against the death and destruction the Bush regime unleashed against his country came as a breath of fresh air. But the Iraqi journalist's shoe was the only one that flew in the opposite direction in 2008. Otherwise, the Arab world was so trod upon, kicked and pummelled that it seems fitting to dub 2008 the "year of the shoe".
In the face of this, can 2009 possibly bring a turn for the better, for us and for the rest of humanity? Shall we take consolation in the fact that time does not stand still, that the pendulum will have to shift and that history must move forward? Why not? Life would be unbearable were it not for a sliver of hope.
People have always dreamed of a world free of war, hunger and disease. Just over half a century ago, in 1955, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell and the famous scientist Albert Einstein issued a remarkable appeal. They called upon the leaders and peoples of the world to set aside their passions on the various issues of the day and to regard themselves as members of an endangered biological species too precious to risk its extinction. They therefore challenged the world to either resign itself to the way things stood -- a nuclear arms race that threatened universal destruction -- or to renounce war once and for all.
At the time of the Russell-Einstein manifesto, the world was in the grips of the crisis in North Korea, Germany was divided into a socialist east and capitalist west with the Berlin Wall in between, the situation in northern India was explosive and Vietnam was rift into two. There were also pending political demands that had not been resolved in the Yalta agreements between the victors of World War II. The world thus stood at the brink of a military confrontation between the Eastern and Western camps.
In the period that followed that appeal, mankind experienced warfare, famine and natural disasters in many parts of the globe. The victims exceeded the number of dead in both world wars put together. Until now, although the threat of an immanent nuclear facedown has receded since the end of the Cold War, the situation remains bleak. Not only does the nuclear threat persist, it is now only one of the many manmade perils that loom over humanity.
Arms manufacturers have been diabolically ingenious in their inventions of ever more sophisticated and powerful instruments of destruction. And they have been almost as original in coming up with names intended to play down the evil of their creations and those that use them. In addition to the nuclear "deterrent" we now have the smart bomb, the dirty bomb, the tactical bomb, not to mention "depleted" uranium. We also have napalm and other chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, as well as missiles of various ranges and trajectories and guidance systems capable of delivering them. All of these lethal weapons and more have been used without restraint in the wars from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. All should be banned and there are, indeed, movements struggling towards that end.
Perhaps the best way to revive mankind's dream for a safer and saner world is to rehabilitate international law and the UN Charter in which are enshrined the principles of the right to self-determination and non-intervention in the domestic affairs of nations. For the Arabs, bringing the dream closer to hand entails learning to become more self-reliant. We can do that by empowering the Arab League as the umbrella organisation for all Arabs and, specifically, by promoting the implementation of collective Arab agreements and treaties such as the economic integration agreements, the Arab mutual defence treaty and the Arab national security treaty. We must also work towards a higher level of cooperation and integration in the fields of culture, education, health and development. But to make all this possible we must, above all, adopt the spirit of dialogue, as opposed to mutual antagonism, confrontation and rupture.
We hope such considerations are in the minds of all Arab peoples and leaders as they greet the New Year. All we have is hope and the ability to sustain our dream. But, as a philosopher put it, dreams are latent will.