We often hear from Israelis, Europeans, Americans, and Canadians expressing opinions on what they should do to improve themselves and their nations. We sadly rarely hear from Arabs about what Arabs and the Arab nations should do to improve, so as an Arab I took it upon myself to come up with a list. The following are ten changes that we and our governments should make, and the sooner we make these changes, the better.
Recognize women and minorities as equals. If we want our economies to grow, if we want our peoples to feel a sense of community and a sense of pride, the same opportunities must be provided to everyone, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This would benefit everyone, not only women and minorities. It is time that the Arab world realized that any society’s biggest strength is not its natural resources, or its religion, or the size of its land, but its people. The Arab world’s record of inventions is dismal, at least in modern times. A people that is treated with respect is happier and performs better. People in a just society work harder and generate better ideas.
Stop using religion as an excuse to cause harm. Religions were invented by people in order to cope with the impenetrable complexity of our metaphysical world. Today we know much more about the universe than 20 or 30 centuries ago, but religions still persist, and we still need them. Despite all scientific advances, we are no further ahead today than we were 3,000 years in understanding the big metaphysical questions. We still need religions to help us center ourselves and to help us do our best as human beings. However we do not need religions as excuses to kill our neighbours. God gave us brains, so we should use them, and we should apply common sense in interpreting religious principles and traditions. Arabs, perhaps more than anyone else, need to understand this. ISIS is the latest abomination in the Middle East where religion is used to cause extreme harm. This needs to stop.
Learn to treat our enemies as well as Jews treat theirs. Israel’s response to the war in Syria has been to set up a field hospital and treat any Syrians wounded in the war. During the last war with Hamas in Gaza, Israel provided medical aid to Palestinians from Gaza. Israel has a long history of providing aid to anyone who needs it, including its enemies. An Arab of Syrian origin created a Facebook page (Thank You Israel for Healing Our Wounded) as a “thank you” to Israel for healing wounded victims of the Syrian war; this page documents the many humanitarian actions of Israel. There is unfortunately nothing equivalent on the Arab side. When Israelis end up on Arab land, they are not given medical treatment; they are typically tortured and killed, or they are used to negotiate the release of Arab criminals held in Israeli jails. Treating enemies with dignity is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. It is a sign of confidence in our own moral values.
Learn to treat our own people as well as Jews treat theirs. When Jews were unwanted in Arab countries, in the USSR, in Africa, in France, or anywhere else in the world, Israel always welcomed them with open arms, no matter the cost. Yet when Arabs left or were expelled from Israel, Arab countries stuck them in refugee camps, and they and their descendants are still in those camps 66 years later. This sends the message that Arabs do not care for each other, that unlike the Jewish nation, Arabs are not a united nation but a collection of special-interest groups who hate each other and who unite only to wage war against common enemies. This lack of caring for our own people inhibits inter-Arab cooperation and encourages sectarian attitudes that too often lead to sectarian violence.
Stop pretending that Zionism is the root of all problems. Zionists want a state for the Jews on the traditional land of Israel. This is the extent of what Zionism is. Arabs need to stop attributing all sorts of evil goals to Zionism. Zionists obviously want as much of the traditional land of Israel as they can have, but they know that they will not have it all. They are building settlements in the West Bank because the West Bank belongs to no recognized nation. Arabs need to create a Palestinian state and need to define clear borders with Israel. Arabs have long resisted taking this step, and there is still no indication today that they are ready for it (see Arab/Israel Conflict: Palestine Delayed). Once the borders of Palestine and Israel are defined, any real or imagined “Zionist” threat will disappear. Arabs who have made peace with Israel have seen that Israel is a peaceful neighbour and a good economic partner. Arabs should stop lying about Zionism and should accept Israel as a neighbour and a business partner.
Take ownership of our own decisions. We have for too long been blaming our problems on colonialism, both the real colonialism of the past and the imaginary Zionist colonialism of the present. The reality is that we are not colonies of anyone. We are free nations that can make our decisions, and we have been free nations for many decades now. We make our own decisions, and they are often wrong, but we do not blame ourselves; we blame everyone else. We need to take responsibility for our own actions. The price of not doing so is that we keep repeating the same mistakes, and we keep encountering the same failures. We have vast lands rich in natural resources, rich in history, and rich in people, but we have practically no democracy and no human rights, and we live in a frequent state of war. Our brightest people flee to the West while back home we have one dictator after another manipulating our minds and turning us against each other and the world. This situation is the result of nothing other than our own decisions, and it is time that we changed.
Know who our real friends are. Our friends are those who will help us become stronger, more educated, more peaceful, and more prosperous. Our friends are not those who encourage the existing attitudes that prevent us from achieving these objectives. Someone like British anti-Israel extremist George Galloway is not our friend; he has an anti-Israel agenda, and he works with any extremist who can help him demonize Israel, including Hamas, no matter how detrimental that may be to Arabs. Our real friends recognize our failures and help us improve. Our fake friends tell us that all faults belong elsewhere and that we do not need to improve. Our fake friends have encouraged us for 66 years to continue being the enemies of Israel rather than create peace and benefit from peace’s dividends.
Allow immigration into the Arab world. While we Arabs are allowed to immigrate to France, the U.K., Canada, the U.S., Holland, and so on we do not allow immigration to Arab countries, even from other Arab countries. Instead we bring temporary workers from Asia and Africa, and we pay them low wages under poor working conditions for the jobs that Arabs do not wish to have. Just as the West benefits from the contributions of Arab immigrants to their economies, just as Israel benefits from the contributions of its Arab minority, we can benefit from the immigration of East Asians, Africans, or anyone else into Arab countries. If our future is as bright as it should be, we should even be able to attract immigrants from the West, including second and third generation Arab immigrants who wish to go back to their roots.
Promote education and democracy. Knowledge and education are the fuel that drives the engine of any healthy economy and healthy society, and the engine is the people. Democracy is the vehicle that allows people to ensure that the future reflects the wishes of the majority. I combined education and democracy as a single change because one needs the other. Democracy without education leads to the election of the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which are no better than dictators. Education without democracy cannot thrive because dictators need to control information and limit education in order to survive. The two must grow together.
Respect freedom of speech. I left this one for the end because it is the most important. If we make progress on this change then all other changes will follow sooner or later. When we Arabs immigrate to the West, we rightfully demand that our freedom of speech be respected in our new countries; we should demand the exact same freedom in the Arab world. The Arab world will not collapse if it allows its residents the freedom to criticize the state, to promote new political ideas, to freely discuss religion, or to promote peace with Israel. Those of us who have lived under a democracy know that a nation and all its citizens can only benefit from the free exchange of ideas.
These ten changes derive from simple common sense, but they need to be said and repeated because they are long overdue. No one will ever force us to make these changes, but we need to make them for our own sakes.
I have no illusion about these changes occurring overnight. Of course these changes will take time, probably generations, but the sooner we start changing the better. Each of us Arabs, in government or private industry, at home or at work, in the Arab world or in the West, needs to take it upon herself or himself to make these changes. The changes can only come from within.