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Amidst the war on Gaza, a call for necessary self-reflection

Amidst the war on Gaza, a call for necessary self-reflection

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Opinion Public Liberties

Monday 20 November 202303:52 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

في أثناء العدوان المستمر على غزة... دعوة إلى مراجعة ضرورية مع النفس

This crisis engulfing our region is undeniably one of the harshest on the human spirit. We feel a combination of injustice, weakness, and oppression while we watch as our people in Gaza, innocent civilians, die horrific deaths. All of this unfolds in front of a paralyzed global community and ineffective Arab politics and regimes. While it's not the first time we feel such emotions as a people, it might be the first where Palestinians are openly labeled "human animals" for resisting 16 years of a complete siege on Gaza and 56 years of occupation and racial discrimination.

It is therefore unsurprising that many, especially the young, would begin to reject certain norms and structures: Western values, democracy, human rights, international law, and, needless to say, Arab leadership that has failed to act in the face of the Gaza massacre. It is clear that only the law of the jungle prevails, and force is our only means. Some have even gone as far as to compare this war to the Crusades, with the only solution a return to our beliefs.

While I fully understand the deep shock and anger, I am concerned by the lack of understanding of our existing global systems, which prevents us from dealing with the conflict realistically and successfully. Firstly, we must recognize that our oppressive Arab governments have used the West as a scapegoat for decades, blaming them for our shortcomings in developing modern societies and failure to uphold human rights and freedom, a result of certain Western conspiracies against us.

Are our global systems inherently biased against us, Arabs and Muslims, and our causes – in particular the Palestinian cause? Or is what we see nothing more than evidence of imbalanced power dynamics, resulting in the dominance of the strong over the weak?

In this vein, one could depict Western society as decadent, contrary to all our values and culture, especially when it comes to personal freedoms. One could also portray the global system as skewed towards the West.

Of course, many who have lived in the West, myself included, understand that Western societies, like all societies, are far from perfect. They have their flaws and drawbacks. Their governments have long histories of exploiting our countries and abusing our people, and their foreign policies and catastrophic wars often contradict their democratic values and human rights principles.

However, we also recognize the benefits of Western society, through their more democratic systems and respect for human rights. The result is a world with a great degree of freedom, prosperity, and growing justice for their people: an attractive destination for youth seeking opportunity.

The core question we are trying to answer here is whether the global system is inherently biased against us, Arabs and Muslims, and our causes, and in particular the Palestinian cause? Or is what we see nothing more than evidence of an imbalanced power dynamic, resulting in the dominance of the strong over the weak?

Answering this question is not easy, given the dynamic nature of world order: not a rigid, black-and-white system but rather one of many shades and colors, constantly evolving and fluctuating. Therefore, understanding the global landscape is essential to dealing with the crisis in a way that enables us to protect our rights and defend our interests.

Many who have lived in the West, myself included, understand that Western societies are far from perfect. They have their flaws and drawbacks, and their foreign policies and catastrophic wars often contradict their democratic values and human rights principles

The set of rules and norms collectively known as international law maintains cross-border relations. Through hundreds of international treaties signed over the last two hundred years, certain regulations are upheld throughout much of society; there are laws and regulations regarding maritime activity, civil aviation, intellectual property, refugee rights, international mail, medical drugs, and more. We rarely hear about these agreements because they are initiated and maintained without dispute.

However, the fundamental problem with international law is that, unlike local law, there is no central authority or judicial system overseeing its enforcement and ensuring compliance. When certain influences and interests are involved, and when disputes concern land and borders, we witness conflicts escalate to armed confrontations devoid of any judicial or political standard.

Does this mean that international law is a myth? Or, that organizations such as the United Nations adhere only to power and force? The issue is more complex, but the short answer is: no.

International law is evolving, constantly forming and developing. This is evident when you consider issues such as climate change and regulating weapons of mass destruction. Despite the slow pace, it generally moves in the right direction.

Until the close of the 19th century, there was no humanitarian law per se. Today, we have detailed conventions defining war crimes, the treatment of civilians, prisoners, use of weaponry, intended to regulate war and make them more ‘humane’. Recently, the International Criminal Court was established with the authority to enforce international humanitarian law on its member states, which include Palestine.

Yet, we witness many blatant violations of these laws in the war in Palestine, as we have in other wars in our region and beyond. As evidenced by worldwide demonstrations and dwindling global support for Israel, it is clear that public opinion is greatly influenced by how a country responds to these laws.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court is currently investigating crimes committed in Palestine, as it prepares to bring those responsible to trial.

Looking at international organizations, from the United Nations and its affiliated entities, to those operating in various sectors like health, labor, culture, meteorology, and more, they all operate within the frameworks established by their agreements. Their policies, like in all international relations, reflect the balances of power and influence among their members, and are currently undergoing changes due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China as a major power.

Is international law a myth? The issue is complex, but the short answer is no. It constantly evolves, as evidenced by the climate crisis and environmental regulations. Despite the slow pace, we move in a positive direction.

Disagreements between major powers and members’ excessive use of the right of veto, as seen exhibited by the war in Gaza, prevents the Security Council from fulfilling its duty to maintain international peace and security. Despite this, we should not overlook its success in establishing peacekeeping forces that continue to operate in various conflict zones worldwide.

Complete with both its positives and negatives, this is how the international system runs. The absence of an integrated judicial system enforcing international law and an efficient central authority means that at times it is ineffective, and at other, unjust. This is exemplified by the global community’s lack of commitment by states to its provisions, as seen in the Iraq War.

Ultimately, it is a fragile system, relying on the delicate power balance between major nuclear states as the ultimate deterrent. On the one hand, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) prevents any one power from trumping over another without destroying itself, whereas on the other, the world is constantly on the brink of disaster.

It is clear that the international system, especially regarding peace-keeping and security, is in dire need of radical reform. However, there is no realistic alternative to the existing system. Therefore, the key question we must focus on answering is: How do we use it to protect and defend our interests, while simultaneously working to reform it?

We need the support of populations that influence their governments in the mid-and-long term. We also need, of course, the support of our governments.

Through the influence of soft and hard power, balanced and fair positions on important causes can be established, and ensure deterrence from aggression.

If we start with ‘the people’, the first question we should ask ourselves is: Are we doing what it takes to make the world's populations feel that we are part of them? How are the identity of states and organizations being preserved, while appealing to the population and letting them know that their human values and freedoms are shared?

This involves expressing empathy for certain societal issues, respecting cultures, values, and lifestyle, rather than solely focusing on our differences, or the superiority of our faith and way of life, and not only remember them whenever an issue comes up to say, "The international community must bear responsibility", and then lament our luck and accuse the international community of inaction and injustice if it does not respond to our demands.

It is important to not to overlook the influence of the arts, culture, literature, sports, and even food, in forming impressions and bridging cultural divides, bringing people closer together. Globally celebrated artists and talents including Alaa Al-Aswany, Amr Salama or Mohamed Salah, for example, have influence and deeply positive impressions: we are one global community with much in common.

India – so diverse in culture – is an important example. Radically different culturally to the West, and incredibly keen on preserving their cultural identity, they have succeeded in having their culture recognized and celebrated as an important part of the global family, where Indian culture is regarded as enriching, rather than as a threat.

Extremist organizations operating in the name of Islam have instilled fear and created a negative image of the religion for some in the West. No matter how many times we repeat that they do not represent Islam and its principles and values, no matter how many times we distance ourselves from these organizations and any crimes they have committed, we have yet to succeed.

We are in an imbalanced position with Israel, requiring greater effort from us in our dealings with the West. Jews, afterall, are part of the Judeo-Christian culture. Moreover, the West proceeds with extreme sensitivity due to its history of anti-Semitism and racial discrimination, culminating in the horrific Holocaust. The influence of active Jewish communities in Western society adds another layer to these complex dynamics.

The unprecedented mass demonstrations in support of Palestinian people in the West may be a signal of a new beginning, where we, as Arabs, can unite with the global community, on the basis of our shared universal human values.

The influence of culture, sports, and even food cannot be underestimated in bringing cultures closer together. Talents including Alaa Al-Aswany, Amr Salama or Mohamed Salah have all made lasting impressions, proving we are one global community with much in common

It would be a big mistake to frame the Palestinian cause within a religious context. It is, first and foremost, a human cause: a people defending its independence and freedom. Increasingly, many in the West rally around cultural and human values, over religious ones. In Israel, Judaism, for nearly half the population, has become more of an identity and affiliation than a creed.

In terms of governments, we are essentially talking about economic and political interests and calculations made by administrations when taking a stance or making a decision.

Soft power – economics, trade, culture, science, and technology, should work alongside hard power, in harmony. We need them both, and one cannot replace the other. Neither soft nor hard power alone is sufficient to protect and defend our interests, as evidenced in the case of North Korea.

The more united we as Arabs are, both in our words and actions, the greater our impact and influence will be. But the more divided we are and the more we differ amongst ourselves, the more we become inconsequential, like 'floating debris in the current'.

The first steps towards this could involve a genuine agreement on Arab national security, dictated by history and geography. It needs to be rebuilt, through cultural, economic, commercial, scientific, and political integration, and an effective system of joint defense.

We must remember that governments, especially in democratic systems, reflect the opinions of their people. Thus, the greater the support for us and our causes, the more objective and balanced the government positions. Finally, I stress that our external strength reflects our internal strength, which is based on empowering peoples and nations through modern systems built on good governance, led by science, freedom, justice, and equality.

Self-reflection is necessary, and the road ahead is long. We must start today before tomorrow, as we have approached, if not reached, the edge of the abyss.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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