How Gaza takes center stage in the Muslim world

The Arab world has its hands full in states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and so it seems that the concern for Gaza is an effort to distract from the divisions and struggles at home.

July 29, 2014 12:43
3 minute read.
Protesters shout anti-Israel slogans during a protest in Amman

Protesters shout anti-Israel slogans during a protest in Amman. (photo credit: REUTERS)

At the drop of a hat, the Muslim world has dropped its focus on the uprisings, wars, killings and violence in the Middle East, and instead, drew its attention to the war in Gaza.

Why? The short answer is that Muslim-on-Muslim violence draws less outrage than non- Muslim-on-Muslim violence.

The Arab world has its hands full in states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and so it seems that the concern for the Palestinians is not a priority but an effort to distract from the divisions and struggles at home.

“Our wars against Israel have been brief. We wage them enthusiastically at the media and rhetorical levels without enough military planning, preparation or readiness for the patience and perseverance they require,” wrote Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in an article on the Al-Arabiya website, which was originally published in the London based Al-Hayat newspaper on Saturday.

“Palestinians have always relied on Arabs but the latter have their own calculations and rulers who also have their own calculations and priorities. Then they lose a war against Israel, leave Palestine and its people to their fate and return to their homelands to restore what was damaged and protect what was left,” he added.

Nationalism, modern armies, urbanization, and other forms of modernization adopted from the West have not erased the underlying values and culture of Arab society.

In fact, the recent Arab uprisings help demonstrate the continuity of Arab political culture.

“Syria deaths mount as world looks on,” read a headline from the BBC last week, noting that more than 700 people were killed in fighting between Islamic State fighters and government forces on July 17 and 18.

When these people were killed in Syria, there “was not a peep” from the Muslim world about it, while the corresponding death toll in the Gaza war was negligible, it received most of the attention, Harold Rhode, a senior fellow at the New York based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser on Islamic affairs in the office of the American secretary of defense, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

By and large, “The Muslim world does not really care about the Palestinians. The Muslim world’s attitude towards Israel, the US, the EU, or anything Christian or non-Muslim is outrage,” said Rhode.

The assumption in the Muslim world is that whatever the West or Israel does deserves blame, said Rhode, going on to argue that “in the Middle East no one ever takes responsibility for their actions. All they do is blame others.”

It is about pursuing honor (meaning what others say about you) and avoiding shame.

“The Western world no longer believes in itself,” argued Rhode, adding that “the Muslim world has learned to use this very effectively against us.”

Philip Carl Salzman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University, who specializes in Arab tribal culture, said “Hamas expresses frankly the underlying assumptions of Middle Eastern culture: That loyalty to one’s group – whether a family, clan, tribe, confederacy, sect, or religion – is the primary virtue.

“And the only source of security in opposition to an enemy comes from the honor of defeating that enemy,” he said.

“These are the pervasive and overriding principles, which derive from the foundational culture of the Muslim Middle East: Beduin tribal culture,” said Salzman.

“Islam conformed to these principles by setting Muslims versus infidels as the ultimate opposition.

“The triumph of the despised Jews in establishing their independence from Muslim domination, and in repeatedly beating the Muslims militarily, bitterly shamed Muslims, and requires the defeat of the Jews to regain lost honor.”

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