Emeritus Professor Ilia Harik of Indiana University offers a detailed rejoinder to Dr. Mose Ochone's Submission No. 900.
(****Editor's note: those who want to intervene in this ongoing debate should note that all submissions that are not civil may be returned to their authors for further editing)
I have read Dr. Moses Ochone's response to my short note regarding Arab affinity with Africans. Of course, a public space is for debate, hence I appreciate his response to my brief note, no matter how critical he response happens to be. The main question is how to address the various issues. Scraping the bottom of the jar to find fault with one side and foment more aggravation is not what I call a desire for understanding and improving of relations. To hold the entire Arab people responsible for the crazy record of Qadhafi, for example, toward black Africa, not to mention the world at large, and for the oppression by the military regime in Khartoum for its crimes in Darfur is, to say the least, unfair.
I have never said there is no racism in the Arab countries. If there is a country in the world where there is no sort or degree of racism, I would like to be guided to it. It is just that when compared with racism among nations of the world, it does not seem that racism among the Arabs stands out as a pronounced phenomenon. Let us not forget that the term "Arab" is often used to refer to Arabic speaking peoples of different ethnicities and geographic locations, a very large number of whom are black Africans. Still, whatever there is of racism among the Arabs, it is a legitimate subject for discussion. Arab states in particular should be blamed for not condemning Khartoum for its brutal suppression of the uprising in Darfur and its extensive violations of human rights. That does not mean that they should also be blamed for those crimes themselves, which after all are committed by a black African government against its black citizens. As for Qadhafi, he has committed as much outrage against Arabs as against black Africans. After reading Dr. Ochone's statement one wonders whether Arabs in the east should accuse an Arabized berber leader of an African race like Kadhafi of being racist against semitic Arabs? Is not that where the logic in Dr. Ochone's charges leads us?
Racism is not the monopoly of any nation and we all know that it is an evil rife in Africa itself, especially in Nigeria and other nations. What is one to say about Hutus and Tutsis, for example? Even in the Sudan, if the behavior of the Khartoum government toward the rebellious Dinkas in the south is to be described as racist, which to a certain extent it might be, so can one describe the attitude of the Dinkas toward the people of the north. The Sudan, like many other African nations, is made up of different ethnic groups (or tribes). But I still consider the problems of the Sudan to be predominantly cultural and political.
As for the Arabic word, "abd", I defy anyone to find it used in contemporary Arab media to refer to a black African. The word used in modern times for blacks is "zunj," which is of old Arab origin too. Moreover, the association of the word "abd" with "slave" is figurative, because the root of the word stands for "worship", "adore", i.e. one who gives himself to the "lord" or anyone else. Yet, the association with slavery is significant and should be discussed as part of the historical relations of the two peoples.
Historical relations should definitely be brought up in their good and bad features. However, selecting grievous activities to incite further disapproval and hostility is not history, nor does it serve any one, least of all the parties concerned. Arabs and Africans have had, since the middle of the last century, bonds of political identity in the face of colonialism and oppression. They have continued in the post-independence period to stand together to uphold the interests of Afro-Asians. Arabs at present are overwhelmed by their problems of inferiority in the world order and by the return of neo-colonialism to their midst, some of it by their own fault and ineptitude. They may be excused if they are not showing as much interest in sub-Saharan problems. But let us not forget their time honored interests in Africa. "Jeune Afrique", the prominent journal, is a project created by a Tunisian. In Egypt, Butros Ghali devoted his career from the start to promoting African issues in the Arab World and in general. The Ahram Center which he founded in Cairo had a central interest in Africa, and its leading journal, al Siyasah al Dwaliya, for decades now has given extensive attention to African affairs. Arab Funds of the oil rich Gulf countries have financially supported African development. Should the Arabs now complain that Africans do not love them or are not interested in them because there is no comparable evidence in sub-Saharan Africa of interest in the Arab world?
It is clear that there are currently irritating problems disturbing Arab-African relations. It should, though, be addressed with good will. Why not call for a dialogue with Arab scholars, intellectuals, and politicians to improve understanding and relations? Would not that be more productive than searching for little causes that will foment hostility and disarray among peoples of the developing world who need each other badly?
Indiana University, Department of Political Science
International Resource Center for Democracy
Bloomington, IN 47405