The reality of Arabism was misted, and presently this inner uncertainty , expressed in endemic feuds and rivalries, led to the collapse of Arab power. The decline was more protracted than the rise…
The Arabs burst out of their peninsula in 633; by 750 they had reached the limits of their expansion. But it was not until 1258 that the last of the caliphs was deposed, and Granada remained a Moslem capital until 1492. Internally, the empire crumbled in bits and pieces. Externally, it was assaulted from all quarters. From the east came the Mongols, from the north the Turks. The forces of Christian Europe counterattacked in Spain and Sicily and followed the twin banners of Faith and Profit to expel Islam from the Holy Land. By the end of the eighteenth-century most of the Islamic countries were under Turkish rule-Moslem itself, and expressing itself in Arab script, but still an alien imperialism.
A second Ignorance ensued. The Arabs languished once again, enervated and impoverished, scattered now across the Mediterranean littoral and split into diverse schools of Islam. The Middle East was no longer the world’s fulcrum, the Great Powers of Europe having shifted their attention westward to the Americas and eastward to China and India; when Napoleon called Egypt the most important country in the world, he was thinking of it only as a key to the Far East. The Arabs were left on the fringes of great events, and they lapsed into splintered apathy. Their scholarship was vulgarized into tradition and superstition. Their religion became ever more fatalistic. Even their numbers shrank, as the techniques of irrigation, production, and medicine were forgotten.
When, in the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire gave way to the more thrusting imperialism of Western Europe, the Arabs changed masters flaccidly, almost without raising a voice in their own interest. This degradation survived until our own time; the Arab post WWII world was effectively divided among several Western powers, notably France and England. Only the two desert kingdoms of the peninsula, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, remained independent, but even there the power of Western oil interests was growing so fast that independence had its limits. Two world wars, far from emancipating the Arabs or reviving their lost sense of destiny, seemed only to have deepened their subjection.
Nowhere in the world could be more dismal than an ordinary Arab town of the 1940′s- a town in Iraq say, which had once supported a thriving and advanced population, but which had sunk into a condition of feckless squalor; in style totally hangdog, its inhabitants dragging a sustenance from a few incompetently irrigated fields. They are poor and blindingly ignorant, possessing not a single luxury, almost all illiterate, and knowing nothing whatsoever of the world outside their district. They had no radio, could read no newspaper, had no teacher to inform them, no sage to inspire them, no memory of past glory, no hope of change. Their life was a drab emptiness.
Such a place was like a cage in which the spirit of the Arabs lay trapped and stifled; and each poky village of the Tigris or the Nile , each poor city back-street in Oman or Tunisia, was a paradigm of Arabism as a whole. Unity of the Arabs seemed a chimera, and even their brotherhood seemed beyond redemption.
But looking today upon the wide crescent of the Arab world today, that argument no longer applies. Whatever its disabilities, it does not stagnate. Squabbling, bickering, half-cocked, it remains, but it bursts with life; how attentively, fulsomely even, the entire world listens to each successive assertion of the undying, united, unextinguishable Arab will….. ( to be continued)