Editor-In-Chief: Charbel Baini

Arab Identity and National Liberation/ Sobhi Ghandour

An Arab is a person who belongs to the Arab culture or has Arab cultural origins. The Arab identity is not linked to an ethnicity, religion, political stand, or ideology, and it does not depend on changing political circumstances.
Adhering to pan-Arabism means belonging to one nation with a common language and culture, and a shared history on a shared land. This nation also shares the same interests and destiny, which may, in the future, take the shape of a federation or an integration of its countries.
The Arab identity as a language and culture existed before Islam, but it was confined to Arab tribes that shared certain geographic boundaries.
Before Islam, pan-Arabism meant the Arabic language and culture, but it began to become a civilization and a cultural identity and allegiance with the birth of Islam and its strong connection with the Arabic language, the language of the Quran, and the spread of Islam by Arab pioneers.
Islam and the Quran contributed significantly to transforming Arabism from the identity of a small Arab race into the horizons of a greater cultural identity as part of a common Islamic Civilization that also includes Arab non-Muslims as well as non-Arab Muslims.
Arabism as a solution to crisis
Arabism can provide a solution to the crisis of inter-Arab relations. It can also be a cultural and social fortress that can safeguard and protect the national identity of each Arab country.
Perhaps one of the most important obstacles that needs to be addressed is the current weak sense of national identity and the dominance of sectionalism, which prevails in many Arab countries. This weakens the domestic, constitutional, and political structure, leads to the dominance of sectarian and ethnic identities over Arab societies, and eventually leads to domestic crises and tensions in each Arab country.  These sectionalist allegiances are also used to preserve political or personal gain or to seize them from others in power.
This weak sense of national identity also paves the way for foreign interference and even foreign occupation in some instances. This occurs when priority is given to narrow affiliations that are used as pretexts to deal with foreign parties.
The weak sense of common national identity is an expression of a misunderstanding about other affiliations. Belief in different religious sects or being proud of ethnic and tribal origins is a natural and healthy phenomenon in multi-ethnic and religious communities. But, a problem occurs when this difference is transformed into violent struggle and bloody political conflicts that contradict pluralism and cause us to hold others accountable for the group or religion they were born into, instead of for their deeds and ideas. This is in contradiction to all divine and earthly teachings.
The role of the intellectual
Being intellectual is an individual status; it does not describe a group with shared objectives or behaviors.
An intellectual is not necessarily a researcher, writer, or even an educated person. He or she does not always assume oppositionist or nationalist positions.  An intellectual who is committed to his nation's causes combines his personal concerns with the issues of the people around him. He combines education and professionalism with awareness and knowledge of social problems.
The question that arises, then, is, what is the role of intellectual Arabs?
Before discussing their role, we must identify those intellectual Arabs who have common ideological concepts about allegiance and identity, and common ways to describe realities on the ground and the true causes of problems.  They should also seek a joint vision for a better Arab future.  And they need to agree upon definitions for the three main pillars for change:  ideological foundations, methods, and objectives. Nothing can be achieved without these three basic pillars. 
This means that a national objective cannot be achieved through sectarian or sectional foundations or methods.
Defining ideological foundations, methods, and objectives is the best way for the intellectuals who are committed to their nation's issues to play a more positive and effective role.
Unfortunately, there is a major imbalance in the Arab world when it comes to dealing with the critical goals of democracy, liberation, and Arab identity. This is the fault of the Arabs and is not necessarily caused by foreign interference or American domination. 
For example, some Arabs call for liberation and resisting occupation, but from a sectional ideological perspective or from an anti-Arab identity standpoint.
Meanwhile, others adhere to their Arab identity and liberation slogans, but within the framework of regimes or organizations that oppose democracy.
And some suppress the opinions of others and fight against ideological and political diversity, which are the cornerstones of any healthy democratic society.
The Arab countries have an urgent need to build a liberal democratic Arab movement that must be based on a balance of ideology and practice between democracy, national liberation, and Arab identity.
This intellectual, cultural, and political movement must bring all Arabs together within a single nation. If the proper mechanisms are in place, it would be very easy to implement these ideals.
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*This article is an edited version of an article that was originally published on-line in Gulf News on July 10, 2009:

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