A word on European and African Unions [Archives:2004/727/Opinion]

April 8 2004

Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis*
[email protected]

I hope that for your readership's best information you are going to publish this mail of mine. I truly wonder how many years more need to pass and how many crushing defeats or humiliating events must happen, before Pan-Arabic literature ceases to exist and you finally realize that it was all wrong and misleading.
You state to examples: the European Union and the African Union. The only thing they have in common is one word ('union') that means different things under different circumstances.
European Union is a state-under-formation, a unique procedure in the history of mankind in which political willingness came after correct historical knowledge attained in leading universities. Not a single case of historical misunderstanding – let alone falsification of history – can be detected in today's European universities. This concerns either European or world history.
Furthermore, in these universities the history of all the other countries and civilizations has been investigated in a pioneering and definitely unmatched way, so that still today an Indian studies Asoka in London rather than in Calcutta, an Iranian studies Cuneiform Achaemenid texts in Berlin rather in Ispahan, an Egyptian studies the Inscriptions of Ramses III in Torino rather in Assiut, a Yemeni studies Qatabanic texts in Aix-la-Chapelle rather than in Mukalla, an Algerian studies Ibn Hazem in Paris rather in Oran, and so on.
It is wrong to think that politicians, statesmen and administrators matter more than professors and researchers in Europe (and in America). The political willingness lies upon a colossal amount of work in education and culture, and research in history, art, philosophy and literature.
Only undeveloped and uncivilized people all over the world think that engineering and technology are a more important a sector than the humanities. All the modern European and American political establishments are founded on humanities. This knowledge is missing in Africa, and in most of the rest of the world. And as long as it is missing, these parts of the world will never have the power (because this is all knowledge is about: power) to go ahead, even if at times the political willingness is there (as in the present case of the African Parliament).
No Union will ever come to Africa, before as many Egyptians learn Amharic as French speak German, before as many Haussa native speakers learn Swahili as Italians speak English and so on. Knowing your next in depth is the beginning; political willingness without that deep knowledge is just rubbish.
In Africa ignorance reigns everywhere. Can you compare an average Greek's knowledge (obtained in education, through the mass media, and thanks to trips) of – let's say – France with the level of knowledge an average Tunisian has of Eritrea or Zimbabwe?
What is worse is that a centripetal force does not exist in Africa, as it does in Europe, if we do not want to refer to just relationship between neighbors; do you know for how long how many millions of Turks, Greeks, Yugoslavians and Italians have lived in Germany, Belgium and France?
One has reasons to believe that it would be more feasible for Algeria to unite with the European Union than for Morocco to become a partner with Ethiopia, under the auspices of a 'real' African Union, in the same way Italy is a partner with Finland
On the contrary, one finds rather centrifugal forces in the African continent .
Now, if the situation is like this in Africa, it is even worse for what you call Arabic countries. And it will become even worse, because in the case of most of these dysfunctional, anachronistic and at times tyrannical regimes one does not only face a case of missing knowledge (as is the case in Africa) but also meets provocative and flagrant misinformation and disinformation. And I do not speak here at the level of politics at all!
The basic falsehood that is widely diffused among the member states of the Arabic League (do not call it 'Arab', please) is that there is an Arabic nation, or that the people in all the member states are Arabs.
The only historical truth in this respect is that there are no Arabs at all; there are Arabic speaking peoples with striking dissimilarities that testify to and assure only failures in any attempt at a union among these so different peoples. If this absolute and fundamental historical reality is not widely assessed and understood first, nothing good can come out of the Arab League!!!
In reality, the Lebanese are Phoenicians, who got hellenized and aramaized in Late Antiquity. Arabic speaking Syrians and Iraqis are Aramaeans. So are the Palestinians and the Kuwaitis, as well as the Emirates and the Qataris, who have certainly been intermixed with Persians. Egyptians are Copts, native Egyptians, descendants of the people of Ancient Egypt in their amalgamations with the numerous foreigners, who passed by the valley of the Nile: Aramaeans, Phoenicians, Yemenis, Greeks, Meroitic Sudanese, Romans, and others. Sudanese are descendants of the ancient Meroites and the Nubians. Libyans and the people of the Maghreb are descendants of the Khammitic peoples of the great Atlas, Berbers, in their genuine fusion with Carthaginians and Romans. And Yemenis are Yemenis, descendants of the ancient states of Saba, Qataban, Himyar, Hadramout and other; they are closer to Abyssinians (mistakenly called Ethiopians) than to the Arabs of Hedjaz.
All these peoples, by accepting Islam, sooner or later, started becoming arabized, but this happened at a linguistic, not at a racial, ethnic level. And we know only too well that the Arabs of the times of the Prophet were not numerous at all. One generation later, when let us say Islamic armies were reaching Carthage in today's Tunisia, Central Asia and the Indus valley, the Muslim fighters were speaking Arabic but among them Arabs were already a minority. Aramaeans from Damascus and Ctesiphon, Egyptians from Alexandria, Yemenis from Muza and Persians from Praaspa were already a majority among them! They learnt the language of Quran, but they did not and could not change their racial and ethnic origin.
And never forget that if one tries to speak of racial mixture, at the times of the Prophet all the Arabs were not exceeding in number the population of just one Aramaic, Egyptian or Persian city (namely Tadmor, Alexandria, or Istakhr).
The Copts (Christians) of Egypt and the 'Assyrians' and 'Chaldaeans' of Iraq and Iran show very well what happened: those who remained Christians preserved initially their language (Coptic and Aramaic – Syriac) and lost it gradually in later dates. Among the people who accepted Islam in the early period, only Persians preserved their language. This is not strange, since the great cultural phenomenon of Ferdowsi gives us an insightful understanding of the subject. If Copts and Aranaeans had not been christianized and if they had kept a national traditional historical record of their glorious past, they would have resulted into a different perception of Islam, preserving their original languages and developing epics similar to Shahnameh.
Because this did not happen, we have the current situation, but this does not mean that these peoples are Arabs, or that a kind of union can be based on falsely perceived history and tons of misinformation and disinformation that was mostly due to colonial powers, mainly France and England, in their efforts against Islam and the Ottoman Empire.
It is from Western Europe that nationalism emanated. And as such, it caused serious problems to peoples of the East and the West, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others. The confusion spread throughout the territories of the Ottoman Empire finds its equivalent in the disaster of the Irish, the Scots, the Corsicans and the Celts of Brittany. Actually, it leads to nowhere.
Earlier one understands this, sooner one escapes from the traps that led millions to wars and disaster.
* Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis is a prominent Orientalist and Egyptologist