Courtesy Reuters

Notes on Arab Unity

THE idea of Arab unity, dead for a thousand years, is fashionable once again, at least for purposes of discussion. Arab union of one kind or another has become the focus of political probabilities for the whole of the Near East and even North Africa. Although the Arabs have not been an important people in modern times, the question of their unification gains a certain weight through its connection with matters of world import, notably the maintenance of British imperial communications and now the American entry into Africa and Asia. The Arab rôle, although in a sense a minor one, may nevertheless be played out in the center of the stage.

Who are the Arabs? The word "Arab" is ambiguous. That is because Islam, which has only recently become westernized, or secularized, does not recognize distinctions of nations or races as important: it is Islam which constitutes an all-embracing community for its adherents. Since the overwhelming majority of Arabs are Moslem the western concept of nationality has had to compete with the religious concept of Islam as a locus of crystallization for group feeling. The consequence is that Islam contains a welter of ethnic types which also permeate the Arab world: types ethnically distinct only to the mind of a westerner preoccupied with differences of race and nationality.

It has not been possible for a thousand years and more to speak of an Arab community which is based on any biological similarities. Even at the time the Arabs burst out of their peninsula they do not appear to have been a physically homogeneous stock; but whatever their unity may have been founded on at that time, the combined effects of Islam and the persistently nomadic movements of Arabs throughout north, central and east Africa have converted the Arab world into a genuine melting pot in which all origins are forgotten, or, rather, all origins are granted a more or less fictitious "Arab" character. At present if one were told that

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