Courtesy Reuters

The Depth of Arab Radicalism

The Arabs are unhappy with their present condition and want to change it. This is a very general statement, but it expresses the basic fact about the Arab position in the Middle East and in the world today. What exactly are they unhappy about? This is quite difficult to answer. They have specific grievances such as the occupation of Arab territories by Israel since 1967. Underneath, other reasons for Arab discontent can be detected, such as the existence of Israel per se; "colonialist," "Zionist" and "imperialist" pressure and alleged exploitation; internal injustices and divisions which place imposing obstacles in the path of progress toward the ideal of Arab unity; social injustices and lack of progress in reducing them; and economic and social underdevelopment (frequently called by the Arabs themselves takhalluf, i.e. "retardation").

Grave as they are, all these difficulties and complaints are probably in themselves insufficient to convey the full measure of Arab angoisse. Jacques Berque in a remarkable article published in 1958, in the Revue des Études Islamiques, spoke of Arab inquiétude in modern times. He used the Arabic term qalaq to describe it; it means anguish, shakiness, looseness, quelque chose qui n'adhère plus è son contour. He found that just at the moment when the national demand for independence appeared to have been achieved, a whole host of problems suddenly intruded "with the force of a revelation": economic pressures, social realities, the class struggle. But finally, Berque said, the question the Arab intellectuals pose to themselves is about "their own essence."

Since 1958-the year of unity between Egypt and Syria, and the year of the revolution against the monarchy and Nuri Said in Iraq-it has become apparent that Arab political "anguish" can lead to an exacerbated kind of radicalism which contains the seeds of its own deterioration. The danger of a circular process has revealed itself: radical discontent with the political situation as it is can lead to a fixation on goals incapable of attainment. And the ensuing frustration

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