Thursday, May 24, 2007

When it comes to Israel, the Presbyterians don't know their nakba from their naksah

Solomonia has an interesting post about the Presbyterian Church's latest anti-Israel activism. It seems that the PCUSA is having a week of prayer in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Israel's victory in the Six Day War. Of course, the PCUSA view the Six Day War as a defeat and its anniversary as a cause for despair.

Their hatred of Israel is so palpable and their historical distortions so obvious as to scarcely deserve rebuttal. Only true believers would accept the PCUSA's propaganda at face value. It would be wishful thinking to hope to change their minds, so I won't bother to make the attempt.

However, I find it very interesting that (as a Presbyterian who opposes his church's bias reports to Solomonia) Presbyterian pro-Palestinian activists are using the term ''nakba'' to refer to the Six Day War. Doesn't ''nakba'' [(النكبة) "disaster"] refer to Israel's victory in the 1948 War of Independence in the lingo of the pro-Palestinian? I think the Presbyterians are confusing "disaster" with "setback" [''naksah''].

The use of the term "nakba" for the Israeli War of Independence was an innovation of Constantin Zureiq, the intellectual father of the Arab Nationalist Movement and a key influence on the founders of the Baathist party. Zurieq used the term in the title of his book about the 1948 War, ''Ma'na al-Nakba'' (The Meaning of the Disaster).

With respect to "naksah", according to the Egyptian journalist Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, Heikal and the then Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser came up with ''naksah'' as the party line term for the Six Day War. I use the term "party line" advisedly, as Nasser's propaganda effort seems to have been geared primarily toward leadership of the Soviet Union. According to a study published by Strategic Insights (an electronic journal of the Center for Contemporary Conflict at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California):

The two men turned to discuss Nasser’s speech and what is fascinating about the Heikal papers is the selection of Arabic word Naksah (setback) to describe the 1967 military debacle. Heikal came up with Naksah and when Nasser asked about his choice of a singular word to describe the 1967 War they went down the list of words Hazimah (defeat), Sadmah (shock), and Karithah (catastrophe) as well as the 1948 War that is called Nakbah (another Arabic dialect for catastrophe).

The choice of words to describe a catastrophic military setback for Egyptian arms such as the 1967 War was a matter of great importance. According to Heikal, Nasser was obsessed with the right description of this military defeat; he wanted to leave his successor enough political room to rebuild and place Egypt once again on the offensive. To describe the Six Day War as a Hazimah (defeat) would leave no room for reconstruction and would upset the Soviets who provided the bulk of the military hardware that Syria and Egypt incompetently deployed. He then blamed Lyndon Johnson for his defeat, accusing the United States of flying military hardware to Israel from Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya. He informed Heikal of a letter he dictated to Syrian President Atasi, urging that he accept a cease-fire to save what remained of the Syrian Army. Nasser did not need to say more, for the Syrian Army needed to be preserved to suppress any internal threats that would topple the regime. Nasser then reflected on how the Soviets were likely to help Syria more than Egypt, how Moscow seemed to understand Baathism more than Arab Socialism. Heikal and Nasser then talked about Moscow’s need to preserve its gains in the Arab world at the expense of Washington. Nasser understood he could rely on using the Cold War to extract further military aid from Moscow.
The Cold War origins of these terms is interesting and very revealing about the true nature of movements which use them. For one thing, it puts the lie to the myth of the indigenous Arab insurgency. The conflict in the Middle East is and always was part of a larger struggle. And it has always involved Arab dictators' creative exploitation of the suffering created by their own policies as part of a grand strategy. So when the Egyptian "Arab Socialists", together with the Baathists of Syria and Iraq, worsened the situation of the Palestinians, they found a way to exploit this "setback" for their own purposes. They found a way to use this to extract more weapons and money from the USSR.

How does this relate to the PCUSA? Just as the Maoists among the New Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s adopted and mindlessly repeated such bizarre phrases as "running dog lackies of the capitalist war-mongers" (okay...that's an extreme case, but one that was in general circulation), the Presbyterians now use (and apparently misuse) the party line terms "nakba" and "naksah". While the Maoist New Left had some understanding of the origins of their cant, the PCUSA has none. The PCUSA does not knowingly use the terminology of pro-Soviet Arab dictators. The origins of pro-Palestinian propaganda embarrass the Arabs by reminding the world of a history that they wish to conceal, and also embarrass their allies who would rather not ask. The PCUSA believe that they use the language of resistance to oppression by imperialists. What they don't understand, but what their language reveals, is that they have merely chosen the wrong side in a battle between global movements.

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