Khaled Diab
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
August 20, 2011 - 12:00am

I have a confession to make: I’m a “self-hating Arab.” In fact, some readers of my articles believe I suffer from a rare form of political Tourette’s, in which I cannot help but blurt out irrationally hateful criticism.

I write regularly about all the ills I perceive in Egyptian and Arab society, including authoritarianism, corruption, gaping inequalities, human rights abuses, gender issues and insufficient intellectual freedom.

As I’m in a confessional mood, let me also admit that my self-hating does not end at the borders of the Middle East. Despite having spent the greater part of my life in the UK and Belgium, it seems that I cannot help but criticize the West, particularly its colonial past, neo-colonial present and the current attitudes toward minorities.

Almost a year to the day before Anders Behring Breivik mounted his deadly attacks in Oslo, I warned that far-Right groups in Europe were probably a more dangerous threat than Islamist extremists, and that we should not close our eyes to the violent fringe and its ambitions to execute major attacks. This predictably led to some accusations that I was an “Islamofascist” who entertains sympathies for Islamists, jihadis and other breeds of baddies.

On the other side of the spectrum, I have been dismissed by some as a “closet orientalist,” an “Islamophobe,” a “neocon,” a “house negro,” an “Uncle Tom” and even a “Zionist.” But the memo about my alleged Zionist sympathies has not reached the powers that be in Israel who, despite my European passport , give me a special kind of “VIP treatment.”

At Ben-Gurion Airport last week, for example, I was stopped before I’d even entered the terminal and interrogated at the gate. When I asked out of curiosity why I’d been singled out, the security guard answered rather cryptically from behind his mirror sunglasses that it was “his job” – and it seemed to be the job of his colleagues to accompany me every step of the way.

While I can understand that the safety of flights needs to be ensured, surely the thorough searching of my luggage, including combing it for traces of explosives, and the massage-like frisking are enough on that count.

What exactly do the repeated questionings, the insulting infringement of my privacy and the long, unexplained waits outside offices achieve except to send the message that people of Arab origin are unwelcome here? Naturally, some Arab critics will view my living in Jerusalem as another sign of self-loathing, and will regard the above treatment as nothing more than my just desserts.

Israelis and Jews who try to reach across the chasm of animosity, distrust and hatred to express understanding and sympathy for the Palestinians are similarly labeled.

“The self-hating thing is a weird one. It is supposed to refer to people who have so little pride in their history and culture that they are willing to sell themselves and their fellow Jews out to ‘the man,’” one alleged Jewish self hater confessed. “It is a pejorative which tries to get you in a really rather personal and painful way.”

It goes without saying that, like any self-respecting self hater, I don’t regard myself as such.

Rather, I believe that many of the people who fire off accusations of self loathing are usually self-righteous, and cannot admit their side commits any wrongs. They tend to abide by the precept that it is “my side, right or wrong,” and that we shouldn’t “air our dirty laundry” in public.

Why do some people adopt such harsh tones against members of their group who express dissenting views, no matter how rationally or honestly? In general terms, not conforming to the mainstream view carries the risk of ostracism. More specifically, the concept of self-hate seems to enjoy the most currency among groups, minorities and peoples who feel under attack, threatened, marginalized or demonized.

In the Jewish context, the long and painful history of anti-Semitism, not to mention pogroms and the Holocaust, as well as popular Arab hostility toward Israel, has bred a level of hyper-defensiveness.

This explains why the “self-hate” label – which gained popular currency following Theodor Lessing’s 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass (Jewish Self-hatred) – probably has a longer history among Jews than among other groups. It can also be particularly vitriolic, as illustrated by the toxic Jewish “SHIT list” of over 7,000 allegedly “Self-Hating and Israel- Threatening” Jews.

This sense of embattlement engenders the misguided belief that Israel should be defended regardless of its actions.

Similarly, though Arabs have not experienced anything as apocalyptic as the Holocaust, most of the Middle East lived through centuries of foreign domination (Greek and Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine, Persian, Arabian, Turkic and Ottoman, British and French, etc.) in which the locals more often than not lived as second class citizens in their own countries – over-taxed, oppressed, and largely excluded from power.

So when the promise of independence came around after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the fact that the Palestinians were the first Arabs to be denied their freedom has transformed the Palestinian question into one of the most emotive issues in the collective Arab conscience, leading many to view it with greater irrationality than most other issues.

Does that mean “self-hatred” doesn’t exist and no one deserves the label? Of course it does, especially among people whose history or contemporary reality makes them feel inferior to other groups.

For instance, what is termed “uqdet el-khawaga” (the foreigner complex) is fairly prevalent among Arabs, who have internalized orientalist stereotypes about themselves, and exhibits itself in aloofness toward all things local, good or bad, and praise of all things Western. More damagingly, there are and have been certain opportunist Arabs who are willing to collaborate, intellectually or practically, with foreign powers out to hurt their home countries, usually in return for material rewards.

Likewise, some of history’s most virulent anti-Semites have been Jewish. In addition, the condescension exhibited by some assimilated German Jews – who also internalized negative orientalist stereotypes – toward their Eastern European co-religionists, while not exactly “self-hatred,” did betray a certain discomfort with their background and heritage.

The trouble is that self-hatred is not used as an honest intellectual tool to examine the motives of a tiny minority. Rather, it is used as a powerful weapon to silence criticism from within one’s own supposed camp. But the only thing these alleged self-loathers hate is injustice, no matter who commits it, and so they should, instead, be called justice lovers.

In a context where “us” and “them” threatens to submerge us, we are in desperate need of those who not only love their own side, but are willing to show compassion for the other side.

And if that is self-hatred, then I’m proud to say I hate myself.


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