Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis and Algerians have fled over the decades – and put down roots in places as diverse as South America, the US, the UK, Germany, Sweden and even Senegal.
And we don’t just leave for political reasons, Arabs from countries not affected by war leave the region for economic reasons. Out of 20 million Yemenis, around 2 million live abroad.
But I’m interested in what happens to them when they leave – or when they grow up away from this place they call ‘home’.
The easy option is to assimilate – to cut your ties. But most of us are far too stubborn for that. We’re a bunch of flag waving, argumentative people. Even those who don’t have an opinion seem to find one when presented with someone else’s argument.
A large number of Arab exiles fled for political reasons. Many are opponents of ruling regimes. Look at the Iraqis in America. They disproportionately represented the Iraqi pro-war camp: if all these Iraqis want to topple Saddam by military means, who are we to disagree. Ahmed Chalabi led the camp – and did a very good job.
And when you are abroad – away from the situation you fled – it becomes a lot easier to oppose, and to call for catastrophic radical change. Because you won’t be nearby when the bombs start falling.
The opposite is also true. Many Arabs who left for economic reasons attach a huge amount of sentimentality to ‘home’. And any criticism of the ruling dictatorship is equated to criticism of the country. So what do we do – blindly defend injustice.
The biggest critics and defenders of Arab regimes are the exiles. The ones who won’t be directly affected if the government falls, or if it stays. And the irony is, these people live in Washington, and New York and London and Paris. Their voices are heard by those who chose to topple or support our leaders.
Pictures: Politics and Nargileh – London’s ‘Arab Street’, Edgware Road.