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The Outsiders

November 16th, 2007 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized


Arabs make up one of the world’s biggest exile groups.

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.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ???? // Nov 16, 2007 at 3.51 pm

    A very good point you raise. I’d be careful though, in marking this distinction between “exiles” and “genuine” Arabs you could cause unnecessary resentment between the two. What we need is dialogue between both halves to constructively move forward as sometimes people who live abroad can have a better view of what is happening worldwide than those on “the inside”. The same is true vice versa

  • 2 saint // Nov 16, 2007 at 6.16 pm

    You have come up with very great subject and thank you for stirring this issue.
    You went pretty well in description I think till you came to:
    “And when you are abroad – away from the situation you fled “
    I think it is faulty logic to think that there are only tow sides to any story. The Arabs in the Diaspora I think are not that simple as two halves, but arrays of opinions and the fact usually shows by their representative’s parties when they have ones.

    The irony is who should the big power listen to, the exilees or the governments?

    I think Arab societies have a lot of ills and the governments there are the protectors of these ills.
    However, overall the description is well and I wished if you have sources for how many one lives abroad for each Arab country.

    On a positive note, the amount of knowledge and enlightment acquired in the past 40 years from immigration, make this age, I think, is the resurrection age for the Middle East not the one came after Arabs independent from colonial mandate.

  • 3 ???? // Nov 16, 2007 at 6.34 pm

    Saint I have to disagree with you. The problem doesn’t just lie with the Arab governments as protectors of these ills. They also lie within us individually for allowing the situation to get to this.

    Also, this “enlightenment” you think has come about because of emigration of Arabs abroad is not a resurrection age. It is a brain drain of talent and though there has been some benefit and some harm, the harm far outweighs the benefit. There was a much better opportunity following the defeat of colonialism than there is now of true independence and positive development. However, now it is still possible some may argue, but slightly harder because many of our governments work with the former colonial powers or with the United States.

  • 4 saint // Nov 16, 2007 at 9.49 pm

    Wasim, what do mean by “us individually” responsible for the situation to get to this. Is that mean some of “us”, such as Mr. Bunni and others who did not allow that and consequently sitting in prison are responsible for this situation, or they are not and you and me responsible for that?. Just wonder,
    It was hard for me to understand your point.
    Blaming “us” like blaming no body and this way no one could put his hands on the wounded area ever.
    I think the balance will tilt to the right side when there are two persons outside for each person inside and this equation is not far fudged and approaching rapidly. And the reason for that is the amount of domination (mind and soul) trenching inside the Arab regimes and people surrounding those regimes, and even us before enlightment.

    And if you do not consider this age the enlightment age, I wonder why the age of after colonialism produce misery instead of development. Consider me off, but please consider that people outside may have different theoretical approaches to their dilemmas.

  • 5 ???? // Nov 17, 2007 at 6.46 pm

    Hi Saint,
    Sorry for the late reply. Your quite devious attempt to bring in Mr Bunni and his struggle into the discussion infers that the “situation” you imagine is the same as what others do. It implies that by not partaking in “their” struggle, which surely must be that of all Syrians, then we are somehow letting down some “cause” which, because it is what you consider as the only valid one, must mean all others are nefarious and counterproductive. You wish to create a monopoly on the revolution.

    But what is it you are revolting against Saint? Mr Bunni I’m sure has his own admirable reasons for revolting, but what is it you seem to equate as good in his struggle, good that all Syrians must out of duty join in. Why is that now the only struggle worth fighting for and how have you judged that it takes priorities to all others?

    Another thing which makes me wonder about your intellectual integrity is how flippantly you dismiss the accusation I levelled against “us” to mean it is negated because we cannot possible be guilty of anything. Us means us, the guilt does not dissipate the more people are involved, rather, like a fart on a bus, it carries equal discomfort for all and is inescapable.

    Finally, what makes you think that the age after colonialism produced misery? Does that mean that there was no misery during colonialism? That the Arab or brown man cannot rule himself and be happy unless the White man fills his bowl of milk every morning and makes him wash himself? What kind of logic are you following which makes you think that we are in an enlightenment age, do you even have a theoretical approach or do you represent “Rotana” politics, which having successfully dumbed down our music, now dumbs down our political understanding?

  • 6 saint // Nov 18, 2007 at 8.28 pm

    What you said in the first paragraph that Mr. Bunni struggle must be our struggle is something I believe heartily. I think this is what we owe our lands and it is the time to acknowledge where all our ills lies in. The elite should starts prioritize their struggle this should be first on the list. I read to a lot of thinkers and authors on the internet and large numbers advocate this point not only me. Mr. Ghalion is one of them.

    However, it is not a revolution as you said it is a principal we should be defending to have the collective brain and the conscious of the country working instead of leaving it to couple of regime figurers to play for the last 40 years. This is my opinion.

    I lived before and after Raffat Assad came to our college and lectured us about what is right and what is wrong in 1970s and I know the country how was and how it end up.

    I worked here in the USA and watched cities and lives of the people change for the better and I have seen how cities and the lives of people in Syria keep changing to worse. Still this is my opinion.

    Sir, Me, and I think a lot of outsiders; do not follow up the Saudi news papers or any other outlet. I have concern towards my birthplace where I was born and where I spent a big part of my life. I read the news from different outlets, some from the poor and constraint regime outlets and some from other independent and opposition groups of digital media who counts in good numbers now. One of the sources is Syplanet and your blog is one of the blog which also cover current events, so far I thought?.

    I wished your comment did not question my intellectual deficiency and flipped from commenting as a gentleman to personal insulting, Ad Hominem.

    I think anyone who is considerate and reasonable can realize that if someone against torture and against human right abuses he is against that everywhere. It does not apply to only to Syria, it applies to USA and all other places on earth.

    If you want to know how I look at the current administration in the US: this is how: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/11/hbc-90001632

    People disagreeing with this administration have their fight inside the States and that does not mean all the ills of the world are coming from here. Some are made in other places, you know, and nice to know where your fight should be carried out.

    I did not understand what the last paragraph or the one Saudi tycoon to do with what I’m saying about Syrian regime. The Arab countries need the west to catch up they don’t need the white man as you mentioned. This man could be those hundreds of thousands of deported people, for example one part of the 17 millions Syrian outsiders.

    Let me tell you something fellow, I live in subdivion where two other Syrians live here. The first one cannot visit his own country Syria neither his kids can. And like him there are hundreds of thousands of people. In my opinion Syria have more deported people than the deported Palestinians of 1948 and we keep silence about them. It hurts me bad, and it changed my priorities, and though we need freedom of speech to voice our concern and should be on the top of the struggle.
    The second guy, who is, also, can not visit his country, living here for past 25 years. In 2005 he lost his job because his country’s regime gave a list of names of all people who can not go back to his country to the US government and consequently he lost his job. Nice try right, to get rid of your enemies, but this dirty work. I’m 180 degree away from being religious fanatic but I hate to see people yelling defending others and forget about their own disorder.

    It seems that you are not happy with my comments, I promise you not to read your post any more if this is what you want, because your responses and personal attack do not seem welcoming at all.

  • 7 ???? // Nov 19, 2007 at 12.03 am

    Saint I hope you didn’t think I was insulting you on a personal level. I actually reread my comment to see if this was so and couldn’t find one. Apologies if you felt that way as I know I can have an abrasive nature to my criticisms, but never on a personal level I assure you.

    Anyhow, your comment confused me as I’m not sure how to begin responding or where you are going with this?

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