Recently returned from a spring break visit to the Middle East, Arabic instructor Bassam Frangieh described the feelings of the “Arab masses” toward American action in Iraq and explained why some Arabs found Saddam Hussein’s rule appealing at a Calhoun College Master’s Tea Monday.
Frangieh, a senior lector in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, was visiting Bahrain when the United States launched its attack on Iraq. Over 60 people — many of whom are his students — attended the tea, titled “Reality from the Arab Streets: What the Gulf Really Looks Like Now.”
“Now the region is in a state of chaos and decay, fragmentation and defeat,” Frangieh said.
A Palestinian born in Lebanon and raised in Syria, Frangieh said he keeps in close contact with friends throughout the Middle East and frequently visits the region.
“I see it, I hear it, I live it,” he said.
Frangieh, who teaches first- and second-year Arabic, presented a portrait of dual struggles in the current Arab world. On the one hand, he said, Arabs are widely opposed to the United States’ action in Iraq.
“The Arab streets feel sad, depressed, betrayed, defeated,” Frangieh said. “They view the American war as unjustified.”
At the same time, Frangieh said, they also oppose their nations’ leaders, many of whom have acquiesced to American requests for military cooperation.
“There is a disconnect between the Arab leaders and the Arab masses. There’s a huge gap,” Frangieh said.
He said these difficulties have hindered Arabs who have aspired to an ideal of Arab nationalism. Inspired by the great Islamic empire of 700 to 1200 A.D., Frangieh said, the people of the Middle East still seek nations that they rule themselves.
“They want a nation — they say, we have the oil, we have the wealth, we have the geography — let’s make it,” he said.
But under the control of dictators, Frangieh said, Arabs are discouraged and consider turning to anyone who might advance their desire for nationalism. Even Saddam can be appealing for this reason, he said.
“[Saddam] made every single Arab leader seem very small. He wasn’t afraid. He said, ‘Come and get me,'” Frangieh said. “They were hoping that he would revive [nationalism].”
Frangieh said the failure of Arab nationalism thus far will likely incite even more nations to turn to Islamic governments, but free media might provoke the formation of more democratic states. Satellite networks like Al-Jazeera may be especially valuable, he said.
“The satellite [networks] will cause a revolution,” Frangieh said.
Several of Frangieh’s students requested a tea after hearing their instructor’s comments on current events during Arabic class.
Yael Hauser ’04 said she approached Calhoun Master William Sledge to set up the talk.
“Bassam had some very good snippets in class. I thought a Master’s Tea would be a good venue,” Hauser said. “People are very thirsty for information on this.”
Emily Di Capua ’03 said she agreed with Hauser.
“We need more talks like this,” Di Capua said. “Nobody that had talked so far had told us what people in the street are saying.”