From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi, whose essays are usually a breath of fresh air in comparison to the usual drivel in Arab News, offers a rather disappointing piece this week. He suggests that Israel not only adopt the American Constitution but that it absorb several million Palestinians from both within and without the territories.

And yes, I advocate the return of Arab refugees to their homes. If twelve million Jews can claim the right of return to lands they left four thousands years ago, it makes more sense for four million Palestinians to claim the same right to homes and farms that still exist, land they left over the last five decades.

But no, I don’t support the two-state solution. The place is too small and integrated to be sliced into two entities. Instead, I would call for a united, democratic and secular country.

It shouldn’t be Jewish, Muslim or Christian, but a multi-cultural state, where all are given equal rights and responsibility — just like the United States of America.

In fact, I would choose the American Constitution, as is, for the new state, where democracy rules, there’s freedom for everyone, the law is above all, and secularism is sacred.

Well, if you say so. Anyway, here’s an email I sent to the good doctor:

Dr. Batarfi,

I generally enjoy your columns, not least because they offer a breath of fresh air in comparison to the stridency and silliness that so often characterizes Arab News.

But your most recent column is lacking.

To wit: Considering both the paucity of democracy in Arab countries (and within the Palestinian Authority) and the general disdain with which so much of the Arab world appears to hold the United States, what makes you think that the majority Arab population of your hypothetical “united, democratic and secular country” would uphold democracy and democratic standards, especially as based on the Constitution of “The Great Satan” a.k.a. the United States?

How likely do you think it is, Dr. Batarfi, that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, and other such groups, and their followers would be interested in adopting and adhering to the American Constitution? Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it was legal to gamble in Saudi Arabia, how much would you be willing to wager that such parties would indeed accept secular laws that are based on the American Constitution? Please keep in mind that the American Constitution’s explicit call for separation of church and state precludes your hypothetical one-state from adopting any sort of Islamic or Sharia-based law. As such, certain folks in Gaza, among other places, might be less than amused with your notion that they become citizens of a state—Israel, no less—that is based not only on secular laws but on the American Constitution. But perhaps you could convince them otherwise (and hopefully they wouldn’t kill the Saudi messenger of American laws and secularism).

After all, Dr. Batarfi, all it takes in your scenario is for millions of Palestinians to become not just citizens of Israel—a country many of them don’t particularly like—but adherents of the American Constitution. What percentage of them, pray tell, do you think will say “Yes” to upholding and preserving the precepts of secularism and the American Constitution?

Yet based on any number of historical realities, including the fact that Jewish populations have never fared particularly well in countries with Arab majorities and that such countries have less than stellar records in terms of democracy, your proposal for yet another state in the Middle East in which Jews are a minority is, at best, devoid of any realistic or pragmatic feasibility. Certainly a truly democratic Arab state that extends full rights and citizenship to a Jewish minority would be a sight to behold, but unfortunately the track records of such states, like the states themselves, are nonexistent.

I realize that your essays are subject to the whims of the Saudi government, although I do look forward to a similar article calling for, say, secular democracy in the kingdom. Surely what’s good for a Jewish state is good for an Islamic one, yes? And what better Islamic state to demonstrate the willingness of its majority Arab and Muslim population to adhere to standards of democracy as put forth in the American Constitution than Saudi Arabia, the Islamic state par excellence? Indeed, unlike your proposed “one state” entity, a democratically transmogrified Saudi Arabia would not even need to concern itself with either a sizable population of Jewish citizens or several million new citizens. Indeed, perhaps Saudi Arabia might demonstrate to Israel how easy it is to absorb a sizable population of non-citizens by extending full Saudi citizenship to the kingdom's myriad ranks of guest workers.

I would like to assume that your latest column is merely a sop to your government’s sensibilities and certainly not the product of any serious rumination or introspection on your part. It’s certainly sub-par work, to say the least.

Incidentally, your erroneous comments about “four million Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in the last fifty years” and “twelve million Jews can claim the right of return to lands they left four thousands years ago,” if they are not typos, betray what can only charitably be called an ignorance of both history and arithmetic.

Also, just out of curiosity, in what field are you a “Dr.”?

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Best regards.

As I’ve never received a response from an Arab News columnist, I’m not really expecting anything from the doctor.

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