On the 11th of November 2019, the Israel Defense Forces scheduled a recruitment drive at York University, Canada, which was disrupted when a massive protest erupted in the heart of the University. Led by the Arabs and their allies, this display of political enthusiasm by the diaspora Arab community is not a one-off incident but reflects a tendency to act that has been entrenched within the younger generation of the community.
Arab migration to the West dates back to the eighteenth century; however, the political turmoil and foreign invasions in the Middle East in recent years saw an exponential influx of migrants and refugees heading towards Western Countries. Iraq alone saw 3 million of their citizens emigrate following the Gulf war. Until 2007, roughly 40% of the Iraqi middle class was thought to have fled due to the American invasion in 2003, either taking refuge in safer neighboring countries such as Jordan, or fleeing to Europe and North America. Interesting to note is the fact that this trend of mass immigration was not solely based on seeking better employment opportunities but also as a result of ethno-sectarian clashes and security threats
Therefore, the birth of this recent Arab diaspora in the West is not natural but political. Ethnic pride and cultural preservation have been centric to the Arabian behavior, predating even Islam. Characterized by their classification of ‘Arab’ and ‘Ajam’ (foreign/ non-Arab), the Arabs have always sought to retain their identity and maintain a sense of cultural distinction from the non-Arabs of their surroundings. Despite growing up in a secularized and non-traditional environment, the Arab diaspora tends to retain this cultural and political influence that has been induced by their parents. Interestingly, while many do give in to the overwhelming influence of the secular western ideals in morality and religion, their commitment and affiliation with the Arab community remains steadfast. My first-hand experience with this was upon coming across multiple Pro-Palestine activists that were convincingly irreligious yet comfortably assimilated with their religious counterparts in a common cause.
Canadian Historian Joshua Fogel speaking specifically about the Chinese, states that diaspora communities tend to rediscover a sense of nationalism and cultural identity through any significant tragedy that may have occurred back home. This stands true, for diaspora communities are never wholly accepted in their adopted country and are not entirely acquainted with their country of origin. Thus, in national tragedies that have afflicted their people, they find unity, enthusiasm and a sense of belonging with their motherland. For the Chinese, it is the Nanjing massacre ; for the Arabs, it is the foreign invasions and wars that have been sucking the life out of their people. In Palestine’s case, it would be the Israeli occupation, and in the case of Iraq, the American invasion and the turmoil following it. However, the sentiments of diaspora Arabs attached to these incidents are not exclusive to the country of origin, but to the Arab people.
Another reason for this is the stereotypes that has been associated with Arabs in specific and Muslims in general in the West. Such stereotypical labeling has resulted in marginalization, racism and Islamophobic incidents directed towards the Arab community. Ironically, Arabic speaking non-Muslims that are mostly Christians too are subjected to this unapologetic Islamophobic racialization. Religious fundamentalism and terrorism have also been prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula, which directly affects this foreign-sponsored political turmoil. For the diaspora Arab then, the only way forward is to either distance themselves from the religion or reclaim it and revamp the false perceptions surrounding it. Either way, the breaking down of these stereotypes lies in actively embracing political engagement.
Regardless of whether the diaspora community is religiously committed or not, their activism is mostly influenced by Marxist narratives. “The goal of the true revolutionary isn’t to take the throne but to destroy it” is what marks the young diaspora Arab’s political motives. For one, most Arab activists are convinced that the political instability and foreign interference back home are fueled by Capitalist exploitation that aims to cease the natural wealth of the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, to them, Capitalism is inherently evil and will always lead to imperialism and marginalization of the vulnerable. Therefore the Marxist narrative is the only alternative that can bring an end to this capitalist exploitation. For the religious, it is manifested in a toned-down version of Islam compatible socialism, while for the irreligious, hardcore communism is the ultimate liberator.
The crossroads of Islam and Marxism are embedded with the Arab diaspora attempting to rediscover their national identity and sense of patriotism. Successfully, this has given birth to an emerging political discourse where Muslim academics have started considering the potential commonalities between Islam and Marxism. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic’s political activism and his theory of commonalities between Islam and Nihilism was also a product of a similar environment where the Bosnian youth rediscovered God and politics in the face of despair from Yugoslavian oppression. While the Bosnian struggle was against Marxist forces and the Arab diaspora struggle is Marxist in nature, both are reflective of how the youth born out of political crisis seeks a radically revolutionizing reform to replace what they identify as the oppressive status quo.
Diaspora Arab activism is on the rise and has successfully united the entire Arab community with a bond so fervent that it is unrivaled. On Twitter, group chats between random Arab users residing in the West are becoming an increasing trend where Arab users interact and aim to bring the community closer. Despite the younger generation being conscience of their Arabian pride, they have become more welcoming towards foreign supporters and realize the importance of seeking political allies and assimilating them with the community. As mentioned previously, political crisis, foreign intervention and absolutist rule in the Middle East are key factors contributing to this rising political engagement and ethnic unity. Nations are indeed united and seriously concerned for their future when they go through difficult times, and the Arab diaspora community is a living example of this.
The writer Muhammad Hunain Khan is an alumnus of the prestigious Aitchison College, Pakistan and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s at York University, Canada where he also serves as Pakistani community Director. He frequently writes on current affairs, politics and history. He tweets at @Khan_Bahadur
(Photo credit: Muslim Link).