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SUNDAY, 20 APR 2014
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Happy Valentine, oh Middle East!
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I love you, royal families, plutocrats and political elites of Arab societies. You are blessed with an endless supply of siblings, though many among you are missing a chromosome. The other good news is that you are growing in wealth, albeit at the expense of taxpayers – a minor detail! It is no froufrou science to say that, with the current economic difficulties, the populations of the Middle East might drastically shrink due to diminishing rates of reproduction: people just can’t afford having babies and raising families anymore. Fortunately your own progeny might outnumber the rest of the population in a single generation. So please continue to be fruitful and multiply to fulfill “the many chiefs ruling over the lone [Arab].”

I love you, oh obnoxious brother, wife, son, son-in-law of the politician. Being a sibling doesn’t make you a political leader by default. A perpetual wannabe, you are a mammoth annoyance with the constant challenge of correcting the prevailing view of yourself as a disliked opportunist.

Speaking of reproduction, I love you, self-anointed militant ambassadors of God across the region. How did you reproduce so fast, in Syria most recently? I know your specialty is to blow yourselves up inside any semi-functioning institution coming your way, especially at the behest of Qatari and American foreign policy. But I truly thought you all died in Afghanistan – or was it in Iraq? Libya? – and went straight to heaven! Apparently you didn’t, but hopefully you will do so soon because God can’t wait to meet you in person.

I love you, the Middle East, even though you’ve been confusing me lately. So the Muslim Brotherhood is the broker of peace between Israel and Hamas. Hamas is empowered by Iran but openly hates the latter. Al-Qaeda and Israel stage concurrent military attacks on the Syrian government. Dictatorial Arab monarchs are the harbingers of democracy in Syria and the supporters of dictatorship in Bahrain. I just wonder, oh region, are angels helping devils and devils helping angels nowadays? I’m sort of losing track of who is who.

I love you, Sectarian Bugaboo, you are the Arab Dracula of the last two centuries. Pssst, beware that you might be running out of victims. Christians and Muslims ruined Lebanon already. Ditto Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. Sudan is broken into separate nations. Syria is trespassing along sectarian fault lines. Militant Copts are already sharpening preventive hatchets against marching Islamists in Egypt. Jews outdid other members of the Abrahamic religions in Palestine. Wahhabi zeitgeist is consolidated in the Arabian peninsula. Running out of options, Sectarian Bugaboo? Try the region’s cats. Urban legend has it that Shiite and Sunni cats meow in irreconcilable ways.

I love you, Ottoman. I know you’re a thing of the past. But you keep staging historic comebacks to no avail. Feel rejected by the European Union? Don’t pay attention to those racist democracies; they’re Christian after all. Hey, look at the bright side: Salafist obscurants and the Muslim Brotherhood are your fans in Syria and Egypt, and Arab dictators love you – for now. You’re in good company, Ottoman.

Perhaps you should consider this for a change: Apologize to the Armenians, Kurds, Arab Christians, Arab Shiites; apologize to all Arabs. And maybe then the region’s population will let you lead for another 600 years of blissful ignorance. Nothing wrong in trying.

I love you, 18-year-old Arabic speaker. Fortunately I am writing in English so you can understand this. The delusion persists that you can text, I mean speak, in Arabic; you can’t. I never encounter you without hearing an aphrodisiac hodgepodge of bad English, bad Arabic, and bad French (as in Lebanon) in the same breath. It isn’t unlike bad breath. With Syria – the last frontier of genuine Arabic expression – going down the drain, language seems to spiral into a self-inflected intellectual crippling at a young age. How much more can you crave wanting to be a distorted cultural copy of a European or American, at the expense of cultivating and losing your own identity, culture and language? Suppose Naguib Mahfouz or Nizar Qabbani showed up at the airport this afternoon. If you must receive them, bring an Orientalist from the closest Goethe Institute or British Council to translate in real time.

I love you, Computer Keyboard, for inspiring my complex algorithms of the region’s conflict resolution. Here are some hi-tech flying drones, guided from my own Central Command that just might work: Ctrl-Alt-Del, to reboot faulty revolutions and start over and over again; perhaps every other Friday. ESC, to purge political corruption and slow down the plutocrats’ reproductive rate. Cmd+, to boost human and civil rights. Cmd-Left Arrow, to introduce measured social economics and put the region’s wealth at the service of its citizens. Cmd-Right Arrow, to make political peace with Iran. Ctrl-Z to undo Zionism, followed by an immediate Ctrl-C, to copy Israeli institutional democracy and civil rights, then Ctrl-V, to paste a democratic one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Lest I forget, I love you, ever useless F12 button, because now I am reserving you for successive United Nations special representatives on conflict resolution. Feel more useful now, F12? I know the U.N. representative doesn’t. And as a last resort, OFF button, you too can help in case none of the above works – yes, complete shutdown, but hopefully not inspired by Salafist suicide bombers or some joint Israeli-Iranian nuclear firecracker. Now, after all is said and done, who will be my Valentine?

Imad Atalla is head of the Prontis Corporation, the developer of i-ngo.com. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2013, on page 7.
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