Israel has decided to officially recognize Arameans as a distinct nationality in the country’s population. It allows Arabic-speaking Christians of Israel to change their status from “Arab” to “Aramean.” This has created uproar among Palestinians, and other Arabs, accusing Israel of dividing its Arabic-speaking minority to rule them much easily. While I am not here to defend Israel’s motives for this move, it is important to point out that in 1957, the Druze, an off-shoot sect of Islam, also requested that the Israeli government designate them a distinct nationality from the general Arab population even though they are native-Arabic speakers. So, there is a precedent.
Critics of this move often accuse the Arab Christians who reclaim their Aramean heritage of denying their Arabic one. But, why should it be this way? Is a Scot less of a Brit than an Englishman just because he is proud of his Scottish nationality, history and heritage? Why can’t an Arab Christian be also Aramaic? An Armenian a Lebanese? A Kurd also a Syrian? An Amazigh a Morrocan? Why is it considered wrong or unpatriotic for Maronites to learn Aramaic, the tongue of their Church and forefathers, as they are doing in the small town of Jish?
Feeling a belonging to more than one cultural identity, be it national, religious or ethnic, doesn’t necessary negate one’s citizenship. In America, for instance, people are capable of reconciling their national, religious, or ethnic heritage with their American citizenship. People are proud to be Italian-American, African-American, and Jewish-American. In America and elsewhere around the world, Arab immigrants want, insist and often fight to hold on to their heritage, language and religion. It is hypocritical of Arabs to deny this same right to the minorities living in the Arab world.
The world, especially Arabs themselves, need to remember that not all Arabs are Muslims. Not all Muslims Arabs are Sunnis. Not all the citizens of the Arab world are Arabs. Enough homogenization of 300 million people!
It is time that Arabs realize, as was evident in the partition of Sudan, that homogenization does not lead to unification of people. It is time for everyone to acknowledge and accept that the Arab world, especially the Levant, is a multiethnic, multi-relgious, and multi-linguistic region just like Europe is. And like the EU’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which protects, preserves and promotes its minority languages, including Cypriot Maronite Arabic, the Levant needs a similar multinational treaty to protect, preserve and promote its historical, regional, and minority languages.
What unites the Scots and the English is not their common language or their common religion. What unites them as this week’s referendum demonstrate is their belief in freedom and democracy and their acceptance of a very important democratic value: the belief that one has the right to self-determination and to freely join or secede from a union. Something Arabs, especially the Sunni majority, has yet to learn.