Roger Makhlouf: Stop Calling It “The Arab World”

Roundup: Talking About History

Roger Makhlouf (3-15-05):

[Roger Makhlouf is an American-Lebanese Linguistic scholar, with an BS &MS in Electrical Engineering, an MBA and an MA in International Relations.]

One has to be attentive to details in order to get closer to the truth.

The widespread custom of the media in referring to the Middle East as “the Arab World” only contributes to solutions that are incompatible with the region’s history. In reality the region comprises many ethnically and culturally diverse countries including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and several North African nations. The West has made it easy for itself to package the whole region under one name and treat it as a homogeneous entity, maintaining foreign policies by Western Europe and the United States vis-à-vis the Middle East that have resulted in one failure after another. It is now time to do our homework in order to bring about a peace which is the fruit of justice and fairness.

Only 25 or so years ago, as a high school student in Lebanon, back when Lebanon could still boast a respectable curriculum, I learned that the so-called ‘Arab World’ was restricted to what is today Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Yemen. We studied in detail the Arab wars and conquests of Iraq, Syria, Persia, Lebanon, Egypt and North Africa starting back in the middle of the seventh century. But this empire does not exist anymore. It may have succeeded in spreading Islam, but it could not erase the cultures and ethnicities of each country it had occupied. The British Empire existed once, but we do not refer today to its past subjects as the British World, do we?

What needs to be done requires determination and hard work. But it has been done before: Modern Europe could achieve peace on its continent only after each individual nation gained its independence, preserved its identity and language, and developed its economy. Then it was possible for the Europeans to gradually assemble to form the European Union, a union that does not threaten the distinct characteristics of each member country.

The fact that all of those entities that call themselves “Arab states” are governed by dictatorships is proof that what they stand for is wrong. These gangster-like regimes collaborate with each other in oppressing their own people, using deadly force and fear tactics while pushing hateful agendas. They delude themselves in thinking they can build free markets and vibrant economies while their people still suffer oppression and lack basic freedoms. Rather each country should abandon Arabism and look inward for a definition of itself.

There exists a psychological hurdle to overcome: confusing Islam with Arabism. A criticism of Arabism is taken as an insult to Islam. This should not be the case because not every Arab is a Muslim and not every Muslim is an Arab. Unfortunately, it has been a strategy for some of the Christians and other peoples of the Middle East to embrace Arabism as a way to protect themselves from the extremism of Islam, in an attempt to survive. They mistakenly think that because the majority in each country in the Middle East is Muslim then that means it is Arabic as well. In truth the Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian Muslims are as different ethnically and culturally from each other as the French are different from the English and the Italians.

Let me use Lebanon as an example since it is the last country to succumb to this lie: since its recent independence, Lebanon has been at times tricked and many other times pressured to identify itself as an Arab state. The 1926-1928 constitution simply stated that Lebanon is a free and sovereign nation; it didn't allude in the least to Arabism. Then the Nasserite regime of the United Egypt and Syria tried in 1958 (unsuccessfully) to absorb Lebanon into its Arab alliance, but finally Palestinian infiltration into Lebanon destroyed the democratic infrastructure and allowed the Baath regime of Syria in 1991 to force the Lebanese parliament into amending the constitution to define Lebanon as an Arab state. Giving in and declaring themselves Arabs, the Lebanese thought they could now rid themselves of the hegemony of the Syrians and their allies. To their disappointment, they realized that they had instead given the Syrians carte blanche to keep interfering openly with their governance. How? For all in the region are now considered Arabs, and the Arabs feel it is their responsibility to take care of each other.

Self-determination and self-governance are requirements for a true peace. Only when Lebanon is allowed to be Lebanese, and Syria is only Syrian and Egypt is only Egyptian, and so on, then Israel can enjoy its presence among other free and democratic nations. This will do away with the Arab League and replace it with a Middle-Eastern Union where there is a seat for every nation.

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Salim George George Khalaf - 11/28/2006


I am very interested in the Lebanese dictionary mentioned because I am working on one and would not want to duplicate the effort, if it is already done by someone else. Would someone please provide me with information on this dictionary.

Additionally, those interested in the Lebanese Language, maybe interested to read about my translation of the Bible into Lebanese using Latin characters. Part of the translation is available online in my website here:
Also, information on the Lebanese language is available here:

For information on our heritage and history, please visit my site, the largest website about the Phoenicians on the web with the address below.

Salim* George Khalaf, Byzantine Phoenician Descendent
* from Shalim, Phoenician god of dusk, whose place was Urushalim/Jerusalem
"A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia" — Encyclopedia Phoeniciana
Virtual Center for Phoenician Studies
Chapel Hill, NC

Elisabeth Marie Reynolds - 4/12/2005

I think this is a very interesting and sensitive article you have written about what it means to belong to the category of "Arab." Many Westerners do not know what technically constitutes the Middle East, and I myself have struggled to understand what is at stake when we use those terms. I do know that when I accidentally referred to my mother's side of the family (Lebanese descent) as Arab several years ago, my mother raised her eyebrows and shook her head at me, saying the Lebanese pride themselves on being a different culture altogether.

Thank you for your perspective, and I look forward to your soon-to-be-published Lebanese dictionary!