The title of this book - Human, Nonhuman: Humanitarian Intervention, Colonialism, Arab Springs - makes reference to the long history that has set the West in contrast to peoples belonging to other civilizations and cultures, for in this history these peoples have been understood to partake of a different, and even inferior, humanity. Humanitarian intervention, conceptually defined in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was conceived for the purpose of countering “barbarism” with what were purported to be the laws of humanity. But in fact this was no more than an ideological statement concealing the hegemonic designs of the Western powers, and it was closely connected with the forms of domination that prevailed in the colonial era. Proceeding on a “scientific” basis, colonialism got to the point of proclaiming a different human nature of the colonized so as to legitimize its own civilizing mission. The degree of violence so inflicted could only be met with the violence of peoples who endure oppression and ultimately find their own dignity being denied. The historical snapshot just outlined frames the issues addressed in Part One of this book, which argues that humanitarian intervention reveals itself to be a “hegemonic technique” through which its own interests are represented as universal, when in fact they are unilateral. Part Two of the book reconstructs the complex path the Arab nations embarked on once they freed themselves from colonial domination, rebuilding the state by reclaiming their own cultural identity and lifting the dead hand of the colonial past. But the account offered in Part Two also highlights the continuity between colonial domination and the national governments that replaced the colonial ones in the wake of independence. The point of departure for these so-called Arab springs is to be found in the attempt to give birth to democratic forms of government capable of keeping in check the autocratic elites that wield power in the Arab countries, but also in the emphasis placed on the Islamic tradition and in its controversial relation to Western political culture. The book underscores the peculiarity of Muslim cultural identity, and the original forms of government it can give rise to, from a perspective that cannot be reduced to that of the Western tradition. The analysis the book makes of forms of government in Arab countries is thus comparative, bringing out the degree to which these forms of government diverge from Western ones, as well as the possible ways in which the two may converge. In this discussion the book looks beyond the facile and mystifying conclusions asserting that it is impossible for Arab countries to achieve democratic forms of government, and in so doing (as just mentioned) it underscores the role the West has had in preventing these peoples from charting their own course in history in light of values and standards that they define on their own terms. Way of approaching the topics covered in the book. The book uses the device of looking at the same subject matter from two angles—or, more specifically, looking at the fact of colonialism from a Western viewpoint and from an Arab one—and extracting meaning and consequences from the discrepancy between these two “lookout points.” The use of this device is reflected in the book’s division into two main parts, and the parallel historical narrative it enables the reader to see is reconstructed on the basis of primary sources, beginning with the works of the nineteenth-century international lawyers.
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