The other day my friends and I went to the “féte de l’huma” which is a gathering of socialist and leftist movements from all around the world. The correct name, of course, is “féte de l’humanite”. They just abbreviated it to “huma” since abbreviations these days are so popular. Yet, that thing in itself (i.e. truncating the word “humanite” to “huma”) caught my attention.
First, it represented just another manifestation of how Americanisms have infiltrated so many aspects of peoples lives all over the world (jeans, fast-food, Rap, etc.) that even the anti-Americans couldn’t escape it. Many call it “globalization” and try to argue that not all globalization is Americanization. “It is just another form of Universalism” they would say and downplay how much of that “Universalism” is just absolute admiration and adoption of the American life style. Americans have always been known for abbreviating everything and to see the French, famous for being uncompromisingly protective of their language, picking up this very American thing was quite revealing, to say the least.
Second, which is the more interesting remark about the “huma” truncation, is that it was phonetically identical to the Muslim fundamentalist idea of the Nation; “Umma”. In fact, when my friend first told me of the “féte de l’huma” I thought it was something the Muslim associations in France were organizing. I found it strange that my secular leftist friend (at times even anti-religious) would be so excited about such an event. Then it occurred to me that I had misunderstood the meaning. It is funny how phonetics can lead to diametrically opposite meanings. Here we are at an event equivalent to a Leftists’ Carnival and it gets mistaken for a congregation of the pious! Isn’t it ironic?
In a sense, both those observations reflected how I felt about it all. I agree, I might be exaggerating somewhat but the feelings of disappointment and disillusionment with the Left are very real. I have been brought up to value and respect (even if not assume) values of social justice and community. Yet, I have seen how that ideal slowly reduce to a mirage. Yes, a mirage; something unattainable. Something we run after diligently, but in vain.
Where I come from (the Arab world), the Left had a substantial share of leading our countries to where we are now. It is true much of the wreck we are in is because of external influences, but I just can’t help worrying when I see the “new” leftists repeating the same rhetoric that lead us to this mess. It feels like you are handed another Band-Aid after having put three already to a wound that needs much more than that.
I see how the fundamentalist movements are slowly gaining grounds in our societies (for all the wrong reasons, if you ask me!) and the Left is just scared stiff. It seems it is just getting defensive for the inevitable capitulation. That’s where the “huma” to “Umma” mix-up rendered quite illustrative. As if the Left was coming together to face an external threat and then the threat turns out from within its ranks.
But then again, maybe we need this cataclysm. I have always believed that one of our basic mistakes in our struggle towards modernity was the fact that we were trying to skip phases and fast-forward our development; as if a nation can take a crash-course in progress and take a giant leap forwards. We tried and, you know what? It short-circuited! So we might as well take it one step at a time and learn from our own bags; as the Arab saying goes.
I know all what I have just said gives the impression that I am a pessimist, but I am not. I just believe that in order to make a situation better one needs to acknowledge how bad it IS. Redemption starts with confession. I just used this phrase to tease my anti-religious friends!
Nizar Farsakh is a research assistant at the Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem (ARIJ).