Unfortunately, I read, Dr. Sa’eeda Khater’s article in Al-Shabeeba newspaper titled “Where is Citizenship, Citizen?” published in two parts: the first on April 24 and the second on May 1. However, it is the second part thereof that I would like to deal with. In it the author sets out to define the concept of citizenship (as a reciprocal relationship between the earth “the homeland“ and humans; that is, in this relationship there is an exchange, a give and take, and “rights and duties“ between the parties involved. In this respect, the most important things that a homeland gives its people are identity and a sense of belonging).
The author then proceeds to a classification of the domains of citizenship into political, social, economic and cultural. I wish the author had referred the reader to the reference or dictionary from which she drew her classifications of citizenship, and what is the relation between this classification and measuring the degree of citizenship or belonging. In fact, the concept of citizenship does not accept any division in thought and feeling. If a person does not have any political, social, economic or cultural activity in his own country, this does not necessarily indicate a deficiency in his patriotism or allegiance to his homeland.
Needless to say, as Dr. Khater states, “Oman has a rich cultural diversity, which goes back to its ethnic diversity and cultural blend by dint of its cultural status. The State duly performed its role in instituting the equality of all citizens, without ethnic discrimination”.
The author further proceeds to an ethnic classification of Omanis, into “Omanis by origin“ and “Omanis by naturalization“, adding that the State does not discriminate between them in political or other rights. What immediately comes to mind when examining this approach – with its inclusion of established facts that all Omanis, not excluding even little elementary school children, know perfectly well – is a question about the purpose of such a thorny presentation that does not only revolve around phrases like “Omanis by origin“ and “Omanis by naturalization“, but also includes terms like factional, ethnic, sectarian and tribal. What is the intention behind all this, and at this critical time in particular?!! Our society is already gripped with sit-ins, and needs no adding of oil on troubled waters. Hence, I only see this approach as designed to instigate divisiveness and discord.
Therefore, it was incumbent on me to stop at this approach, with its new jargon that is creeping into our society as never before, especially as it has frequently appeared on electronic forums. It is indeed a diabolic destructive tone targeting our society in a bid to undermine its cohesion, accord and harmony. It is also satanic in thought in a bid to blow up the innermost fabric and very essence of our society. We have lived well over four decades, without coming across factional designations such as “Swahili, Baluchi, Litani, Indian, Dhufari” , “Omani by origin” or “Omani by naturalization”. Such a destructive jargon is not common in our society, and does not exist in our feelings, in our everyday dealings, or in terms of rights and duties. All of us have lived, and are still living, under the one umbrella of our homeland, Oman.
However, I did not bother to respond to such writings on forum sites on the grounds that they were contributed by people with little knowledge of Oman’s history, civilization and culture as inferred from their poor vocabulary, shallow thought and lack of moral courage as evidenced in their hiding behind fake names.
But today, when this diabolical divide is presented in a local newspaper and in a direct manner that reflects its purpose and objective – and, by whom? – a lady with a PhD and an honorable member of the State Council – the situation calls for a pause by all of us; and a careful but firm and deterring stand, especially as the matter transcends the freedom of speech and strikes at the very security of the entire society.
Regarding Dr. Khater’s statement on “cultural citizenship“ – an expression which I do not know from where she unearthed! – “We, in Oman, have some Omanis who insist on speaking languages other than Arabic. Those coming from Africa speak Swahili, and those coming from Asia, insist on speaking Urdu or Baluchi, although they have lived in Oman for many years, a matter which detracts from the citizenship of both groups”.
Thus Dr . does not only stop at presenting this divide, but also reminds the readers of factional considerations, and even proceeds to emphasize the deficiency in the citizenship and nationalism of some categories of the Omani society. Here I would like to ask Dr. Khater, once again, what is the intent of your words and at this time in particular? Furthermore, who has entitled you to judge the citizenship or nationalism of others? Who gave you the right to measure a complete or an incomplete nationalism?
It is needless to point to the paramount importance of knowledge of the Arabic language and of speaking it, as it is the language of our religion (Islam), and the official language and mother tongue of our nation as an Arab state. I myself have always been a staunch fan of the Arabic language, by virtue of my academic specialization, and because it is the language of our very identity. However, this does not mean that speaking a language other than Arabic is indicative of deficient nationalism and citizenship.
Not only does Dr. Khater stop at that, but she goes further, in an explosive dangerous discourse – not far from a sense of superiority – to skeptically question the identity of those people: “How will you know your heritage and history while you do not speak the language of your community, and you even insist on wasting the language which bears its identity and nationality?“ She goes on to say ” You insist on using the male gender for the female, and the female for the male according to what you are used to in your own language, which is different from the language of your present homeland which holds your identity and belonging?“ Here, I would like to tell Dr. Khater : Knowledge of heritage and history is not necessarily attained through a person’s mastery of the Arabic language or the language of a given heritage. As evidence, we as Arabs have learnt about the cultures and heritages of different societies through Arabic and foreign languages, without knowing their native language as in the case of the heritage of the Persian society, for example. In fact, an Omani person’s knowledge of the English language enables him to know his own heritage and history in English. Many are the books written in English in this field. This does not mean that such an Omani is deficient in identity. Besides, I would also like to ask Dr. Khater what do you mean by saying “present homeland”? Does this mean that when the countless tribes of Oman, including the royal family, emigrated to east Africa and to Zanzibar in particular, for well known historical reasons, have a first home and origins other than Omani?! If this were correct, how can you account for the presence of the origins of these tribes in different regions of the Sultanate? Or are you, Dr, seeing all these on equal footing with the “stateless” category in the neighboring states that you did mention in your article?
One of the absurdities of Dr. Khater’s article is that in addressing a sensitive topic, she bases the issue of identity, belonging and nationalism on a trivial incident involving a Girl Guide trip to Kuwait l!! She excludes Oman from the Arab States because she heard one of the Omani girl guides on the trip speak Swahili and Baluchi!!! And as Dr . Khater was the head of the delegation on this trip, she concluded boastingly and in her own words in her article that “they must be strictly punished there and upon return. We therefore amended the terms for the girl guides’ and leaders’ participation in subsequent trips abroad. The question is: where is their citizenship?“
Here the question arises: Has Oman ever based its top policy on discriminatory grounds? Are not the persons that Dr. Khater charging with lack of citizenship – and by that she means to cast doubt on their patriotism – among those who are appointed by His Majesty in leading positions as women ministers and ambassadors, and also as ministers and heads of universities? Are not they, both men and women, and in different positions in Oman, giving their full allegiance and love for their homeland?
The discrimination policy raised by Dr. Khater has no room on the ground in the Sultanate; unless she wants to come up with a new policy!! I also do not deduce from this approach anything but instigating discord and confusion. I would further ask Dr. Khater: Would you like, or would you consider it fair if your name is slashed out of the list of persons selected for an international mission simply because you do not know the language of the state you are going to?
For further indulgence in sedition, Dr. Khater says, “We will be burying our heads if we disregard this problem. The media does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, nor does it want to discuss a problem that is posing a real threat to citizenship. Indeed, a newspaper rejected one of my old articles because it addressed this wound on the grounds that it was a taboo.“ In this respect, I would like to remind Dr. Khater that the media is a responsible organ that knows perfectly well its influence on society and also draws its policy from that of the wise leader who, God protect His Majesty, truly succeeded in preserving the Omani society as a closely-knit coherent fabric. The issue at stake has nothing to do with burying heads or citing arguments. It is more related to realizing that grave sedition and the biggest of sectarian wars in societies are ignited by simple sparks. Hence, Dr. Khater, do not set out to ignite such a spark today. Isn’t she satisfied with the negative aspects that her abovementioned article has evoked? The least that can be said in this respect is the ire it has raised among many, as evident in the reaction to it on electronic forum sites.
Paradoxically enough, after Dr. Khater, spread her destructive and toxic message, and after accusing people in her society of deficient identity, patriotism and sense of belonging to their homeland, both explicitly and between the lines, she seems to assume that readers are naïve idiots and concludes her article by trying, in a language that reflects a sense of superiority and an inflated self, to evade any accusation that may be directed at her in the future by saying: “ For your own information, we do not question the patriotism of those persons, or doubt their devotion to their homeland, their loyalty to their political leadership or the service they have rendered to their society”. Dr, such an assumption is unacceptable even by a dull reader who does not exist among us.
Now is the time for me to respond: the persons you are questioning their patriotism, loyalty and identity simply because they speak Baluchi, Urdu, Hindi or Swahili, all have their own history, which proves their patriotism, and the last thing they would need would be anybody’s testimony to that.
Dr. Khater, as for the Baluch tribe, it has so many subsets that the mere mention thereof would require a standalone study. If you simply go back to history books, you will find that this tribe has a long history of wars in defense of the homeland, and of loyalty to the royal family. The tribe has stood at the forefront of protectors of Oman’s riches who sacrificed their lives for Oman. This did not only take place inside the Sultanate, but also outside it. For example, on the island of Zanzibar namely in the district, “Al-Sa’ateen” there is hardly any family there that does not have a grandfather, a grandfather’s grandfather, a father, or an uncle who did not die as a martyr in the wars and revolutions for Oman. I also like to add here that an infinite number of the families of the tribe spreading along the line of the Batinah region and also living in the eastern and interior regions as well as in Dhahera, Salalah and Muscat, had settled in Oman for more than five centuries and do not know or master any language other than Arabic. As for what the Dr calls the “Baluchi language“, let me correct this piece of information: Baluchi is a dialect not a language that can be read or written, as is the case with many of the dialects in Oman. Furthermore, I know people from the Baluch tribe who master other languages in addition to Arabic such as English, French and Swahili and use them all in the service of this country and in various fields.
As for the Omanis who evoke your dismay simply because they speak Hindi or Urdu and consequently you see this as detracting from their belonging to the homeland, may I remind you, Dr, that most of the residents of Muscat actually speak these languages, and that the Loatiya tribe had a significant role in the literary, economic and trade history of Oman, starting from Matrah Port up to India. For confirmation of their effective history, refer to dozens of studies that have been recently made by the international conference “Oman and India: Prospects and Civilization” at the Sultan Qaboos University, among many other books. I would also like to emphasize here that people from the Loatiya tribe have translated Indian and Persian works of art into Arabic. Based on Dr. Khater’s phrase “cultural citizenship”, I do not think that anything else can be a stronger affirmation and entitlement to such citizenship.
As for the people you have picked out to lash at their patriotism and identity because they speak Swahili, may I remind you, Dr that they come from all the tribes of Oman across the country, including the Al – Said ruling family tribe and the Baluch tribe. They all sacrificed their lives and their wealth to establish the Omani civilization and empire on the East African coast and the island of Zanzibar. The Omani Empire dates back to before the sixteenth century AD as hundreds of history books written in Arabic and other languages bear witness. Furthermore, Zanzibar itself, which was the capital of the Omani Empire at a certain stage in history, provided Zanzibar and the green island (Pemba) with their great tribes that left a rich heritage written in classical Arabic in Omani history, criticism, journalism, literature, as well as in the interpretation of the Quran and other subjects. Had it not been for editorial space limitations, I would have provided Dr. Khater with a list of references proving they were well-versed in the Arabic language in addition to their proficiency of Arabic Swahili, English and French.
This is as far as the past is concerned, Dr. As for the present, I am ready to prepare you a long list of names of Omanis from different tribes, both females and males who speak Swahili and do not know Arabic, but actually reached international levels, raising the name of Oman with pride in various fields, whether before the era of Oman’s renaissance or later. I am more than willing to provide you with the names and a brief CV of each one of them for you to compare them with your own CV. No comment from me on the outcome of the comparison.
As a self-appointed judge of these people’s nationalism and an assessor of the degree of their sense of belonging to the Omani identity, let me give you an important piece of information that you need to include in your judgment criteria, namely, that all these people left top positions, fabulous salaries and life of comfort and abundance and returned to serve their country Oman since the seventies, the beginnings of Oman, which to this day holds them in highest esteem.
As a colleague in the field of culture, may I remind you, Dr, that words, whether said or written, are a responsibility; and the homeland and society are even a bigger responsibility. Be honest to God in dealing with them, and fear God regarding the Sultan of the country, who vested his trust in you and ordered your appointment in the State Council. Always remember the words of Allah in His Holy Book: “and diminish not onto people their things, nor act corruptly in the earth, making mischief.”( Surah Al-Shu’araa, verse 183)
May I also draw the attention of all my fellow countrymen to the gravity of such a discordant discourse which is starting to find its way in our society. Let us all join hands to confront it and leave no opportunity for any serpent that wants to spread its venom among us. Oman, with its stability and peace, is paradise on earth, and there is no place for serpents or any Satan in paradise.
In conclusion, I appeal to all the law enforcement institutes to be alert to the gravity of such an approach. It is not simply a question of words that have been published, or will be published, but rather the devastation that we shall experience as a result. The most dangerous and most serious of situations have always arisen from a single word.
Note: The “stateless” are people of different origins living in some Gulf countries without nationality.
Note: At the repeated request of readers to read the full English translation of an article previously published in the “Oman” Arabic-speaking newspaper supplement “Shurfat” on May 10, 2011, I provide this translation rather than the summary thereof translated and published in the “Oman Daily Observer” newspaper on May 14, 2011.
Translated by :
Rosette Francis [firstname.lastname@example.org]
American University Cairo.