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Opinion Essay

Most people are first exposed to opinion essays in their daily newspapers. Known as “op/ed,” (opinion/editorial), the opinion essay is a time honored tradition that can trace its roots to such great writers as Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, and Jimmy Breslin. What makes the opinion essay a particularly interesting beast different from a research essay? Certainly it has to be more than just the fact that the category defines itself. An opinion essay, in short, is an unproven statement of fact. The opinion is stated at the beginning, either at the start or end of the first paragraph, and the writer proceeds to follow with specific proof. It is not documented, nor does it need to be.

Great opinion essays are found in more places than the editorial page and they deal with more than just political themes. Such great film critics as Pauline Kael, James Agee, and Andrew Sarris set standards of film criticism with their work. The critic bases their work on a particularly reasoned opinion that is not so much strident (as some can find editorials) but based on precedent. Where the opinion/editorial receives reader feedback and rebuttal (solicited or not), the art critic (film, music, more) usually can skate by on their reputation. Unfortunately, the great days of newspaper art critics seem to be coming to an end and the job of tastemaker and opinion giver can go to anybody with a high-speed wi-fi connection and the ability to create a blog.

The opinion essay is best served by reason and moderation. For the most part, this can be found in the work of Kael, Agee, and Sarris. Such great literary critics as Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie have published informed volumes of reviews and criticism because they are in fact powerful novelists in their own right. They know of what they speak. Opinions are perhaps the first thing we all know we have, but a precious few really understand how to use them.

 

 

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Opinion Essay
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Model Opinion Essay on Arab Nationalism:

One thousand and four hundred years ago, Moslem Arabs from what is known today as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,, swept into, and overtook North Africa and the Levantine area. With seemingly little effort quickly conquered much of the nations we now identify as Arab countries. However, as Hitti (1943) writes in his analysis of the Islamic conquest, this particular event is not simply militarily or historically significant but, above all, is culturally and politically important. The Arab conquest of the North African and the Levantine countries was as much a cultural conquest as it was military one.    Quite simply stated, the Arab conquest of the region gave birth to the Arab World, to the notion of Arab unity and to the Arab peoples themselves. It took a diverse group of people and gave them a common language, culture, religion and, over time, a common identity. It is, thus, that   the Arab conquest of the region stands out as one of the most significant turning points in the history of the Middle East and, indeed, the roots of Arab Nationalism can be directly traced to it (Hitti, 1943). Arab nationalism, tracing its roots to the Moslem conquest of north Africa and the Levantine, has survived over the millennia due to a complex set of historical and political circumstances. 

The concept of the Arab nation and of Arab nationalism is based on historical circumstances which have a strong psychological appeal. As argued by Karsh (2001) in “Misunderstanding Arab Nationalism,” this concept represents the historical successes, and power that the Arabs had achieved when they were united as a single empire from the eleventh to the nineteenth century. Since the collapse of that Empire, however, the Arabs have achieved little and have, indeed, devolved into twenty-two third world nations which have little, if any, political and economic influence over world affairs (Karsh, 2001). Indeed, until recently, there was hardly a country in the Arab World which was not colonized and whose sovereignty was not in question. Even today, and despite the supposed collapse of colonialism, many of the Arab countries remain under the political, economic and military domination of Western powers. Iraq is occupied; Sudan suffers political and economic sanctions; parts of Lebanon and Syria are occupied by Israel and, most of Palestine has been lost, and the remainder is under Israeli occupation. As Baram (2003) contends, as they look at their present, the Arab people increasingly realise the extent of their weakness and tend to connect their present situation to their division, even as they relate their past glory to their historic unity. Comparisons between their past and present maintain the dream of Arab unity and ensure that the concept of Arab nationalism remains alive. Hence, if Arab nationalism is rooted in history, it also has its roots in the current reality of the Arab nations and populations.  
The psychological appeal and popularity of Arab nationalism are reflected in the ideologies that emerged from the Arab World following the collapse of colonialism. These ideologies, such as Baathism and Nasserism, were based upon the concept of pan-Arabism and Arab Unity. Baathism, developed in Syria in the 1930s as a specific response to the weakness of the Arab nation and their status as colonized countries (Baram, 2003). Baathism was based on the argument that the Arabs shared a common language, history, and culture making them one people. Accordingly, the natural condition for the Arabs was unity and strength and the unnatural condition was division and weakness (Baram, 2003). The significant point about Baathism is not just that it became the official ideology of Arab countries like Syria and Iraq, but that it was extremely popular among the Arab masses. Another popular ideology in the Arab World, Nasserism, emerged in the 1950s and similarly argued that Arab unity was the goal that all Arab countries should work to reach. As a matter of fact, it is possible to argue that the “eternal message” of pan-Arabism, with its promise of creating a “united Arab state stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf,” was one of the main reasons for the extreme popularity of the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, throughout the Arab world (Baram, 2003, n.p.).    Commenting on the relationship between the popularity of leaders and the extent to which they publicly express feelings of Arab nationalism and determining to unify the Arab World, Kauffeldt (2003), author of “Arab Nationalism In the Twentieth Century,” states that this illustrates the degree to which Arab nationalism is a part of the Arab identity. That the popularity of Arab leaders was related to their public attitude for Arab unity and the extent upon which they expressed feelings of Arab nationalism, or that Arab ideologies were based on that principle of unity, expresses the extent to which the Arab masses are attracted to this form of nationalism. More importantly, the relationship between the popularity of Arab leaders and ideologies and the way in which they respond to the dream of Arab unity, demonstrates that despite the fact that the Arab people are citizens of twenty-two different nations, they consider themselves Arab citizens as well.
The popularity of Arab nationalism as a political goal, expressed by both ideologies and leaders, gave rise to attempts to transform the dream of a united Arab nation into a reality. These attempts mainly occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, under the leadership of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, referred to by Dawisha (2003) in “Requiem for Arab Nationalism” as “the custodian of the Arab nationalist rhetoric” (27). Arab nationalism during this period mainly took the form of a united Arab struggle for independence from colonialism, whereby independent Arab states such as Egypt and Syria aided the colonized Arab states in their struggle against their French or British colonizers (27). Egypt did so by sending soldiers to these countries to aid the local populations in their fight but, most importantly, through public speeches, broadcast to all the Arabs, stating that the real aim was not only freedom from colonialism, but the return to the “comprehensive and organic Arab unity,” which the West feared and aimed to prevent (Dawisha, 2003).  In other words, during this period Arab nationalism did not only take the form of an “urge to merge” like Brown (2003) claims in “Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century,” but began to be defined as the natural state for Arab nations. Unity, according to Brown (2003), began to be realized in 1958 with the union between Syria and Egypt. The creation of the United Arab Republic represented the first step towards a unity that will include all Arab countries. Furthermore, that colonialism collapsed only to be followed by a union between two Arab countries did appear to support a relationship between division and colonialism, and liberation and unification. Consequently, it is possible to understand the importance of the creation of the United Arab Republic as a confirmation for the goal of Arab nationalism, and the validity of the ideologies that promoted it, such as Nasserism and Baathism.
The Egyptian and Syrian unification is extremely important in the history of Arab nationalism, as it, quite paradoxically, testifies to both the success and the failure of the concept. As stated by Baram (2003) the fact that the Egyptian and Syrian unity came to illustrate the failure rather than the success of Arab nationalism was because the United Arab Republic survived for less than three years. Furthermore, later attempts in 1963 by both Iraq and Syria to form a unification with Egypt failed, despite the fact that treaties for unification were actually signed (Baram, 2003). The collapse of the United Arab Republic and the later failure to form a political unity between Syria, Egypt and Iraq, despite the fact that the treaties were signed and popularly received by the Arab people, indicates that Arab nationalism is little other than a pipe dream; a notion that has been kept alive over the centuries because it recalls past glories versus present failures (Kauffeldt, 2003). The implication here is that Arab nationalism stands out as an island of hope within the context of a bitter reality. From this perspective, one can argue that Arab nationalism is rooted in the Arab populations’ hopes for the revival of their past glories or, at least, their reclamation of their sovereignty.
Despite the failure of the unification attempts, Arabs continued to believe in the goals of Arab nationalism and Arab leaders, and ideologies continued to promote it, until its ultimate failure in 1967. Following the 1967 defeat of the united Arab armies by the too small state of Israel and the occupation of Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian territories, Buchanan (2003), author of “The Return of A Forgotten Ideology,” states that “Arab nationalism had been written off as moribund,” and labeled “the deadest dog in international politics.” In other words, the 1967 defeat was not only a military one but it was, more importantly, a defeat of the notion of Arab nationalism, and Arab unity as a source of strength and power. The Arab armies in this war had fought as the one united army, representing the united stand of the Arab against single state of Israel, but they had suffered one of their worst defeats in history. Basically, this communicated to the Arab masses that the dream of Arab nationalism leading to Arab strength was an illusion. It is such that writers such as Buchanan (2003), Dawisha (2003), Brown (2003) and Baram (2003) state that Arab nationalism and its goal of Arab unity was defeated by the 1967 war.
Although many political writers have stated that Arab nationalism is dead, killed by the collapse of the United Arab Republic and the defeat of the Arab armies by Israel in 1967, it is that it is still alive among the Arab masses. In recent years, three important circumstances have demonstrated the extent to which Arab nationalism has remained strong among the Arab people, if not so among their governments. These circumstances are the Palestinian crisis, the War On Iraq and its occupation, and globalization. The Palestinian Intifada and the suffering of the Palestinians has incited mass protests across the Arab World, reviving the slogans of Arab nationalism (Karsh, 2001).   The Iraq war and the occupation of this Arab country has only served to strengthen Arab nationalism. Not only do the Arab people view the attack on Iraq as an attack on an Arab country, but they perceive of it as an attack on their countries and on them personally.   Consequently, Arabs from across the Middle East are travelling to Iraq to fight with the Iraqi people and   drive out the occupation. The main point that the Arab masses’ response to the Western challenge is that Arab nationalism has not died on the mass level. It is still alive and in the times of crisis, it quite strongly expresses itself, at least on the mass level if not the governmental one (Karsh, 2001).
Whether or not the goal of Arab nationalism is realistic or not, is not the main issue. The real issue is that this goal is taken seriously by the Arab masses who, in the words of Faksh (1997), author of “Arab Nationalism and Islamic Fundamentalism,” believe that unity is the solution to all of the socio-political and economic crises confronting the Arab nations and populations In other words, the concept of the Arab nation and the notion of Arab nationalism are real and powerful among the Arab masses, because it is rooted in their past, their present, their psyche and in their hopes.   Arab nationalism, despite its repeated defeats over the past Arab nationalism, despite its repeated defeats over the past two centuries and, even though it has been reduced to little other than a pipe-dream held onto by the mass and not by the governments, has survived. It has survived because of the very nature of its roots.

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