Political culture in Palestine and the Arab world last century was marked by the unifying principle of Arab nationalism, describing itself as anti-Western, anti-Imperialist and Islamic based on a rather cultural than religious point of view. Halfway through the XX Century, it also became anti-Zionist and opposed some Arab conservative regimes. All those attributes made up what was dubbed as “politically correct” for decades and still are. The 1967 defeat, the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of political Islam did not change this conception. The main adversary has always been the West.
_ The last 20 years witnessed the emergence of a new political and militant force: radical Islamism. Less sophisticated in its reunifying principle than Arab nationalism, its legitimacy comes from deep Muslim historical roots. Islamist militants distinguish themselves from nationalist Arabs because of their rejection to laicism and discrimination against women and minorities. However, they share their opposition to the West, Zionism and nationalism-based despotic regimes. It has not achieved the social and political respectability of the last one, though.
For decades, Arab regimes, with the tacit or open support of the United States which also used this kind of stability, have prohibited the people from participating in political life, thus provoking a political instability of increasing global consequences. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice admitted the failure of such a policy and contrasted it to the approach of the Bush Administration aimed at bringing stability back to the region by means of a larger participation and political expression of involved actors. The success of that plan will depend on its capacity to modify not only the balance of forces but the political culture of the region. Stability forces must have the necessary time to mature and the means to finally get a place in the political scenario they always were excluded from in the past.
Palestinians, who were always the leaders of Arab nationalism inclined towards Islamism a little bit later. Apart from the terrible experience of the Israeli occupation, they have suffered the generic problems of the “Arab regimes”. During the past ten years, the message of rebellion and hope “Islam is the solution” has gained supporters by day since the population is tired of having a corrupted an ineffective political control. These two forces –nationalist and extremist- has controlled the political scenario whereas the space between them is still empty.
Liberal, democratic, humanistic and secular political forces that represent the interests and values of the middle class have been marginalized, disfavoured in political and economic terms, but they have not declared themselves defeated yet. Their success and strengthening stand like a wall against extremism and nationalism because humanistic democrats have a long tradition of religious tolerance. The way to such political change could be a Palestinian political party with such values.

Daily Star (Lebanon)

Palestinian secular humanists: Unite!”, by Ziad Asali The Daily Star, January 6, 2006.