Edmond Rabbath

The Arabs





Edmond Rabbath (Alep, 1902 - Beyrouth, 1991) was a Syrian historian and jurist, naturalised Lebanese.

The interesting aspect, among others, of this text is that it points out the fact that "It is commonly agreed to classify the Arabs with the Semitic group. In it are generally included those peoples who were called Syrians or Aramaeans in the north; Babylonians and Assyrian in the east; Arabs in the south; Phoenicians, Edomites, Hebrews, Moabites, and so forth, in the west." So, to use the term "antisemitism" as an obnoxious attitude towards the Jews only, is something totally incorrect if not preposterous.

Source: Extract from: Edmond Rabbath, Unité Syrienne et Devenir Arabe, Paris, 1937



A common origin, whatever may be said of it, inspires the unity [of the Arabs].
This is not to say that one could speak of an Arab race. Here, but to a smaller extent than elsewhere, the inevitable mixture of blood has produced what, in the case of France, has been called the "ethnic synthesis" which seems to have been the fate of most European countries. Marcellin Boule, in a now-classic definition, means by "a race,"

"The continuity of a physical type which manifests affinities of blood, and which represents an essentially natural grouping, neither having nor being able to have anything in common with a people, a nationality, a language, or habits, these being concepts which correspond to purely artificial groupings which are in no way anthropological, and which depend only on history, of which they are the product." (Les Hommes Fossiles, p. 320).

Racial unity, as may be seen, is not essential to national existence. In a famous lecture, What is a Nation, Renan defined it in these brilliant words:

"A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things which, truth to say, are really one, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One lies in the past, the other in the present. One is the common possession of a rich legacy of memories, the other is the actual willingness, the desire to live together, the will to improve the inheritance which has been received intact. Man . . . does not improvise. The nation, as much as the individual, is the outcome of a lengthy past made up of efforts, of sacrifices, and of devotion.... To share the common glories of the past, to have a common will in the present, to have done great things together, to want to go on doing them, such are the essential conditions of being a people. . .. The Spartan song: We are what you were, we will be what you are, is in its very simplicity the short and compendious anthem of every fatherland. . ..”

However, when a community of blood exists, it undoubtedly strengthens national unity. The peoples who have it do not have to wait for the work of time, for historical circumstances, for the tenacious will of a dynasty such as that which "in a thousand years made France," to realize their national unity. They carry this unity in themselves, in their ethnic consciousness, in the voice of the blood. It will be invincibly realized when those factors which have been favourable to other peoples in the past will, in turn, make it possible.

But can one dare today, considering the new horizons which are constantly revealing themselves to ethnology, to assert the existence of pure races, of organic species constituting those “essentially natural groupings” of which Marcellin Boule speacks? The violent or peaceful contact among peoples has powerfully modified human anthropology. And which people did not, during the course of its past, undergo the mixing processes of history?

Among the Arabs, however, these inevitable changes are much less pronounced than elsewhere.

It is commonly agreed to classify the Arabs with the Semitic group. In it are generally included those peoples who were called Syrians or Aramaeans in the north; Babylonians and Assyrian in the east; Arabs in the south; Phoenicians, Edomites, Hebrews, Moabites, and so forth, in the west.

“The areas which they inhabited or which they still inhabit are bounded by the Taurus, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Egypt, and the Mediterranean. The whole of this is called the Fertile Crescent, because it constitutes a semicircle open to the south, with the desert in front and the mountains behind." (Dr. Rappoport, Histoire de la Palestine, Paris, 1933)

Whence come the Semites? Not from Central Asia, as it used to be asserted, but actually from the Arabian Peninsula. Winkler, an authority on the subject, is categorical. "The home of the Semites," he affirms, "is Arabia." Sprenger before him also maintained that "all the Semites are Arabs." "In successive eras, starting with the earliest antiquity, under the pressure of overpopulation (Winkler), or more simply, of climatic variations which caused persistent famine, their migrations waves overflowed periodically in the neighbouring countries, overwhelming the native populations, or evicting them from their country of origin.

Four times in history the Semitic wave broke its dam and spread outside. The first migration, called Babylonian, is lost in the night of time. It went in the direction of the Tigris and Euphrates valley and reached northern Babylonia, where the Sumerians and Akkadians had to surrender.

The second time, it invaded the countries of the west, especially Canaan. This is the migration of the Amurru, or western Semites. The known history of Palestine goes back to that period. Toward the fourteenth century B.C. the Aramaean invasion took place in Syria. In northern and central Syria small, semi-independent kingdoms were founded. The history of Damascus began then.

Finally, in the seventh century of our era, the conquest of Arab Islam was started from Medina. This is the last invasion, the most violent, the most widespread, and the most durable. (Rappoport, op. cit. pp.35-36)
In the intervals between these brutal population movement, a slow and peaceful penetration went on, through the groupings which inhabited the Arab periphery. Whenever their Semitic origins became diluted or began to fade, the peninsula, both a laboratory and a reserve, would again inject young blood to remind them of their Arab origins. Semite and Arab are therefore synonymous appellations. They express the same biological reality, the unity of a race which has not stayed put in its original home.

"Contemporary Arabia does not contain within its natural limits . . . the whole of the Arab race." (Eugène Pittard, Les Races et l’Histoire, p. 432)

The latter has, long since gone beyond its prehistoric boundaries and occupied new territories where, thanks to it, majestic civilizations were founded. They have been called Babylonian, Assyrian, or Phoenician. In truth, they were Arab, Arab in the spirit which conceived them, Arab in the hands which set them up.

It is certainly true that these peoples, in the course of their peregrinations, came up against other races and fell under their moral and physical influence. Mixing with these races, they lost the purity of their early characteristics. But if their history is closely considered, it cannot be denied that these adulterations are small and without great influence over the whole, at least in those countries which are strung out round the peninsula. From the first Babylonian migrations, the Semites who come from Arabia have always met on their path other Semites who had come before them. By means of struggle or mutual help which takes place between the newcomers and the old occupiers, they have necessarily come into contact with one another. Their inevitable fusion, invariably consummated in history, does not blot out their ethnic characteristics. It rejuvenates them and enables them to adapt themselves to their new situation, a process all the more easy and rapid in that it is effected between groups having the same origin.

But the invasions which originated from outside the Arab countries, from the west or the south, from the north or the east — and in this part of the world they succeeded one another ceaselessly through the centuries — obviously did bring new blood. They encroached on the homogeneity of the Semitic race, which was subjugated for a time. In Iraq, they "encapsulated" it with Persian or Indian elements, in Syria and Palestine with a sediment of extremely varied lineages separated from the peoples who had trampled over their soil. But the Arab-Semitic race, because it is prolific, rooted in the soil, and constantly renewed by infiltration from the desert, has remained the dominant one. The foreign elements have changed it only at the surface. Indeed, their cultural and social manifestations endured only for a short time. Slowly, the Arab wave would cover them once more. Without opposing any resistance, they let themselves be absorbed by it, to be lost and forgotten.

All the same, the landslides constituted by the foreign armies, however small their weight, have impressed on the Arab countries ethnic modifications which diminish a little the purity of their race. Today they are no longer the direct descendants of a common ancestor, but "the congregation of similar individuals descended from parents of the same blood." (Eugène Pittard, Les Races et l’Histoire, p. 4)

Popular tradition indicates this when it divides the Arabs into two categories, the ba’ida (extinct) Arabs, a pure race of whom the traces subsist only in the Yemen and Hadramaut, and the musta’riba (Arabized) Arabs who constitute the majority of the Arabs in history.

It would therefore seem rash to bring forward the unity of the Arab race, at a moment when scholars agree in accepting the disappearance of pure races. In spite of the fact that the argument from the unity of the race favours the Arab nation, we would prefer instead of the term "race" the more generic term "origin," that is, Arab origin, or, if it is preferred, Semitic origin, which is the same thing.

Racial unity, or unity of origin, cannot, by itself, constitute the nation. Race is a corporeal element "which constantly falls apart ... which is exposed to attack by that which produced it, namely environment and heredity." (Henri Berr, foreword to Pittard, op. cit., p. viii)

Further, it is the characteristic of human progress to liberate gradually the individual from the influence of the soil and of blood, in raising him toward an ideal which men of different races could share. Spiritual effort lessens the intensity of physical reactions. It liberates men from the instincts of his race. "Within the skull which does change, the brain is modified." (Henri Berr, foreword to Pittard, op. cit., p. vii).
Under the facies of the ancestor a new soul will live.

Hybrid races may form a united nation. And it is the glory France to supply so magnificent an example of a people eminently homogeneous in spite of the diversity of the old races which compose it.


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