Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Arab Problem: A Fear of Expression?

According to Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former correspondent for the New York Times now residing in Dubai and writing for UAE-based Gulf News, the biggest "gene" in the Arab psyche is fear of expression.

After reading his article, I saw a little advertisement where the Gulf News asked for responses from readers, albeit crippled (understandably) to only a hundred words. And so I wrote the following:

"Mr. Yousef is mistaken. First, he states the Arab problem is fear. This is wrong, it is ignorance and complacency. Second, he mentions 'hordes of enemies [...] poised at the gates.' I see no enemy but the Arab himself.

In addition, he calls for "reform" of "what is left" of Arab civilization. I cannot differ more. Islam, the standard-bearer of Arab civilization for more than a millenium thrives at full bloom, and needs no reformation, but a wholesale abandonment of "reformation," namely Wahhabism.

Finally, his statement that the US is a robust democracy is highly debateable; the candidates are as different as Coke and Pepsi, and it has the lowest and most class-skewed voter turnout of any Western democracy."

I summarized Mr. Youssef's arguments and put in my thoughts on the ones I found most pertinent within the 100-word limit. But I had much more to say.

Indeed, the Arab problem is not fear of expression. After living in the United Arab Emirates for the first eighteen years of my life, most of the Imaratis I ever met had little to express. Limited in their faculties of expression and thinking, the few that were intellectually inclined gave their loyalty wholesale to the dictator Sheikh Zayed, regardless of his numerous wrongs and misdeeds, simply because he was, I quote, "a good leader."

The intellectuals who had the courage to be vociferous were summarily silenced, but their primary audience and source material during their short tenures were expatriates, "foreigners" like myself.

I refuse to believe the Arab problem is fear of expression. The expression, for the few who have the taste for it, is there. Like I mentioned in my feedback, it's ignorance and complacency. They are vastly ignorant of their rights and the rights of others by common human standards, and unforgiveably complacent with their wealth. The vast majority of Imaratis are whole-heartedly fond of Sheikh Zayed, and those that are dissatisfied (and trust me, there are) are few and far between.

Youssef M. Ibrahim says:

"It even affects expatriates and visitors who come and go, so much that many of the foreigners who live among us in this Arab world become a version of Lawrence of Arabia, striving to be more Arab than the Arabs."

I have absolutely no idea where Mr. Ibrahim draws this conclusion from. The heart of Arabia in which T. E. Lawrence lived was primitive, barbaric and had little or no foreigners in them. Lawrence went to Arabia because his passion was Arabia.

Today, Arabs are no longer primitive, endowed with as much technology as money can buy, and their governments are barbaric only when nobody is looking. Modern Arab culture is exclusive and grossly adulterated by "Counter Strike" and "Friends," only "open" to Westerners, who enjoy a cup of Qahwah, sitting uncomfortably in a tent considering the possibility of a belly-dancer.

People like my family, educated professionals from Muslim India, lived there for 26 years without the name of a single local Arab family we were close with, and children of the United Arab Emirates like me and my brothers, learn Arabic and discover Islam only after leaving our desert abodes.

Society in the United Arab Emirates exists in pockets, each pocket neatly containing a single ethnicity. Arabic is not popularized as a language and no effort made to make it a more widely used. The language of taxi drivers is what goes, effectively Urdu or what forms of it exist from the majority Afghan taxi drivers. Arabs themselves take to learning Urdu, as is widely seen in places like Dubai, where marketability has a higher premium than in oil-rich, laid-back Abu Dhabi where I grew up.

There is no drive for integration whatsoever, and I have not seen any such versions of T.E. Lawrence in my time.

He then says:

"Hordes of enemies are poised at the gates, and huge internal pressure for change lies within."

By enemies, I can only infer countries like the United States, and the specific case of Iraq, as he himself mentions later in the article.

I see no enemy in the United States. The only enemy I perceive is the Arab himself. Endowed with wealth beyond imagining for over half a century, he has accomplished little but his own destruction, alienation and abandonment of his brothers in Palestine and consummate moral and spiritual impotence, that a vicious secularist and murderer as Saddam enjoyed popular support among the Arabs before the Americans swooped in on him.

I daresay, the enemy the Arab faces is much more menacing than any father of civilian carpet-bombing, or any Daisy-cutter that fell upon the innocents of Iraq.

"And if we cannot reform what is left of Arab civilisation will evaporate making place for a new agenda set by someone else."

The mindset of "If it doesn't work, reform it" has become so deep-rooted, that all other possibilities (like returning to a millenium of successful, pluralist tradition) is ruled out. This comes from a desire to be accepted not through integration, but through assimilation. The only "reform" I can visualize is the undisputed import of unlimited democracy where the will of the mob rules all, and unlimited freedom of speech, both unlimitedly Western in their inception and application.

Reform has been the bane of the Muslims, inciting violence and murder within the pluralist Muslims of old. Reform is not the solution, but revival.

In conclusion, despite the harsh poverties facing not only Arabs, but all Muslims alike, we must maintain the Prophetic tradition of optimism; no matter what "agenda set by someoene else" should befall us, we are fully aware of Who has set the Ultimate Agenda.

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)