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It’s Not Too Late to Face Reality
Khaled Al-Maeena, Editor in Chief
Friday, April 18, 2003 / 16 Safar 1424



“We are all suffering from low-level depression,” a friend of mine said the other night. I didn’t have to ask him why. “Yes,” I said, “the events of the past month have been traumatic, and we are all anxious to see what the future has in store for us.”

“God only knows,” another friend commented.

“True,” my friend answered, “but God helps those who help themselves. What have the Arabs done to help themselves over the last 40 years?”

They were 40 years of infighting, political rivalry, and economic programs that never took off and focused on issues that were of no benefit to national interests. As a result public confidence fell, poverty became rampant, stagnation of the mind and the soul became entrenched, and a general malaise settled over everything.

There were real problems in the area that had to be resolved. Palestinian land was occupied and its people oppressed and killed on a daily basis by heavily armed Israeli forces with full economic and military support from the United States.

We should have seen such problems as a challenge — a challenge to develop and modernize our society within the parameters of Islam. Instead, we did the opposite. We started chanting slogans and singing songs of yesteryear, in praise of past glories.

If there is to be progress in the Arab world, the intelligentsia must stop gazing at the past in the futile hope that it can solve the problems of the present. Yes, we should study history because if we don’t we are condemned to repeat it.

But our tragedy has been that we have been looking history straight in the face out of the very corner of our eyes. We have yet to confront the harsh facts of our history. Only when we do can we confront the challenges of the 21st century.

Throughout the past 40 years the focus was on political intimidation. The media played a crucial role in acting as a screen that blinded the people from the harsh realities of life.

The people too grew indifferent, becoming lethargic instead of fighting for their rights. As a result tyrants like Saddam Hussein — goaded by superpowers into regional adventurism — attacked other countries and oppressed their own people.

The absence of the rule of law, lack of accountability and absolute rule over an intimidated public disrupted any social or economic progress. Thus while other countries progressed, the Arab world with its brimming coffers became mired in Third World status.

Countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia — not to speak of Japan — went ahead by leaps and bounds. These were countries that had been utterly devastated by World War II and other wars in the region.

But they rose from the ashes, and now, with the fall of a tyrant, a fresh breeze is also blowing in the Arab world. A wind of change.

The Arab world, moreover, is younger, with a population that has access to enough information to see others speeding ahead. They are not content to remain bystanders, but want to be travelers themselves on the road to progress.

They aspire to a free society, human dignity and mechanisms that shield them from the oppression and humiliations exercised by the likes of the Baath regime. They want governments that guarantee them the human rights, freedom, justice and equality that are central to the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

They want a society that is tolerant and sovereign and where all views are fairly represented. They want a vehicle that will clear the decks of the medieval garbage that has resulted in regression and stagnation.

They deserve a society that reconciles permanence and change.

If we want to achieve such a society, we cannot go on blaming others for our own inadequacies. We have to rise to the occasion. Instead of constantly pointing our fingers elsewhere, we should take a long, good hard look at ourselves and call what we see by its proper name.

We must not let future generations down by bequeathing them a legacy of a society that is divided, a national debt that will break their backs, an educational system that churns out parrots and a society that wallows in self-pity and snivels in mortification at the first sign of a problem.

The more a society lags behind, the more aware its intelligentsia should be of the qualitative leaps that have occurred elsewhere, because the gap between what is and what should be is widening by the day. But we have failed to realize this, and intellectuals and the media are shirking their responsibility to make us aware of that widening gulf.

But it’s not too late to start.

The Arabs need to face up to the challenges confronting them and to focus their attention on the development of human resources, science and technology and build their economies in a free, just and peaceful environment.

This is the time to learn our lessons from the past.

— almaeena@arabnews.com