Yemeni writer Munir Daair on "The present-day predicament of Arabs"
- February 1, 2007
predicament of ArabsBy Munir Daair,
The Gulf News, Dubai
The Arabian predicament: One of our common traits, we the Arabs, is our difficulty to handle criticism. Try to point out our faults to your fellow Arab, very likely the fault will be justified because it also happens elsewhere, most likely in the West.Well yes, even in the West they have faults, but let's stay focused please, on our own faults and our own failures for a change?I don't really care how rigid the French educational system is or how bad the American healthcare system is. That's all none of my business, it's their problem not mine. Mind you, despite all their problems, these two countries have excelled in science and other human endeavours and are world powers while we Arabs cannot manufacture even the drilling bit needed to drill for oil in our ground! Indeed, even drilling for the most precious item in our life, water, is only possible with equipment manufactured outside Arabia.Does it get any worse? Oh yes it does. In our minds. We go about our life, our pomp and abundance, in total denial of our predicament. Our refusal to take an inward look at ourselves in a critical way, to address our shortcomings openly, is as if we have made a covenant against ourselves and the future of our children.The most significant contributor to this dormant status, this lack of self sufficiency and meaningful progress in Arabia is the absence of freedom of thought and expression.Nations that have made great accomplishments are those that have been free to question "conventional wisdom", are open to the various versions of truth and follow the argument wherever it leads, so to speak. It is not a lack of belief or propriety to re-examine established beliefs. Indeed, it is the true essence of faith to evolve in a way that makes those beliefs applicable and viable for all times. In the end, it is not the evolving modus operandi that matters but the spirit of the faith and our determination to ensure that the objectives are accomplished.Forward-thinking braveryWhere today is the forward-thinking bravery of distant Islamic philosophers like Ibn Rushd [Averroes], Ibn Sina [Avicina], Ibn Tufail [Abubacer] and so many others, who had the confidence of faith to debate, question and break through traditional beliefs in the most sensitive matters of dogma and faith?It was this freedom of thought that made the Islamic schools of Andalusia, Baghdad and Isfahan the most sought places of learning where some of the greatest Islamic discoveries in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences accomplished.We must understand the objectives of our faith and how can we adapt ourselves and our methods to achieving these objectives. That's the crux, the bottom line.Arab regionalism is another major contributor to our predicament. Arabs, among whom Islam started, became part of a great Islamic civilisation that expanded worldwide only because Islam managed to create in the minds of the desert Arabs an inclusive mentality.When Islam broke regionalism in the minds of our forefathers in Arabia to include other races beyond Arabia, Islam, and with it Arabs, became a world power. The ethnicities of the scholars I mentioned above and many others attest to that Islamic ability to include people beyond Arabia.Today, this inclusive Islamic spirit has been replaced by regionalism. In turn, this narrow Arab regional mentality has made us shrink. Indeed, we can see that the United States of America has managed to expand dynamically because, like the ancient Islamic state, America included other races to advance itself.More than anything else, it is these two, the absence of freedom of thought and our narrow regional mentality, that brought about the Arab predicament which today poses the greatest challenges to Arab progress.While globalisation will ultimately prove adequate to overcome Arab regionalism, it is the forces that restrict free thought and expression in our midst that we must contend with. Those that claim the preservation of our faith and values must take precedence as if faith, progress and free thought are conflicting forces. A claim Islamic history itself and progressive Muslim nations such as Malaysia have made redundant.Associated risksFreedom of thought and expression are a risky business. But no one can benefit from these freedoms without accepting the associated risks. No one can ascertain the validity of these freedoms without boldly testing their limits. It is only through this process that these freedoms can be defended and their survival guaranteed.In the past Arabs progressed through a forward thinking Islamic state. Today, ironically, Arab progress might be possible only through thinking back, to the time of our ancient vanguards of free thought.Despite arguments to the contrary, the main causes of the Arab predicament are inherently Arabian. Only Arabs can address this problem through re-establishing freedom of thought and expression and their ability to once again break through the boundaries of regionalism.The risks we must take today to re-establish free thought and break the boundaries of regionalism will perhaps, more than anything else, result in the greatest legacy we can leave behind for future generations.Munir Daair is a widely published Yemeni political writer.