Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Disclaimer

At first glance, this string of thoughts may appear either as a very negative rant and bashing of Arabic Society or an attack on specific individuals mentioned here and there. It is difficult to conclude otherwise given the tone of the video. In fact, this is just the beginning. What I didn't like about the video is that it did not offer any solutions.
I believe that it is only by asking the tough questions and uncovering the root causes beneath the surface that people can start changing themselves and ultimately chaging things around them. With that in my mind, I think we have a long and difficult journey ahead of us. But, I hope to keep the dialogue focused on the issues at large and not let it deteriorate into a meaningless argument about who said what or when. So, if you are looking for a place to defend one party (or individual) or to attack another party (or individual) please move on. If, on the other hand you want to join a group of adults who are not nit picking every single detail, who are not offended by all the generalization that they will see and who can take constructive criticism well, than you have found a new forum to voice your concerns and, more importantly, your ideas for working solutions.
Please join me in keeping the dialogue clean and let's keep uncovering and facing the dirty truth. Ultimately, I hope we can start putting something truly big.
Too naive? Too lofty? Perhaps you never heard the Black Eyed Peas singing "Union". Let me know what you think and please pass the Tabouleh!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Child-Rearing

From KY:
The rearing of children is totally ineffective in the arabic world. The core of the problem is that male kids are raised with an unrealistically inflated sense of their actual self-importance. Everyone in the family is a slave to the family name-bearing descendant. The male kid is never wrong, everything he does is right. If he beats the neighbor, it is viewed that he is strong. If he throws the trash by the window of the car, it is also viewed positively as he is keeping the family car clean. If he is 'tosh' in class, it is because the mistress/ school is bad. This is why during the civil war (and till today), professors started to give out the good grades -for fear of being beaten or killed and that happened very very often. Basically, the arabic male kid can never be wrong. It's always the fault of others. As the kid grows into an adult, he will spend his whole life reconciling his sense of inflated ego to the realities of life. Nowhere is that more visible than when an arabic man comes to western societies. His misplaced sense of self-agrandizement and arrogance does not match the values/ realities of advanced societies. He has to take the bus like anyone else, pay taxes... He totally hates it and ends up in rebellion/ rejection of his environment. He will naturally seek to destroy his environment (hence his is fertile ground for terrorism). If he grows in his country environment, he will always have problems with any form of authority. He will tend not to respect forms of authority such as the police, the tax, the laws, the red lights, rules (such as mchi 3alal rasif) and perceive them as extremely oppressive. Thus, the only way to get compliance from him is to force him to obey through repression. This is why the arabic people in general believe deep down that a tough authoritarian rule is much preferable for them than a democratic system ("demokharatiyyeh"). But at the basis of this mess is child-rearing. Kids are not taught to be responsible for themselves and to operate in a modern society as responsible citizens. Girls are much better initially (as they want to graduate from their second-rank status in the family), but they usually end up replicating the parental model they observed as children... Therefore, there is not much to be hoped for.

Time Notion

From KY:
The notion of time is vastly different between the arabic and the Western minds. Whereas time in Western societies is viewed as a precious commodity that must be maximized e.g. the French "ne reporte jamais a demain ce que tu peux faire aujourd'hui" (never delay to tomorrow what you can do today), the arabic mind is exactly about the 180 degree opposite: "Khalliya la boukra", "Kil shi byeje bi wa'to", "la n3ish la boukra" etc. etc... Time is relative and expandable. This is why for most of the arabic people I met, holding time is extremely difficult (despite gold Rolex watches stuffed with diamonds) and the notion of being on time (for a meeting for instance) is extremely foreign and I would say almost insulting... People will end up showing up, but way behind the agreed time ("tawwelle belak, hala' byeje, ana ba3rfo"). Also, being late is an indicator of how important you are. The more late you are, the more important you are, because people should wait for the most important person... Me! Inability to commit to time makes the society less efficient by the measure of each minute lost waiting for each other. It's a specific arabic problem: Turks for instance are usually on time. This is also why it is hopeless.

From RK:
Well that is not a uniquely Arab issue. Lack of discipline in accomplishing things is symptomatic of most third world countries and even exists to an extent in the developed world.

Trust

From KY:
There is no Trust in each other in the arabic societies. In actuality, the arabic culture clearly teaches you that you should trust no one. In the great Beiruti Sunni commercial tradition, you quickly learn: "iyyek mnel sho-w-k: Sharake, Wakeleh, Kafaleh..." Across Lebanon you learn "ana dod khayyeh, ana wa khayyeh dod ibn 3ammeh, ana wa khayyeh wa ibn 3ammeh dod el gharib"... The greatest arabic historical events are based on treachery (one of the biggest is celebrated in 3ashoura). The arabic person will only trust his closest family (but we see many brothers cheating each other, especially in succession rights "el werte"). In actuality, arabs even from the same country tend to avoid each other in foreign lands (except maybe for an occasional hommos). This is because they know very well associating with the other arab will not bring good news as invariably they will end up betraying the trust when convenient. As a result, they prefer to successfully associate with non-arabic people. The arabic society rewards individualism, not collective entreprises. This is why you see more individual entrepreneurship or family businesses but never modern capitalism. Of course in politics, treachery is viewed very positively. In Lebanon, all the Druzes and the majority of non-druze view Jumblatt's change of position as exemplary and with a deep sense of admiration and respect as he successfully timely betrayed Hariri. In reality, the most successful societies are based on the ability to trust each other. The best at this are the Northern European culture and the US where trust is a key value. The result is in the GDP per capita. The Israeli society displays a superior sense of trust in each other. This is because of a common past and powerful shared values. Thus lack of Trust is a key impediment to any progress in arabic societies.

From RK:
This is a big one! I fully agree. The sad part is it only applies to Arab-Arab relationships. ie, put the same Arab to deal with a non-Arab, and all of a sudden they are more diligent and trustworthy ... just not with each other as you explained so well. Agreed on all points.

Leaders

From KY:
The common sense in the Arab world is that leaders are superior or god-like figures who are to be followed blindly. Leaders are not questioned, scrutinized or put under any pressure to deliver anything to the people. The people will follow them no matter what. This video is a good example. Gaegae, Jumblatt, Aoun, Nasrallah have all made dramatic switches in their "policies" and the sheep follow them blindly.

Yeah, now compare with Israeli leaders who are all Oxford/Cambridge/Harvard grads who are focused on the welfare of their people. No contest.

Individualism

From KY:

Isn't the fundamental problem lack in belief that a person matters and can effect change? There is no belief that an individual matters or can actually have any significant impact on their environment. In the arabic mind, you are not at all master of what happens to you because there is somewhere a superior power that has already predetermined totally your existence. All choices that you make are actually pre-determined for you ("kull halli sar ken maktub 3aleik). So, in the end, nothing you can do will matter "mbere7 kenna 3al 7adid wu halla' sorna 3al hadid"... It serves absolutely no purpose to do anything because you are not in control anyway.
Individuality not only doesn't not exist but is actually a huge negative in the arabic mind. You are never defined in terms of who you are but in terms of what you belong to (kabileh, 3aileh, din, day3a... Enta shou? Enta men wen? Enta shou aslak?...). You can not do anything that is not 'approved' by the norms of your community, family... the famous 3edet wa takalid... This severly limits any innovative thinking or risk-taking.
It is also very important to carefully understand that philosophically,terrestrial life is of significantly less importance than the afterlife in the arabic mind. Life on earth actually doesn't matter that much compared to what you can probably gain in the afterlife. In some cases it is actually much preferable to die "fi sabili lleh" or to wash your sense of honor then to continue to live. You live your life in anticipation of your death. In contrast, Judaism is 100% focused on protecting the 'Jewish Life' at all costs. Suffice it to see how much body armor protection Israeli soldiers get or to which extent Israeli are ready to make concessions to exchange bezillions of arab prisonners against one Israeli. Bottom-line: all I do in this shitty life should be geared to get me a cushy place in eternal paradise.
Also, there is a fundamental conceptual difference about the perspective on life in the arabic and western mind. The arabic mind perceives life as a circular cycle: nothing changes because you can go round and round, but you will end up at the same place where you started ("kil wa7ad byerja3 la aslo"). The western mind sees life as a linear journey: you start, you continue, you end... all along a progression on a line. You may stray left or right but you progress in your life. In the arabic mind, there is no need to exert yourself too much, because in the end you will make no progress whatsoever.
All this to say that there is no hope in sight anytime soon. Actually, the more we see, the more we see reasons for despairing.

Initial Gut Reactions

I agree with him too, to a certain extent. I think the controversy stems from the fact that he is generalysing so much. I still believe these are a few Arabs who want change and are capable leaders. The problem is that they are silenced. I also disagree that the leaders reflect the will of the people. In my opinion Arabs have given up on non-violent means of effecting change. They have either fallen into total apathy and stopped caring or they have embraced the violent path. Neither one will work if they want true and positive change. Not sure if the guy ever offered a solution out of this situation. I think the key is education: teaching future generations about civic duties & responsibilities and getting them out of their funk. Our big problem is that our leaders are not accountable and they keep abusing their power and using force to keep what they have.

From RK:
I mostly agree with you, but I think he did a good thing by "provoking" the people. As you said, they have total apathy for the most part. This becomes a very dangerous method of thinking. For instance:

- oh well, these are our leaders. what can we do about it? Pass the falafel.
- if only Israel would cease to exist, all our problems will be solved. Death to the zionists. Pass the hookah
- if only America would stop being involved, I would become a rich man. Time for a nap

What I mean is that issues, real or perceived, have become the excuse for the people to live in the state they live in. Education (in the form of university degrees) does not solve their apathy. It just allows them to work abroad (Dubai, Europe, the US) for more money in a system that allows better prosperity. The Lebanese - that's us - have very high education rates, but their level of apathy is incredibly high. Go figure.

He is right in saying that the "leaders" came out of the people. It is the fact that since the leaders know that the people are apathetic, they have no incentive to do something about their lives. So, it is the people's fault as much as it is the leaders' faults.

Thoughts? Challenges? Pass the Hummus!

From KY:
To be honest, the main contributions of this part of the world to the world civilization (mainly the modern western world) happen to be non-Arab: Sumerian civilization, Babylone, Pharaonic Egypt, Phoenicia of course, Byzantium. I think Lebanon did exceptionally well during the Roman times. Ottoman times was basically about taxing people to death to finance the Sultan's lifestyle and keep the harem filled in the Saray. There was something going on around the 'nahda' times, but then it all went nowhere. It's frustrating for me, I was ranked number one student in Adab 3arabi in Lycee at one time (believe it or not). So, it's a waste.

From RK:
The Arabs? Well, yes they borrowed and leveraged a lot from external civilizations. But they did preserve and grow the cultures. The Arabs preserverd and promoted Greek and Roman literature and sciences, whereas the recently Christinaized Roman Empire was burning all that pagan work during their "fanatic" phases. If it weren't for the Arabs, all that work would have been lost and never would have been progressed. Of course that is back then. Ever since the Mongols destroyed the Abbasid dynasty, the Arabs have accomplished NOTHING! And that is a damn long time of doing that. BTW, this applies to the wonderful Lebanon too. Outside of a brief flirtation with westernization and prosperity (1950's mainly), Lebanon has been just another typical Arab nation, just more violent.

From KY:
Unfortunately, I can not debate what you said. I see limited future for Lebanon as people carrying the same passport live in two completely different realities, even if they reside 20km away from each other (approximate distance between Beit Mery and Da7ye). The outlook is too different. Maybe in the 50's people felt closer to each other. The two things they could possibly agree/ collaborate on is 1)Lebanese food and 2)making money -which truly you can always start to build on...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Controversial Assessment

On March 3 2009, Algerian author Anwar Malek made some very controversial comments about the status of Arabic Society during an apperance on Al-Jazeera TV. A translated portion of his evaluation is attached.




video


The aim of this blog is to collect opinions and comments about his synopsis, analyze the state of the Arabic Society, identify some of the major ills that plaque it and ultimately formulate potential ways to change the status quo.


It today's Arabic Society truly worthless? Is it hopeless? Why? What would you change to fix it?