It felt odd to speak on Skype to a friend in war torn Syria. We had not seen each other since our school days in the 1960s. I had moved to settle in Britain. He had moved to settle in Syria.
It was an awkward conversation. We started with a few reminiscences about our awful education, unsavoury teachers and woeful outcomes! We congratulated ourselves on having obtained a PhD each against incredible odds. We laughed at all the childish misdemeanours that we indulged in and at the severe beatings that we were subjected to in order to improve our manners and save us the torments of Hell by preempting them. We exchanged pleasantries. We talked about literature which we both had so far spent a lifetime enjoying. He chided me for not having written a latter day War and Peace. I teased him for having failed to produce a new Wordsworth epic to surpass The Prelude. Then there was a deep silence. I could see his tired but still hopeful face changing expressions – as if he could not quite decide what mask to wear for this conversation.
He suddenly burst out: “Why is this happening to us? And please do not tell me that it is the fault of America or Britain or Israel and their abominable acolytes around the world! Please place the responsibility where it belongs: squarely with us Arabs…”
I agreed wholeheartedly. And, as we used to do when in school, we spent the an interminable time in an orgy of self flagellation only worthy of deep rooted self hatred dating back to our dark childhood.
We were not born into real democracies. We were never educated to think for ourselves. We were brainwashed to obey our elders and betters even when they were patently wrong. We were brought up on endless conspiracy theories involving Israelis, Americans, British, French and so many others who had hated us since the Crusades. We were not encouraged to excel, to work hard or to cultivate a sense of national loyalty to our homeland. Our homeland was Palestine. But we were fortunate refugees whose parents were educated and had money. We did not live in physical squalor like millions of Palestinians dispersed across the Arab World and largely ignored by their fellow Arabs – if they were lucky enough not to be hounded and murdered by them. We did, however, live in spiritual and mental squalor. Our rulers were Saddam Hussein, Assad father and son, Mubarak, Gaddafi… And now they are still the same people with different names.
“But why is this happening to us?” he asked pleading to receive some reason. Some logic. Some semblance of normality.
And answer there came none.
We are poor in governance. We are poor in education. We are poor in nationhood. We are poor in self reliance. We are poor in critical thinking. We are poor in self confidence and self respect. We are poor in legal institutions. We are poor in cultural pride.
We are spectacularly rich in petrodollars in the hands of the very few. We are very rich in a glorious history of giving birth to great civilisations that are now all gone. We are a poetic people who shed tears over words that we mostly do not understand.
We have a revealed faith the values of which we seem to have forgotten. We hate all that the West had done to us through history but we do anything to ape everything Western no matter how ghastly or unhealthy or trivial. We are desperate to be just like the very people we blame for our dolour and national failures.
For these and many other reasons, we accept our lot: cruel, inhuman and callous. It is only a short step from all of these mundane norms to the horrors of mass murder in Syria, Iraq, Egypt… It is only a step from tribal stubbornness to piles of rubbish in the ancient streets of Beirut reflecting the country’s body politic since time immemorial. It is only a step from an Arab Spring to an army coup planned from the first minute that Egyptians cried freedom. It is only a step from so much that we have become to… War. War. War.
No wonder my dear school friend and I shed silent tears of pity for ourselves. There lay the essence of our self hating Arab quality.
“But,” my friend argued. “You are British and rooted in your country’s laws, literature, landscape… Aren’t you?” I gathered my wits to answer this difficult thesis… Thankfully, even Western technology goes wrong occasionally. And my friend later sent a message seeking another Skype call tonight to continue our discussion.
I so hope that the technology does not oblige. As my employer once said, “Of course you find it hard to be critical in your OfSTED reports. You Arabs do not know how to be critical because of your closed upbringing…”
What arrant racist nonsense. I am perfectly capable of making a considered and honestly reached decision. I am going to bed early tonight and can not take any Skype call… I shall read an Agatha Christie thriller. English murder is so much more courteous than an Arab one. Constant twittering apologies hiding inalienable self confidence against blaring self hatred hiding dependency and ineffectiveness.Tags: Middle-East
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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi