The Great Divide
Contributed by Hashim al-Harazi   
Thursday, 03 July 2008

There is one thing that we need to clear here; I am not against the United States of America, modernization, or democracy. I received the strangest of remarks in regards to my previous article titled “Chaos” of me being a right-wing conservative opposing progress, freedom of expression and democracy which America has valiantly brought to the region.

 

Now I am not sure how you did arrive at such a conclusive impression about me through just one article, and as inane as it may be, you are entitled to your opinion. Especially if you consider the fact that my article didn’t even include the word ‘democracy’ at any instance and the issues discussed revolved around education, poverty, and the state of the nation within a general framework of criticizing the foreign mass-media and knowledge system dangerously mutating our culture, erasing our identities, and critically affecting our youth the most. Unfortunately, the biggest perpetrator in this incursion happens to be American as I well illustrated in my branding (Calvin Klein, Nike, etc.) metaphors. Therefore I shall repeat and affirm to you that I have nothing against the American culture; on the contrary, it is an admirable one, with its own pros and cons, nevertheless still venerable in all.  The problem is that what we seem to be picking up upon is the cons side of the formula only. And, that process of blindly adopting the useless, and seemingly destructive elements of the foreign over-riding culture while loosing ones’ own at an alarming rate and in a frenzied manner where ignorance, confusion, and indifference dominate the transformation, is what I was elucidating when coining the term ‘Americanization’ interchangeably with ‘Chaos’.

 

Now, since my only two readers – fair enough, only two comments on my previous article, I am afraid I am not that popular, yet – thought of me as being autocratic and regressive; I shall shed some light on democracy. We shall start from the most common democracy to you, that being the American Democracy. It is a fine one with solid pillars and a good societal rooting giving it a better grounding for a solid and continuous growth and prosperity. The one flow it has though is that it is an ‘American Democracy’; i.e. democracy is a translation of what the people are about and what they want, henceforth, American Democracy is a system reflecting the ideals, belief systems, common laws, and inherent cultural norms of the American people themselves. Furthermore, American Democracy is a result of decades and centuries of history that contained wars and revolutions, massive societal transformations through migration-emigration, and the whole process of building an ever-evolving nation. In short, American Democracy is distinctly American, and it would be utterly naïve to think that the Americans, through history and time, were shaping their democracy with a keen universal sense –taking into account the world’s history, multitude of cultures, norms and beliefs, etc. – so as for their system to be of an international orientation and readily applicable anywhere at anytime on the global map. Henceforth, I would strongly urge you to revisit your notes and think deeper before you flaunt a sentence the like of: “We want American Democracy in my country”. Ask yourself what that democracy is first, know its pillars, origins – which by the way is French coming as a product of the French Revolution, the true initiators of democracy in the western hemisphere – and most importantly research if it is feasibly and functionally applicable in your state. You wouldn’t want another Iraq to be made out of your homeland now would you?

 

At this point of our discussion, we shall assume as reason-driven beings, to have arrived at a common base whereby we should agree that like the American Democracy is a consequence of the people’s will, this factual formula is replicable in other parts of the world and within a diverse and multi national societies each with it’s own unique and distinct end-result of a system formulated from their respective people’s will and desires. What eludes me at this stage is the fact that many tend to totally align behind the ‘packaged’ importation of the American version of Democracy and instilling it locally without any regard to the national identity or elements within the societal knit. Moreover, they would strongly vouch for the American form of Democracy, although built on a different system of culture and norms, illustrating it as most optimum system, and in the name of progress shall downplay the long held national traditions and local basics; e.g. wearing of the scarf by women is viewed as oppression and liberty shall be gained through its abandonment – religion is not the corner stone of your life, science and philosophy are – forget Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldoon, look up to JFK, learn from Chomsky, take in the American mind-set and intellect. This happens gradually and almost not noticeable, the American standard becomes your standard. The only difference is that the standard would work in America because it was born there and well rooted within their society, while for you, it is an imported of system that you were so amazed with, you are so convinced it is the right way to go and hence it should be instilled in your country regardless of the many changes you will have to apply to your society in the name of progress and modernization. It is at this point where you would be clashing with your countrymen resulting in an identity-crisis situation; i.e. you will be trying to sell democracy to your father talking about George Washington, American Liberty, etc, and he will be coming back to you with the Freedoms and Women Rights brought by Islam. To you, they are back-ward thinking, to them; you are a traitor who sold his identity slipping out of his own skin and has joined the ranks of foreigners against his own culture, history, and people. Don’t try to tell me that you have never been faced with a situation where you were embracing the American Democracy and were criticized of being brain-washed, an American (In the negative sense due to adopting their ideology), or worse, a traitor and conspirator in the big American-Jewish scheme of dominating the world.

 

As foolish and baseless as those remarks may be, you rest assured it will circle around and terms coined unto you. This will create resistance groups against you, even extreme ones that will come after you. You will have ignited a tidal wave propelled by the people’s reaction to their own fears of the loss of self-identity; which at this stage has essentially become the search of the actual real-identity, making the public more frenzy and adopting extremities in their views and ideals as a source of strong rooting and authority. And in the midst of all of this, the most people affected are unfortunately the youth. Silently, and so smoothly, while politics and ideologies are being played in the upper echelons, undercurrent streams are shaping the youth identities. Stop and ask yourself, which youth would be exposed to the American undercurrent, the rich and possibly middle-class strata. In schools, at clubs, and on the streets, you would find them taking in terms of Generation-X, II Pac, and Oakley’s. The poor however, with very limited access, would be more exposed to traditional norms, more specifically under the influence of religious clerics or conservative tribal leaders, which for the purposes of this illustration we shall call Generation T (as in traditional). I need not tell you what type of ideals, standards, and information each undercurrent feeds its respective client and against each other. The two paths are ever too divergent with the gap growing wider and deeper by the day. Generation-X initially looking upon Generation-T as just simply inopportune hence backward, traditional and conservative now sees them through the extreme lens of outright enemies known as Terrorists who are fueled by jealousy, deprivation, and hatred. Generation-T on the other hand initially viewing Generation-X as being spoiled upper class so-called modernists, now are identified as the deviant and corrupted agents of devil (be it Satan or America) infesting the community and true enemies to God and country whereby it is a heavenly duty to combat and rid the society of the such.  Look around you, what is the situation in the Arab world, your own country; can you deny what I just illustrated. The great divide is born, in the name of your American Democracy.

 

Allow me to steer the discussion towards the duly noted points where you remarked that I am against the freedom of expression and progress that the American Democracy stands for. You further elaborated that I failed to comprehend the idea behind the branding process (Calvin Klein, Nike, etc.) and blindly criticizing it as well as blowing the issue out of proportion when the whole matter is as simple as self-expression of your generation and how they think and act. Well my friend, if it is that freedom of expression you are so keen to acquire from the American Democracy, then God help us! American Democracy stands for the freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom of religion, and so many other freedoms.  Yet you seem to have only grasped the intellect behind one singular ‘freedom of expression’. Now I remember where I heard that remark before, it was in a New York sub-way train station where I, shocked by surprise and curiosity, was practically ogling at two ‘Punks’ (first visit to the western hemisphere, you can’t honestly fault me) and their very strange roman-hat style shaved heads with the brightest of colors and their faces riddled with tens of metal piercing. They did notice me starring, and as distinct and unique as we Yemeni’s are, they smartly recognized that I was a foreigner and offered the most jubilant explanation– you know what they said, “Freedom of Expression, Dude!”. This is exactly what I am referring too when saying we are picking up on and adopting the bad elements of an external culture leaving out those that are more valuable.

 

Let us take a more serious type of freedom, the freedom of speech. Fortunately, in Yemen, this right is relatively guarded and guaranteed to all. It is the one that allowed me to openly write my article, and extending you too the privilege of openly commenting on it in return. However, I do seem to be developing a problem with such a freedom. I think it is a bit too early of a choice to be offered to a populace that lacks the basics of a civil society and dealing in severity with issues such as poverty, extreme retraction to tribalism, and most importantly, education. Without good and solid education, what type of people do you expect would be occupying those outreach venues, be it the media, mosques, ‘Divans’, or as basic as on a piece of stone in the midst of a crowd. A crowd of a hundred tribal folks, you start debating and arguing an issue to convince them of your point of view, the law guarantees you the freedom of speech, say whatever you want, their Sheikh (leader) emerges, he starts arguing back. You are speech-less, the Sheikh does not even comprehend the subject matter, he is talking rubbish twisting and turning the argument in a seemingly idiotic manner which clearly shows his lack of education, intellect, or the least wisdom. Amazingly, the crowd cheers for him, tossing your whole debate off balance and all of a sudden laughs and smirks spread like wild fired through the crowd, which are by the way a consequence of the little remarks the Sheikh has made upon you and your talk in general. Ironic, you, the PhD holder, have emerged as the fool in this little ordeal, with the Sheikh as the wisdom guiding-light of the people, regardless of the insignificant fact that he doesn’t read and write and completely illiterate of any form of knowledge. Now I shall ask you to sit back and think for a moment what went wrong? Yes, he is one of them – their leader if I may add – giving him far more authority than you do possess, they would surely listen to him first and heed his advice prior to yours. But there is a more important factor, what if that crowd had the least idea of what you were talking about, what if they understood things in the terms of logic that you are so well-versed at and was employing at your debate, do you think it would have ended up that way. No, that Sheikh would have been humbled right off the bat. So did you arrive at the conclusion yet? The answer is Education. Education your populace so as they would grasp what you say next time you exercise your freedom of speech, or it is simply useless as all what you shall say will land on deaf ears – not because they are not concerned, it is due to the fact that they don’t comprehend.

 

Education first and foremost is the key to progress. It paves the way to democracy, leads to all types of freedoms including that of expression (hopefully not resulting into punks sprawling the streets of Sana’a, a Jambiyah & Zannah modified version as an exo-neo culture should be fine) speech and choice. It is there and then where freedom of speech would be effective, the speaker at least is educated and to a certain extent knows what he is talking about, for all the good or harm he could inflict through his contrivances and venues – and if not actually educated, corrupted, using his venues to manipulate facts, but still can exercise freedom of speech under the law – it shall rest to the public, who are by now educated and can judge the information passed to them, the talk, the facts, and the credibility of the speaker and the source. My dear readers, through the ‘freedom of speech’, you criticized me of being anti American Democracy without you possessing the real knowledge of the system itself and its functionality in the region – or have simply decided to ignore the elements and just held on to the general concept assuming authority in flaunting the popular ‘American Democracy’, you further pointed out that I was anti progress where I have tried, feebly maybe and not forceful enough, to elicit responsibility from my readers towards issues like poverty and schooling leading towards the progress of the nation. To the common man, I think the above is reason enough for you to see through your own example, that education and knowledge is far more important and should be prioritized against anything else. Furthermore, such knowledge shall provide you with the information and wisdom to not only pick on the freedom of expression alone, but all other freedoms, and in the right manner. It shall illustrate to you what the real democracy is about, not what is bombarded through mass media. You will know what progress is, how it is market, what needs to be done. Progress is not how rich a society is, how well-educated, it goes way beyond that with so many elements interconnecting and supporting each other in building what you shall know as the civil society.

 


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