By Tawfik Hamid
The Arab mentality prevents real progress from taking place in a region starving for reform.
Since September 11, 2001, most western intellectuals and political leaders have advocated that democracy represents the best solution for the problems brought upon by the Arab world, particularly radical Islam.
Unfortunately, democracy in Iraq has not proved to be an astonishing success, and has resulted in discrimination against the Christian minority within the country. In the same vein, democracy in Gaza resulted in Hamas being elected to power. The Arab Spring is likely to continue empowering Islamist movements that will end any hope for modernity within the Arab world.
Dreaming about democracy without first setting its foundations is similar to dreaming about having a fruit tree without even sowing the seed. Rather than focusing solely on establishing election-ballot systems, it would have been far more preferable for the West to exercise its influence over the Arab world by assisting in establishing some democratic fundamentals, such as respecting the civil rights of minorities – a by-product of learning to accept the “Other.”
Since these foundations are so vital for making a democracy fruitful, educational and ideological reform will need to have taken place long before any political reform is able to succeed. After all, the real problems in the Arab world mainly stem from wide-spread, self-destructive societal mores.
A few days before 11/11/11, it was discovered that a group of people from various corporations around the world were planning to hold a celebration in front of the pyramids in Giza. A rumor was spread in Egypt that these people were Freemasons and/or Zionists. Despite the lack of any clear evidence, many Egyptians believed the rumor, and planned to go to the pyramids to prevent the celebration by all means.
Instead of focusing their resources on promoting a celebration that could have helped revive Egypt’s collapsing tourism industry, government officials bowed to the will of the rumor-mongers and stopped it. This was just another small example of the government’s ineptitude to do the right thing, be it to nip the rumor in the bud or not to pay any attention to it at all. Consequently, Egyptians will never learn to ignore slanderous rumors, whether they involve Freemasons, Zionists, or the fact that Egypt’s economic problems are due to the US and Israel and are not a result of their own idiocy.
Vengeance is yet another example of the backward, self-destructive societal mores within the Arab world. How can one be brought up to think that the act of dedicating one’s life to take revenge against a perceived enemy is better than improving one’s own productivity? Yet this is the way that many Gazans are brought up; instead of focusing on how they can build up their own society, they focus on nothing but how they can destroy Israel. Needless to say, a mentality of revenge paralyzes the process of productive thinking and steers a nation’s power toward destruction rather than progression.
The desire to destroy others instead of building oneself was recently elucidated when famed Egyptian TV journalist, Ahmad Al-Meslamani publicized one Egyptian man’s wish that all Egyptians be cured of the hepatitis C virus—extremely prevalent among Egyptians—just so that Egypt can finally declare war on Israel and defeat it.
What makes these thought patterns even more damaging is the Arab world’s acute blindness to seeing its own faults over the faults of others. Accusing the West of Islamophobia or other types of discrimination against Islam is a common phenomenon on the Arab street. The lack of self-critique and introspection in the Arab world only exacerbates the problems it faces.
Arab minds are simply unable to see a link between the barbaric behaviors that are practiced in the name of Islam and the negative views about religion that those behaviors generate. They would much prefer to bandy about western terms like “intolerance” than actually reexamine the discriminatory and often violent values of Sharia Law that are widely practiced and taught.
The Arab nations need to wake up to the fact that their real enemy isnot Israel, the US, or even the West’s “intolerance.” The only real enemy that needs to be combated is their own self-destructive process of thinking. If these cancerous traits are not addressed and treated accordingly, the political reforms of the Arab Spring will no doubt prove to be fruitless at best. At worst, the reforms will prove counterproductive, and may even cause more damage.
The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaeda. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Source: The Jerusalem Post