By Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
April 29, 2013
“There is no critical self-analysis and no admission of fault.” If I had to choose a statement to describe the social fabric of Saudi Arabia, I could not come up with a better one. Basically, one can confidently state that there is almost an absolute absence of self-criticism in Saudi Arabia with reference to a wide range of aspects and issues by all strata of Saudi society. This can be attributed to the fact that Saudi Arabia cannot be characterized as a self-critical culture encompassing a rich diversity of opinions. The same trait is common not only among the citizens of Saudi Arabia but also across the entire Arab world, being one of the opaque qualities of the Arab nature.
What are the dominant social traits that lead to a lack of toleration and a resistance to accept forthright self-criticism by individuals within Saudi society? I would trace this issue back to some counterproductive social practices and cultural values, which along with the Saudi educational system have not encouraged the uncompromising tradition of self-criticism.
Subordination to authority, preference for a confrontational discourse as opposed to accepting varying views, and supporting the status quo are the factors that have contributed to the evolution of a culture in which self-criticism has no place.
Additional causes stem from values that take precedence over concern about what is morally right as well as dependence on the internalization of social structure and a collectivist attitude that is widespread in Saudi society.
The current Saudi educational system also plays a big role in forming a social nature that rejects the viability of self-criticism due to a failure to foster critical thinking and openness. In essence, educators merely expect students to memorize the given information without providing sufficient attention to introspection and independent thinking. As a result, school graduates lack the ability to analyze and think critically.
Failure to develop such vital qualities of constant engagement in self-criticism and of being reflective of the self eventually leads many Saudi citizens to downplay their internal weaknesses, which evolves into the tendency to blame others for their own mistakes and misadventures, while refusing to confront personal shortcomings that arise in the course of social practice.
Moreover, the lack of a critical view of the self may also make people suspicious and doubtful, and lead them to believe in conspiracy theories. From a political perspective, the absence of self-criticism in Saudi Arabia motivates the involved parties or individuals to develop a means to manipulate public opinion or use force instead of admitting any fault. All these aspects in turn can lead to stagnation and decay.
If Saudi Arabia wants to rise on the world scene and maintain an important status in the twenty-first century, we need to exercise and heavily engage in self-criticism. We must criticize ourselves and then cease erroneous behavior and attitudes, while admitting that our society has flaws and use self-criticism as a tool to evaluate our social practices and reassess obsolete views and notions. Improvement in all aspects of life is contingent upon making self-criticism a part of our lifestyle, as rapidly growing social needs require a continual examination of our efforts and attitudes for opportunities to enhance the social order.
I hope that open, direct, and constructive criticism will be widely exercised in Saudi Arabia, allowing for the emergence of openness and free discourse. Self-criticism should become a vital part of the social practices in Saudi Arabia, facilitating the intellectual and societal growth of the nation.
Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer is a Saudi academic.