The ostrich culture

Mohammed Al Rumaihi

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At the current stage, the complex crises plaguing the political, social, educational, and many other sectors across the Arab world can be described as an “ostrich culture”. Like these creatures that bury their heads in the sand, our Arab world refuses to face reality and lives in a fictional world that only focuses on the past. The manifestations of this culture can be exemplified in three main indicators.

The first is the mixing of politics and religion. Many discussions and debates took place in Kuwait last week following the state’s decision to allow women’s participation in the military sector. Fatwas emerged to determine the legitimacy of this decision, and many questions followed pondering whether we live in a civil state or a religious one and whether Islam takes different forms in practice, knowing that nearly all of our neighbors in the Gulf involve women in military institutions. Surely, the debates will continue, but there is a much bigger picture that we must not miss. In our Arab world, many religious figures are openly or covertly involved in politics. Examples abound in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. In other countries, such as Sudan recently or Tunisia, we find many political forces who bestow a religious interpretation on political and social events. Hence the question: are we living in an ostrich culture? The requirements for social, political, and even economic progress have become well known across the world, and mixing politics with religion is definitely not one of them.

The second symptom of the ostrich culture is sweeping things under the rug. I am part of a group of Arab elites that advocate for peace between our communities, and we decided to create a virtual community on WhatsApp where we share our press articles. Soon enough, some members expressed reservations on some of the articles being shared because they do not align with their thoughts. The administrator of the group had to close it down, to skirt any differences that could turn into disputes between the group members. It was surprising -or rather bewildering- that even such a group of “elites” could not accept different views or debate them in a civilized way to reach common ground. So how could we possibly blame others for the dissonance we see on social media? I cannot find any other explanation than the ostrich culture, which paves the way for a herd culture.

The third indicator is the controversy that surrounded in the last week the movie Perfect Strangers released recently on Netflix, which announced that the movie was the top watched film in the Arab world. Defenders of “values” waged a large-scale campaign against the movie, which they believed advocated for homosexuality and the disintegration of families. The film, whose cast includes Lebanese and Egyptian actors, is inspired by an Italian film that screened at the Cairo International Film Festival a few years ago and, ironically, won awards! What’s even more ironic is that many Arabs have watched the French version of the movie, called Nothing to Hide, on Netflix. The stones thrown at the movie and its cast for disrespecting “values” did not stop there. Even international Arab-language TV channels and radio stations chimed in on the issue.

Interestingly, the idea behind the movie had been addressed -albeit differently- in several Arab films and plays, including Kuwaiti ones. A prominent example of such works is the late Ali Salem’s play, The School of Mischief, which was also inspired from a British play. Despite gaining fame and leaving its mark on a whole generation, the play came at a time of “a shift in values” and had many sexual innuendos! Yet, both the play and playwright were met by harsh criticism from the “ostrich culture”. In the same vein, Naguib Mahfouz’s famous novel, Children of Gebelawi, almost cost the author his life. There are many other examples of literature and art works that the ostrich culture found to be ruining society and offering an example of “debauchery and immorality.” Like other societies across the planet, the Arab society is far from ideal, as these people like to portray it. In fact, some of them are nose-deep in “decadence” secretly, and others have had their debauchery exposed.

The main idea here is that terrorism is not only the bombing and murder of safe civilians. Intellectual terrorism is far more dangerous in its attempts to impose its viewpoint on everyone. Intellectual terrorists believe that wisdom is exclusive to them, and all different opinions are aberrations that must not be pronounced or offered. Similarly, they believe any different opinion in politics, social values, or human relations is the work of the devil and must be criminalized, and those who hold such opinions must be scolded, or even killed in some cases.

The ostrich culture refuses to acknowledge that the platform that released Perfect Strangers is not only an international, cross-border, cross-culture platform, but also a voluntary one. Whether or not to use it is up to each individual. More importantly, this kind of platforms will become ubiquitous in the near future, and if the followers of the ostrich culture continue to live in the mindset of decades gone, they are undoubtedly headed toward bankruptcy!

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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