The crisis of living in the past

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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We still encounter those people who intend to censor Netflix and ban Japanese manga magazines and some series screened on MBC channels. Since they still live in the near past, they cannot handle the fact that the world provides enough space for all ideas and human beings. Hence, they persist on harassing others, never tiring of attempting to mobilize the society and deny the others their freedoms.

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We live in a time where cave dwellers and city dwellers have the same life or, rather, face the same challenges, and where almost everything one wishes to experience is available, regardless of the social status, ideological position, or purchasing power of the population at large. Some find it difficult to live with those whose choices have a different taste, be it in the films they like to watch, the books they like to read, the music they like to hear, the lectures they like to attend, or the destinations they like to travel to. It is not easy for those to coexist with others who are different.

Meanwhile, the global scene is shifting even further, with new realities emerging nearly each decade. Several reasons drive this shift, including how the new generation is taking over instead of the older one, and bringing its own ideas which has always been the course of life. Another reason for this shift is modern technology that has been a game changer for fall of humanity.

Recently I visited the city of Jeddah, and there I passed by a bookstore which I know quite well. I noticed how it has been filled with electronic devices containing books that, up till a few years ago, were banned, but now they are available as e-books. It is quite wise to offer them either as e-books or hardcopy, and it was pleasant to see them displayed without arousing anyone’s concern or condemnation. On a related issue, the number of printed books at that bookstore shrunk, and this is another global phenomenon, as in the US alone half of the 11,000 commercial bookstores have shut down. However, and contrary to the implication this might give, the numbers of readers and book sales spiked, thanks to the availability of digital and audio books, as in the US alone, 191 million e-books existed in 2019.

Pedestrians walk past a Barnes and Noble bookstore on Fifth Ave, Monday, May 16, 2005, in New York. (File photo)
Pedestrians walk past a Barnes and Noble bookstore on Fifth Ave, Monday, May 16, 2005, in New York. (File photo)

Through such tools the world is at an abundance of choices that seem hard to pick from, and amid such a situation it becomes even harder for those who still live in the past to block these historical transformations, except if they wish to perceive themselves reminiscent of that Dutch boy who saved his country from drowning by closing the small hole in a dam with his finger. We might not be always able to sense it, but the process of globalization is steadily ongoing, and anyone who wishes to stop it is out of touch with reality. Likewise, this process is shaping the modern mindset in a manner that urges each civilization to present the best it has in order to contribute to the global endeavor, rather than shut down its windows to the world.

I finished watching Babylon Berlin, a subtitled German series on the story of the German capital in 1929, when the Fascists managed to sneak and grab power there. Somehow the content of the series resembles the events of the Arab region in 1979, when a defeated nation opted to embrace extremist ideologies and organizations that offer nothing but the one and only direction and mindset they represent. Nowadays, however, it is difficult for these ideologies to keep imposing their ways with the endless abundance of various literary and intellectually creative works that are not anymore restricted to an elite minority that had managed to expensively travel and study abroad.

As a rule of thumb in our modern world, if someone dislikes a particular platform, they do not have to deal with it, since it is their right and the right of each sane person to decide what is the best for themselves. Amid the conflict of evolving ideas, society went through several phases of attempts to isolate it and dictate the likes and dislikes of its generations. At any rate, the cycle of life will go on with new emerging generations whose ideas are likely to be rejected by the older ones. However, we still have some people who wish to see the world dance to their old tune.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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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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