The Arab world drowns in hate, and it’s now a norm
What is dangerous are those addicted to tampering with people's fates in the name of religion, patriotism or both
Last Monday, while I was watching the BBC's Newsnight, three guests from the Muslim community in Britain started to yell at the same time in front of Jeremy Paxman, the program's host and one of the British television stars who's well known for his special performances.
Jeremy tried to resume the discussion while smiling. To me, it appeared as if he was surprised because his guests were youths who supposedly learnt good conversing manners in Britain. If my neighbor had watched the same episode and asked me the next morning what were these people trying to say, I would have said that I don't understand it myself.
That scene resembles a small sample of what's happening across most of the Arab world.
A phase of chaos
The Arab world is going through an unprecedented phase of chaos. I am not referring to the disputes and different policies of various governments. Arab people have lived through these situations and dealt with them throughout many centuries. Disputes among people are part of life.
A father may disagree with his sons and a brother may disagree with his siblings. Family members may even end up in court to settle the silliest of disputes. However if wisdom reigns, it becomes possible to limit disputes and to put out the fire before it breaks out.
But if those who disagree with one another start to yell at the same time and if each selfishly puts his interest before that of the others, chaos will spread. This is exactly the unprecedented phase of chaos the Arab world is going through.Bakir Oweida
But if those who disagree with one another start to yell at the same time and if each selfishly puts his interest before that of the others, chaos will spread. This is exactly the unprecedented phase of chaos the Arab world is going through.
Many spoke out on the dangers of fatwas, or religious edicts. People were also warned not to abide by any fatwa that is not issued by trustworthy source. But this didn't put an end to the phenomenon.
The chaos the media elicits is not any less dangerous. As the internet dominates, it's no longer possible to control the authenticity of what's published. But what's more dangerous than the chaos of spreading information online - whether on respectable websites that seek accuracy or less respectable websites or social networking websites - is the chaos of imposing one's own perspectives via satellite channels.
Guests fighting one another and throwing chairs has become the norm. The situation has become so bad, people no longer abide by the minimum conventions of objectivity required - protocols like placing the general interest above one's personal interest when speaking at a public podium.
Rumors and hearsay
A few days ago, I was shocked by statements attributed to a Palestinian leader in Gaza. We were at a dinner ceremony when one of the participants quoted a leader who said his organization has 50,000 fighters and 5,000 suicide bombers and that the group could occupy Egypt in three hours.
I noticed how no one voiced their surprise, so I said this was nonsense, as no sane politician would make such a statement.
However, the narrator, who is a high-ranking educated figure, insisted that his story was true. The next morning, I searched for the story to double check it. It turned out the story is a mere rumor narrated by "sources close" to the leader. The leader naturally denied the report.
It also turned out that the number of fighters from the rumor was 25,000. This means that he who narrated the report to me was informed of double the original number. If I wish to narrate this story without making sure it's true, I can also double the number.
What's worse is that while doing my online search on the report, more than one website reported that a host of an Egyptian satellite channel wished that the entire Gaza Strip would be destroyed. This sentiment, which may also have been exaggerated, resulted in a massive amount of comments voicing hatred.
It's clear that the Arab world will drown up to its ears in this hatred. Has there been chaos before this chaos? No. But will there be after it? Perhaps it will be worse.
Before watching Newsnight, I was watching a play whose major character is a priest in a city north of England. The priest suggests to an imam that they should get a piece of land, collect donations, and build a playground where Christian and Muslim children can meet. The imam readily agrees and the two men successfully build the playground.
There's a huge difference between uniting children of two different religions to innocently play together and those who play with people's fates. Even more dangerous are those addicted to tampering with people's fates in the name of religion, patriotism or both.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 26, 2014.
Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org