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Breaking free from the vicious cycle

The Middle East region is in a state of denial and we must have the courage to face up to reality

Khalid Abdulla-Janahi

Published: Updated:

The Middle East region is, tragically, in a state of denial and, until we have the courage to face up to reality, we will not be able to break from the vicious cycle we are trapped in and catch up with the rest of the world.

This state of denial is reflected almost anywhere you look in our region and is, perhaps, the most challenging hurdle we must overcome before we can embrace modernity. Ironically, it is the most challenging simply because it is the least apparent – we don’t recognize what we don’t see – and this represents the all-important first step forward: we must acknowledge, before we can address, our weaknesses.

To break free from the vicious cycle we are trapped in and catch up with the rest of the world, we must embrace modernity. This is simple, and very obvious. To do so, however, we need to develop the necessary intellectual capacity to embrace modernity. In turn, to develop our intellect, we need to first evolve from subjects into citizens with rights and duties.

This is where things become tricky for us in the region – and we continue to hide behind religion to justify maintaining the status quo. This is really dangerous and, to be honest, no longer sustainable.

Religion has, since time immemorial, been used to control the masses, enslaving them into quiet submission – despite the fact that, by definition, religion is a very private, deeply intimate relationship been man and his creator.

In our region, religion is a defining component of our culture and our civilization and its importance and significance cannot be overstated – but we cannot continue to use it as a blanket excuse against moving forward.

The key prerequisites to breaking from our vicious cycle – modernity, intellect and citizenry – are, unfortunately, often misrepresented simply to reinforce the arguments against change.

The key prerequisites to breaking from our vicious cycle – modernity, intellect and citizenry – are, unfortunately, often misrepresented simply to reinforce the arguments against change

Khalid Abdulla-Janahi

Modernity, for example, is not about how short skirts can get, what architectural style we use or which brands we buy. Rather, it is about where we are, as a civilization, relative to the rest of the world. How developed we are – in both our thoughts and in our actions – relative to the modern world.

Part of this modernity is the ability to take a critical look at ourselves, to self-examine and to self-reflect before we look at others. To criticize ourselves before we criticize others.

On the same token, intellect is not about how much we can read, what academic degrees we have or which countries we visit. Rather, it is about how capable we are of processing new thoughts, ideas and opinions. How we respect thoughts that contradict ours, how we handle ideas that are not like ours, and how we react to opinions we don’t agree with.

The same kind of differences separate subjects from citizens and, by extension, rulers from leaders – but, unfortunately, many in the region continue to live in a state of denial.

Across the region, we see people leaving our countries. In some cases, this is creating modern-day ghost buildings, even towns – but, instead of noticing this phenomena and trying to understand and address it, we choose to pretend it isn’t happening. This is an example of the state of denial we choose to live in.

This state of denial leaves us treating anyone who does not completely agree with us as the enemy and effectively cripples us from seeing another’s point of view. This, in turn, denies us the opportunity to allow ourselves the very basic freedom of expression and robs us of any real chance of development, let alone modernity.

As a result, we continue to perpetuate our vicious cycle and stay where we are while the rest of the world continues to move forward. We need to stop using religion to hide, or whatever other excuse we use, and allow a complete cultural shock to happen to the way we think and deal with others.

Ironically, Omar bin Khatab, one of the most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history – who once famously said “since when did you enslave the people though they were born from their mothers in freedom,” – was a lot more modern in the mid-600s than we are today in the twenty-first century.
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Khalid Abdulla-Janahi was elected Vice Chairman of WEF's Arab Business Council (2003 to 2007). He was also the Co-Chair of WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East up to 2011. He is the Group Chief Executive of Dar Al Maal Al Islami, a Chairman of Solidarity Group Holding and the Chairman of Naseej. Khalid is based in Geneva.

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