One of the characteristics of the Arab nation, which distinguishes it from other nations, is the nostalgia it harbors for the past. The past is regarded as beautiful or at least better than the present, as the latter is filled with the fear of the unknown. However, the question is: Was this past always beautiful in all its details, or is it at least better than the present if we look at it without the lens of romanticism?
I am over 60 years old now. Thus, I have witnessed part of the past, and now I find that the past, at least for us in Saudi Arabia, was not as beautiful and as full of benefits when we compare it to the standard of living and services we are enjoying now. The level of modern luxury, services and amenities have made life like heaven for us compared to what we had experienced in the past. Maybe when a person is young and then gradually enters old age, he feels nostalgic about his youth — when he was active and vigorous, able to overcome life’s problems, but this is not because of the times, but due to physiological differences in the stages of human life.
Therefore, we need to be realistic and say that the past which some describe as beautiful is not like this at all. The present and the achievements we have made now are far better at various levels when compared with the past which was mostly insufferable, full of diseases and epidemics and fraught with difficulties of life, making life miserable in every sense of the word.
The level of modern luxury, services and amenities have made life like heaven for us compared to what we had experienced in the past.Mohammed Al Shaikh
For the youth to know about this past which old people praise and feel nostalgic about, one can visit small towns in the African jungle, where people live in houses made of clay infested with insects and deprived of basic amenities. They should ask themselves: Can we live in such conditions? Riyadh in the 1960s and early 70s was very similar to these urban areas.
The beautiful past that some of the elderly feel nostalgic about and master describing its simplicity and the purity of its people back then is a mere illusion and a conception of dreams that never existed. The development which Saudi Arabia has witnessed in the past four decades with all its positives and negatives is far better in all fields from the underdeveloped past we have lived in.
I would have given you examples of living conditions in the past in Riyadh where I was born and where I lived my entire life if there’s enough space here. Why fake the facts and present an angelic image of an ideal past that was not like that at all? Our present, by all means, is far better than the miserable and poor past, which was poor in every sense of the word.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd