Ancestral Vices

Stopping evolutionary change is like trying to stop a tsunami with a few bags of sand. It just doesn’t work. I think the rulers of the Middle East recognise that fact, but they think that hiding their heads deep enough in the sand will delay their populace’s recognition of the fact. The majority actually do blindly subscribe to that premise; however, an enlightened few don’t. It is those who are the little insignificant cracks in the dam which ultimately burst it, and create the deluge that would drawn all those who prefer to live in their fallaciously secure imagination, and the only people who will be spared are those who live at the cusp of, encourage, aid and abet that change.

We are really not bad people, us Middle Easterners, we’re just trapped into the turbid waters of historically skewed custom and tradition without strong enough leaders and visionaries to extricate us from our self-sustained quagmires. We are just normal human beings with the same needs, passions, and idiosyncrasies as any in the world. We are just trapped into a spiral of ancient traditions still enforced by those very leaders whose only worry is the continuation of their rule at any cost. It is therefore easier for them to enforce ancient custom rather than question it, and continue the momentum of perceived stability in calm waters rather than plan and even induce required winds of change.

The leaders might be of that mettle, but there is nothing stopping us ourselves from effecting that change. A small nick at a time, a nick that will enable the deluge of change which will take us – probably turbulently – to join the rest of the modern world which has become powerful nations built on the respect of the sanctity of human life.

Until then, of course, we will continue to have judges who sentence a victim to punishment, who separate legally married couples due to perceived tribal class imbalance and imprisoning those who dare to challenge accepted societal norms.

It is people like Abdulrahman Al-Lahem who will ultimately drag our blissfully ignorant societies into the light. It is supermen like him who are the vanguard of change.

There is nothing stopping any of us individually in joining this caravan if we do not want to lead it. All it needs is courage, and we should have plenty of that, if our history is to be believed.

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15 Comments
  • CerebralWaste
    29 December 2006

    Maybe Mahmood the soon to be hanging of the Butcher of Baghdad will be one of those “small nicks”. A little notice to all the other despot “Leaders” in the region that their power is not absolute.

    The countdown to his hanging has begun.

  • Sadek
    29 December 2006

    Mo
    Thank you for publishing the article on Mr. Al-Lahem.
    Proves we haven’t reached a dead-end yet.
    =D

  • milter
    29 December 2006

    I can mention a few more names. How about Samir Kassir , or Ahmad Al-Baghdadi

    Where do they normally end up? Some end up in prison, some have to move to parts of the world where the concepts of “freedom” , “human rights” and “respect for the other” enjoy a wider interpretation. Others finish their lives as victims of fanatics.

    The history of The Middle East has plenty of people like them but somehow they never seem to have much impact. Instead it is people like Hassan Nasrallah, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, Osama bin Laden, Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini and Yusuf al-Qaradawi that most people see as their heroes or role models.

    If that doesn’t change I don’t have much hope for the immidiate future of The Middle East

  • milter
    30 December 2006

    CerebralWaste,

    The hanging of the butcher may already have taken place, the pictures of his falling body and the sound of his neck being broken may already have been recorded.

    Do you believe that is going to make a change to the better? Many despotic leaders like him have had a similar fate in the past without any visible improvements in the fate of the citizens of their countries.

    I understand the feelings that are involved, and I realize I’m not in a position to judge the people who sentenced him. But, don’t you think it would be better to work towards a society where the thought of retribution and revenge did not have such a prominent role?

    I’m not saying that wrongdoings should be left unnoticed, I’m just advocating a more humane and less vindictive response. When actions and feelings like that become officially approved they tend to brutalize the minds of everybody.

  • CerebralWaste
    30 December 2006

    Miter

    The execution of Saddam I think will help Iraq. In the short and long term. It is not the cure. Ultimately Iraqi’s are going to have to step up and take control of their country and put an end to the sectarian violence. A daunting task but I think they can do it. It isn’t going to be easy. For perhaps the first time in history an Arab country has a chance at a democratic form of government.

    I don’t see Saddam’s execution as retribution and revenge so much as I see it being more in line with accountability and your right it is better in general to work towards a more positive end. Saddam directly killed hundreds of thousands of people. Some say as perhaps as a million. Not to mention the torture and rape of countless others. I don’t think you can just toss him into a jail cell to rot with that kind of blood on his hands.

    I am not an overly huge fan of capital punishment, but I think it does have its place in certain circumstances. If anyone deserves to hang from the neck until dead Saddam does. And to that I hope he burns in hell.

  • A learner of Arabic
    30 December 2006

    The history of The Middle East has plenty of people like them but somehow they never seem to have much impact. Instead it is people like Hassan Nasrallah, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, Osama bin Laden, Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini and Yusuf al-Qaradawi that most people see as their heroes or role models.

    Maybe that is just a kind of hallucination. I mean, people like those get the headlines in the West, because the Muslim Menace sells newspapers. But at the same time, the dam is really cracking. It’s just that we cannot hear it yet.

  • docspencer
    30 December 2006

    Right on Mahmood!!

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing!”
    Edmund Burke 1729-1797, Irish philosopher and statesman

    Unfortunately we have too many such people. Still. Good people who are too afraid to stand up and say something against the butchers who act against the innocent using the name of Allah. Some are even Imams.

    That is what I find most surprising in the Middle East.

    On the other hand you have some real heros that bring hope. Like the Saudi attorney, Abdulrahman A., you quoted. Outstanding man of great courage. May God/Allah help him and protect him all his life.

    Best wishes for Eid,

    Vic

  • mahmood
    30 December 2006

    milter, my advice is to go out and enjoy the scenery, and stop looking for a terrorist or at least people of ill-will in every circumstance. We are not all ogres.

    I disagree with the categorisation of some of the people you mentioned as some of those, you might not agree with their stances as I might not, but that does not give me or you the right to disregard them completely or categorise them as universally bad. Doing so would just make fools of us.

    I have noticed in your various writings that you err more towards the belief that there isn’t any hope for us in the Middle East or the larger Muslim world. I completely disagree with you and invite you to open up your mind a bit more to the various good that is all around us.

    Regardless of what you think, and what your prejudices are, there is nothing that would stop us eventually reaching our own version of nirvana, which you will find is not much different than yours.

    It will happen, and it will happen sooner with optimism.

  • milter
    31 December 2006

    Mahmood,

    I’m not looking for terrorists.

    I’m looking for ways of getting out of the condition where articles about people like Abdulrahman Al-Lahem and his cases get into the newspapers.

    You write:

    I have noticed in your various writings that you err more towards the belief that there isn’t any hope for us in the Middle East or the larger Muslim world. I completely disagree with you and invite you to open up your mind a bit more to the various good that is all around us.

    What I wrote was:

    If that doesn’t change I don’t have much hope for the immidiate future of The Middle East

    I also remember objecting to a very pessimistic view from somebody else in a different thread, that the transformation in The Middle East was going to take centuries. I remarked that you could learn from the mistakes of others.

    You talk about “the various good that is all around us”. I see that good in the individual person to person relationship and I enjoyed that very much during my years in Bahrain. I saw some values and attitudes that I miss here in my own country.

    My pessimism comes from watching the growth of the political power of religious groups in various guises. If you believe that religion should play a dominant role in politics, then that’s OK. But don’t expect to see a more liberal or tolerant regime arise from that. History has shown that combination to be a very disasterous one, no matter how “just” and “peaceful” it claims to be.

    You also write:

    I disagree with the categorisation of some of the people you mentioned as some of those, you might not agree with their stances as I might not, but that does not give me or you the right to disregard them completely or categorise them as universally bad. Doing so would just make fools of us.

    I’m not categorizing them as “universally bad”, although I see some of them as agitators for a very hostile attitude towards “the other”. My main point is that their views and interpretations should not be used for political means.

    It all boils down to one question, should religion and politics be completely separated or not?

  • mahmood
    31 December 2006

    To answer your last question, most definitely. As far as I am concerned religion should be completely separated from politics. Religion to me is a very good moral code (without the killing and maiming parts and all that) but as far as modern governance is concerned it is most definitely outdated and has no current place in that governance. It most certainly can “taint” the constitution if you like, but when it comes to laws it should not be considered.

    That is why my personal objection to seeing any religious cleric or whoever wants to rule through parliament or any other institution by using religious instruments. Those, with due respect, belong in cultural centres and religious houses of worship, not in government regardless of their pragmatism and scientific or financial or any other “modern” qualification. If they want to exclusively use the latter’s knowledge to enrich the rule, then that’s all fine; however, if they then bring in religious doctrine, no matter how slight, into law-making, they should be removed from parliament and led gently but very resolutely to the closest house of worship they subscribe to.

    However, unfortunately the societies that I live in for the most part do not share my beliefs in this regards, and no wars nor summary executions are going to change their minds to come more toward my way of thinking; what will change their minds however, or at least have a better success rate at doing so, are strong (intellectually) leaders who could show them how separating the two can be ultimately beneficial for everyone concerned.

    We lack that leadership now and have done for hundreds of years. Our “leaders” now are more concerned with amassing personal and tribal wealth than they are in taxing their brains in finding ways of better governance and raising their “subjects'” living standards, and the religious folk play into their hands rather well in keeping that vision and also providing excuses for its permanence!

  • playertwo
    1 January 2007

    hey there MO!
    great blog! love your energy and common sense.
    that just about says it all but this is blogging so I gotta ad:

    the muslim menace isnt what gets us in the west so much as the piling on of another layer of pc invulnerability the latest group brings to the battle for freedom.
    muslims are seen as anti proactive and another immigrant group refusing to melt in the pot.
    but none of that matters if islam reforms right in front our eyes.

    how many thousands of nukes are the muslims pointing at the US?
    when I was a kid the russians and other commies seemed so entrenched and unchangeable that dreamers of a world like we live in now wouldve been laughed at or locked up in a nuthouse.
    I guess the changes are just too vast for people to admit too.
    and the speed of change is speeding up faster and faster.
    the entire star wars and star trek stories were written without including the internet. think about it…
    Can you imagine the world without it?

    do you really think the mullahs and “royal families” stand a chance?

    I respect the tradition of other religions, but not when they are blatantly vicious. as the muslim world gets more and exposure to the world they will change just like the world that was behind the iron curtain. that same iron curtain so many people staked their entire reputations on saying it wouldnt fall, ever..

    what the muslim world needs is positive images of personally responsible individuals so that the mullahs cant drag minds back into the pit by saying that the west is all about horrible drugs, porno and death.
    it really is about public relations and images.

    muslims feel a need to be superior because they are being asked to hit the ground running, we need milk before we eat meat and now is that time for being really cool with people whenever we can so we dont give them cause to relapse into the oh so secure fantasy land.

    Again, we have a glaring example right in front of us of how quickly things can change. so glaring its hard to admit. how many celebrations for the falling of the berlin wall are there? almost none, but we hold our breath every june 6th or december 7th?!!

    things should be so confusing..

    we are dealing with a gigantic number of people that are scared and convinced that the jew loving west is going to come and evaporate their way of life. the muslim world has their “freedom menace” too, but both menaces are actually facts of the human condition we can only remove through tireless devotion to God’s Love and each other as siblings.

    if someone walked up to you in 2000 and told you that in 7 years Saddam would be hanged and a freely elected parliament would be arguing over the future of Iraq would you have believed them?!!

    imagine what the next 7 years will bring?

    Go Man Go!! And don’t think for a second the Man Upstairs doenst see what youre doing and that he doesnt have your back.

    Happy New Year!!

  • docspencer
    2 January 2007

    Playertwo, you said: “what the muslim world needs is positive images of personally responsible individuals so that the mullahs cant drag minds back into the pit by saying that the west is all about horrible drugs, porno and death. it really is about public relations and images.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Islam is at a PR disadvantage in that bad news sells, and our and Europe’s liberal media tends to not publish the positive things from this region. Also Middle Eastern organizations do not seem to have a PR program in place to correct for this difference. They should in my opinion. Outsiders’ perception is that important in resolving common problems.

    Mahmood, having said that, I don’t understand why Islamic terrorists kill innocent people. And I have an even bigger problem with understanding why Shia and Sunni Muslims commit such barbaric acts against each other, and destroy architectural treasures like the Golden Mosque. They use the same Koran and same Hadiths, aren’t they? I am assuming that they do. Surely the Imams bear great responsibility on both sides for this. If so, who can fix this huge problem? This is creating a huge image problem for the Middle East and its people, making you look real bad through the communications media of the rest of the world.

    Would appreciate some thoughts about why this is and what’s being done about it.

  • mahmood
    2 January 2007

    I don’t understand why Islamic terrorists kill innocent people […]

    That is not a subject for only a book, or a movie. It’s a subject for volumes of work and thousands of hours of documentaries and research that I cannot begin to start answering your questions.

    Actually, I made quite a start on this in the more than 2,400 posts I’ve written so far, and will continue to write.

    My personal interpretation of this madness is that they (the terrorists – note I didn’t say whether they are Shi’a or Sunni or timbuctuist, as far as terrorism go, they’re all as bad as each other) target a person or a group and whoever is unfortunate enough to fall dead because of their operations are deemed – by the very same terrorists – as martyrs who will be compensated for their death by chance by life hereafter in Heaven and in the bosom of Allah. So – to the terrorists again – their lives are not really wasted, they just expedited and indeed ensured their ascendancy to Heaven.

    So what’s our problem with that? They did good after all!

    Do you see how sick this phenomenon is?

    Now how would you change the terrorists’ minds when the interpretation of the Quran and Hadiths support their points of view fully? Would there ever be a cleric who would dare to re-interpret these ingrained beliefs as wrongs?

    No of course not. So what’s the solution?

    I’m still looking for it. But two things are in my mind, disassociate religion from politics and cancel that stupid idea of blindly following a leader “because he was chosen by Allah” as in “Ulu Al-Amr”, and that my friend is another minefield.

  • playertwo
    2 January 2007

    ya know, I live in a country that is chock full of people that I have nothing to do with, and we tend to stay off each others’ backs for one simple reason: jail sucks.
    now if one takes the position that eventually all tis violence will be controlled by the cops like in n.ireland (cf.”big boys’rules”, great book about the troubles and iraq’s maybe future?)then basic simple rules are needed to bring success.
    unfortunately for the ME, these rules are desperately needed at the same time that they are being eroded in the free world.
    in a nutshell I’m talking about the empire of reason and the rule of law.
    the only that has ever brought this system in has been violence as those that stand to lose with not give it up without a fight.
    hate us all you want, but it seems that the US and the cotw are the only ones willing to take this final move.
    what we are then asked to do is back up their acts with words of reason and hope.
    one person is fighting for freedom and two are either fighting against them or sitting it all out on the fence.
    this is what is bringing the war about, its two on one.
    the only other way that seems to have any effect is to buy them off, but only after they split.
    this only works on enemies that cant fight back like liberia’s “president” or idi amin types.
    nope, the ME has to get on board with their own networks and media sources like memri.com and fight the liberal press to get their message out or the newyorktimes will bury you.

    sometimes the world can seem very crappy, but there is a way out of this mess and it starts by talking. a lot.

  • Ethan
    7 January 2007

    Would there ever be a cleric who would dare to re-interpret these ingrained beliefs as wrongs?

    The problem, Mahmood, as I have always claimed is not that the interpretation is wrong, but that the interpretation is perhaps right.

    Hundreds of hadiths support a violent and repressive Islam, constantly vying to convert the world by the sword in one hand and doublespeak in the other. Fourteen hundred years of interpretation cannot be overturned in a fortnight.

    This is not to say that there have not been sects that have been -less- violent or more inclusive (such as Sufism). They have, however been minorities.

    Violent Islam is the easy road, Mahmood. It’s a faith without thought, when you can kill people and always be right with God. You can take sex slaves from captured women and children and abuse them and be right with God. You can hate and seethe wrapped up in white cloth and a holy demeanor and that hypocracy is alright with God. This Islam takes everything uncivilized, ungodly and easy about being human and ties it together in an explosive bundle.

    Untangling violence from Islam may untangle Islam. I have maintained that stance for years. Understanding that is key to realizing why this war will never end in a good way.

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