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by Karam Helou
Saturday, May. 31, 2003 at 11:04 AM
Liberalism is the main feature for the change that is underway in our present world. And unless the Arabs realize that fact, they will not be able to accompany time.
Liberalism And The Arab World's Crisis
Karam Helou, Al-Hayat, 2003/05/29
In his article on the difficulty of being an Arab liberal (May 16), Hazem Saghieh examines the impasse that Arab liberals have reached, almost two centuries after the shock of modernity and the liberal notions that accompanied it. In a sense of frustration, Saghieh maintains that it is uncommon to be liberal in the Arab world today because the prevailing environment is simply anti-liberal.
It is as if the Arabs on the outset of the 21st century continue to face the social, political and intellectual problems they faced in the Middle Ages. A critical review of the achievements of the past two centuries is frustrating.
The Arab liberals called for the supremacy of reason and its right to question, accept, object and interpret, and in the right of man to change all that conflicts with his interest and human dignity, as well as with the right to determine his own future. But ever since the last century, there has been a collapse of reason and a defeat of critical thinking.
Arab liberals advocated the superiority of individual freedoms to ensure a dignified life, but the totalitarian and tribal regimes across the Arab world have deny the individual his freedom and turn him into an insignificant number at the service of a dominant ruling few.
Arab liberals called for a civil society in which individuals are citizens and not subjects, and where society is governed by civil bonds, and not by tribal and sectarian ties. But after almost a century and a half, the Arabs are still governed by tribal and sectarian societies.
The Arab liberal urged the establishment of justice and public good. But instead, we have tyrannical states where justice and public good are ignored.
The liberals called for social and economic justice, but a generation embracing socialism prevailed. The result is that we have 100 million poor and illiterate people, and wealth is in the hands of a few.
Arab liberals demanded constitutional democracy, yet what prevails in the Arab world is a system where rulers are not bound by constitutions and parliaments that are appointed by the rulers.
The Arab liberal labored to replace tribal regimes with civil societies, but what we have today are Arab parties and organizations in the image of tribes.
The Arab liberal urged the emulation of Western democracy and to view as an inspiration for scientific, social and political advancements. But the Arab relations with the West remains in crisis to the extent that some yearn for the days of the Ottoman Empire and considers modernity a trap in which "our distinguished civilization" fell.
Thus, Arab liberalism has always been contrary to the prevailing norm and many of its advocates have paid with their lives for their ideas. Moreover, the fundamentalists are not the only ones to blame for the suffering of the Arab liberals. Arabs in general have never accepted the idea of modernization and all have waged war against it.
Liberalism is the main feature for the change that is underway in our present world. And unless the Arabs realize that fact, they will not be able to accompany time. It is time to review the ideologies that have dominated the Arab mind and assumed the state of holiness within Arab cultures. Such ideologies have been exposed for the forgeries they are. The only hope for the Arabs to rebuild their history is to realize these facts.
This demands proposing liberalism once again as the solution for the Arab crisis. It is no longer possible to postpone the implementation of democracy at a time when the world is witnessing a change toward democracy at all levels. It is not possible for the Arabs to maintain their closed state of mind while the world is undergoing an information revolution which threatens to undermine all prevailing values. Moreover, it is no longer possible to ignore the rights of Arab women in facilitating change, nor is it possible to rule the Arab peoples by oppression.
Mr. Helou is an Arab writer.
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