August 9, 2018 No.

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Editor Ghassan Charbel To The Arabs: Get On Board The Train Of Progress, Stop Clinging To Your Glorious Past

In an article titled "Rescue Your Descendants, Don't Avenge Your Ancestors" in the Saudi London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the paper's editor-in-chief, Ghassan Charbel, wrote that instead of clinging to the glorious accomplishments in Muslim history, the Arabs should learn from the countries of Europe, which, after two world wars that destroyed them, chose peaceful coexistence and cooperation, thus achieving prosperity and political stability. He went on to call for allowing young Arabs to benefit from the great technological developments of our age for the good of their own countries' economy and stability, instead of wearing them out by sending them to fight pointless wars.  

Ghassan Charbel (Source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 9, 2018)

The following are translated excerpts of Charbel's article:[1]

"The more you try to escape it, [as you are] en route from San Francisco to Paris, the more the question arises in your mind: 'When will the Arab have a modern, contemporary city that takes part in creating its future? When will he have a city that is full of life, that has a developed economy, educational [system], and services – a city [in which] the citizen can live an ordinary life, that meets his needs and respects him as a human being?

"In San Francisco, you have the sense that the future of the world is being built here, with tremendous investment, unbridled imagination, and exceptional ability to invent and develop. It is as if the people of these great societies are the poets of the future, creating a reality that once seemed impossible, expanding the borders of intelligence and knowledge, and changing the economy and the lives of the people, the culture, and all aspects of life on the face of the earth.

"The wars for the future are waged aggressively and uncompromisingly; the numbers have no mercy, you must succeed and you must profit. Failure means dropping out of the race. The failure of your society means that it will disappear... Only the best swimmer and creator of ideas avoids [drowning in] the waves; [there is] no [room] for softness or laziness...

"Once, it was army generals who [drew] the maps and determined the fate of countries. That time has passed. Today, your fate is in the hands of the generals of Silicon Valley – Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and others. Don't try to shirk benefiting [from progress] on the pretext that you belong to a different world. You are part of the global village, like it or not. The later you are to join integrate doesn't work well in English in this context the whirlwind of progress, the more it will cost you to join [it]. We have no choice but to join [the whirlwind of progress]. Any other option means that you become a burden to the world, that you are left on the platform, that your economy is archaic, and that your cities are aging even faster. Your country must join [this progress], or everything in it will be turned back – from the universities, through the hospitals and the military, to the postal service. It would be a great mistake to try to cover [up we Arabs' technological backwardness] by clinging to the glorious achievements of [our] history. The winner will be the one who writes future history – not the one clinging to the past.

"I am not saying that it will be an easy journey, and that boarding the train [of progress] will not lead to rifts [among us]. But there is experience that we can learn from. Europe has already been through what the Middle East is experiencing now. There emerged [in Europe] some who deluded themselves that they had [been granted] absolute authority by the spirit of the nation or from the depth of [the nation's] history – boundless authority allowing them to force their [own] color on the planet, to elevate one nation and abandon another, to empower one race over the rest of the races, to spread one culture and to eradicate another. [They thought they had] the authority to erase international borders and play with maps and demographic balances, to carry out deep surgical operations on cities, and to play with [these cities'] function, history, and present. [This] authority was based on subjugating or erasing the other, because [for them] coexistence was an obstacle, or impossible.

"Europe saw sights it did not expect to see. It saw Adolph Hitler display his arrogance on the Champs Elysees, after it saw Europeans thronging [to Spain] and dividing themselves among the barricades of the Spanish Civil War. [It] saw convoys of immigrants and displaced people, scorched neighborhoods, and capital cities full of fear and disorder; it saw from up close repression, oppression, and horror, and the tearing asunder of countries and families. The old continent [of Europe] was the arena of the spark of two world wars, but the cannon eventually fell silent, and from the piles of corpses and the rivers of blood the European had to reach a decision about what would help him ensure that there would be no repeat of this tragedy. He had to decide whether to utilize the armistice to prepare for a new war, or to arrange conditions for coexistence. Coexistence does not neutralize the disputes, but it prohibits the use of war as a means of solving them.

"In centuries past, Europe saw all types of wars – wars for roles and for control [of the regions]; religious wars and wars among religious schools of thought; and wars of elimination, displacement, and elimination of identity. After two most terrible world wars, it realized that the future is not built with stones form the past. Had it surrendered to the rationale of open vengeance, the cascade of French and German blood would still be overflowing; had it surrendered to the curse of memory, French and British ships would still be firing missiles at each other, stained with seamen's blood.

"Europe was submerged in blood, tears, and piles [of corpses], and was full of widows, orphans, and unemployed. Its cities were badly damaged and its economies had collapsed. The overwhelming sense was that Europe had learned nothing from the first world war, and had again descended into hell. [Following World War II,] its politicians, diplomats, and writers had to choose the direction in which they were headed – and chose to bid farewell to the lexicon that had generated catastrophe. They chose stability, rehabilitation, and coexistence, for the continent and within its countries. Despite the continent's division following [World War II], the Europeans did not allow themselves to slide into [another] war that would likely, this time, destroy the entire world, not only Europe.

"Europe began to develop the option of stability, and found prosperity. It turned the international border fences into gates for the passage of people, goods, and ideas, striving for economic cooperation, political coordination, and cooperation in tackling problems. Thus, your neighbor was no longer your enemy, but your partner, and together you strove to expand the areas of cooperation... This is a solution of competition instead of war, cooperation instead of clashes. Disputes were resolved under careful preservation of stability and aspiration for prosperity. Considered policy took the place of an unconsidered policy of assault...

"There is only one solution: You must be part of the world that is moving towards the future. You must learn, practice, and adapt; you must allow your fingers and your imagination free rein; you must allow your countrymen to benefit from the phenomenal technological developments, so that they can improve your economy, preserve your stability, and prepare conditions for your prosperity; you must guarantee the younger generation's capabilities and save it from the wars of ancient history and from pointless attrition in them.

"Do not try to escape the challenges by seeking refuge in the deep recesses of time. Others have history that parallels or surpasses your own, and had they surrendered to dwelling on the past, Vienna would not Vienna, Berlin would not be Berlin, and Paris would not be Paris. Joining the future saves your history from oblivion, and makes it into fuel for the train of progress. Do not delay and do not hesitate; this is your battle, and you must rescue your descendants, not avenge your ancestors."


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 9, 2018.