Following are excerpts from a TV debate on the state of the youth in the Arab world, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on May 8, 2007.
Ahmad Al-Shater, Chairman of the Arab Students Union: The youth I refer to is the fighting youth in Palestine, the youth that commits martyrdom every day in defense of the land of Iraq - the land of deep-rootedness, the cradle of literacy. It is the youth that defeated that empire, that great Zionist lie in South Lebanon. It is the Arab youth that is fighting in Somalia, and that fought in Libya, in Syria, in the Golan Heights, in Sudan, and in every free place in this homeland.
Syrian author Nidhal Naisa: The people who go and blow themselves up here and there, and try to kill themselves here and there, are a bunch of unemployed people. My colleague talked about university graduates... The university produces jobless people who go from the gates of the university to the gates of the foreign embassies – the embassies of "the infidels," "the Crusaders," and "the descendents of apes and pigs," whom my colleague wants to fight.
If you gave these young people a $500 salary, a home, and a wife, they wouldn't blow themselves up, and might not even read the first chapter of the Koran.
The pan-Arab movements that have taken over the Arab nation forced a certain ideology upon the Arab citizens, upon the Arab youth, and they follow this ideology like sheep. When the youth encountered globalization, they found themselves new breathing space. The Arab youth runs away from confronting [reality]. They run away to the virtual worlds of reality TV and the Internet.
Don't you feel ashamed that out of the 500 leading universities worldwide, there isn't a single Arab university? What are you people doing about this? Among the 500 leading universities in the world, there is no Arab university, no Arab institute.
These are not universities. In the words of my friend Faysal, these are taming cages, corrals in which you confine people and teach them some slogans, and they clap their hands, and that's it.
Faysal Al-Qassem, host: Isn't it unfair to describe the distinguished Arab universities as cages, pounds, and corrals?
Nidhal Naisa: What have they produced, Faysal? Have they produced a bomb with which to fight those "infidels" and "Crusaders"?
Faysal Al-Qassem: You mean in inverted commas...
Nidhal Naisa: Of course. Have you produced anything? What have you produced? Even an aspirin pill you import from the West to this day. Even bread and medicine you import. What have you been doing at these universities? This indicates that these universities are not centers of production, but cages and corrals.
With regard to those wretched people who are deluded by the religious scholars and preachers – if they were not brought up in this terrorist environment, an environment that makes people ignorant and superficial, and turns them into bombs...
Faysal Al-Qassem: Is it conceivable to say that the Arab environment is a terrorist environment?
Nidhal Naisa: Of course. If these people had been brought up he had grown up in an environment supporting human rights and love for the "other," an environment that glorifies love and brotherhood, rather than killing, we wouldn't be seeing these... People have turned into time bombs. Why? Because the horizons of these people are blocked.
Dr. Faysal, the ruling authorities, the current dictatorships, have a monopoly on power, on politics, on natural resources, and on everything. There are no sports clubs, no Internet cafes, or places people can go to. There is nothing but hell on earth, so a person goes and throws himself in this hell. If there was a proper sports club where he could release his youthful energy, he wouldn't go to Afghanistan, brother. It is the nature of human beings to love life, but the blocked horizons, the persecution, the oppression, and the exploitation turn a human being into a time bomb, and make him blow himself up [in order to kill] the "other." The culture of hostility towards the "other" is what has caused this.
What do you have to say about the 70 million illiterate...
Faysal Al-Qassem: Most of whom are youth...
Nidhal Naisa: They are all youth, and they are unemployed. What do you have to say about them? When a person realized that he is illiterate and jobless, what is left for him to do?
There is a horrible decline in values and knowledge, Dr. Faysal.
Faysal Al-Qassem: Among the youth...
Nidhal Naisa: This decline is evident in... Take, for example, that show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." This shows demonstrates the degree of decline in values and knowledge in these societies. With all due respect to the host of the show, this isn't the issue... He sits opposite that "genius" guest, who came from I don't know where. They bring this young "genius" guest, and he brings along his wife and his whole tribe. They sit the guest down opposite the host, who asks him: "What is the capital of Egypt -is it Cairo, Mairo, Fairo, or Makro?" The "genius" scratches his head, and says: "Could you please eliminate two answers?" The host eliminates two answers, and leaves Cairo and Mairo. Then he says: "Can I please phone a friend?" He phones a friend, and the whole neighborhood comes over...
Faysal Al-Qassem: It's not as bad as that, Nidhal.
Nidhal Naisa: I swear, Dr. Faysal, it happens with even more idiotic questions.
Ahmad Al-Shater: Mr. Nidhal, what do you have to say to an Arab girl who accidentally presses the remote control to switch from one Arab channel to another, and up pops a satellite channel showing a woman – and I apologize in advance to the viewers for saying this – a prostitute having sex with three men, including one from the jungles of Africa – those people you mocked...
Nidhal Naisa: What's this got to do with anything?
Ahmad Al-Shater: This is the new language of the people who want to foist these things upon the nation. They want the language of sex, TV channels, dancing, and destroying the minds of the youth. They want to create a generation that has nothing to do with its nation, its homeland, its parents, and its forefathers.
Nidhal Naisa: Whoever commits martyrdom in vain and blows himself up in Palestine, only to see the punks of Hamas and Fatah fighting each another – for the sake of what cause and at what cost did he do this?
Faysal Al-Qassem: You call them punks?
Nidhal Naisa: They fight each other live on TV and in front of people, those Fatah and Hamas members, and cause themselves more casualties than Israel did. What would you call them? Heroes?