London: More than just a Cosmopolitan City!

My earliest first-hand experience of true freedom of expression dates back a few decades, when I heard a British citizen delivering a speech attacking Queen Elisabeth II personally at London’s Hyde Park Corner. I was keen to leave the crowd quickly, worried that the London police would arrest the speaker along with the audiences who had lent him their ears! In the following years, I advanced my knowledge about how freedom of expression operates in the United Kingdom, which has become home to many Arab critics and extremists.

A cosmopolitan city is often defined as a city that accommodates people who come from diversified cultural backgrounds and whose citizens are known to be broad-minded! However, London certainly is much more than a cosmopolitan city that hosts many ethnic and religious sects who tend to be hardliners and a few of whom are certainly extremists – a category of people that I used to think only emerged in totalitarian nations that constrain citizens’ freedom.

The United Kingdom’s success in accommodating all of these nationalities is probably due to its strict application of rule of law. However, strong law enforcement has no impact on Londoners’ manners, which have certainly changed over the years to adapt to the new habits that naturally come with the integration of new immigrants. During a recent visit to the city, I was astonished to see a native English customer jump a queue to proceed with his transaction, claiming that he was in hurry – a behavior that I had never encountered before in my long experience with the city.

London is a second home for roughly 300,000 Arabs and it receives another one and half million Arab visitors in the summer. The great number of people who speak Arabic, the halal food offered in many food outlets that even carry Arabic language signs and the availability of shisha somehow give London the appearance of an ‘Arab city’ situated in Europe. During an unpleasant occasion when I was visiting a hospital in London, I was surprised to hear the Muslim call to prayer coming from a hospital personnel’s mobile phone and I eventually found a prayer mat in the hospital’s waiting room.

In recent years, London, sadly, has confronted many terrorist attacks that were committed by the newcomers to the city, which made me wonder why terrorism flourishes in this innovative, entrepreneurial city. Aside from the fact that I condemn terrorism, I don’t know why terrorists attempt to carry out their devilish acts in the city that offers them home, assimilates them as part of a harmonized community and in many cases offers them financial aid to enable them to live decently.

The United Kingdom’s readiness to engage many ethnic immigrants in its political structure should logically conclude in the dissolution of all kinds of extremists – which is not the case! Did these extremists manage to conceal their ugly side when processing their documents to enter to the country, or did their fanaticism develop after they had moved in? The United Kingdom’s political environment has enabled Sadiq Khan, the descendant of a working-class British Pakistani family, to become Mayor of London and there are 15 Muslim members in the British parliament.

Meanwhile, I am unaware of any British-Arabs who have become significantly involved in their new nation’s politics! Do we Arabs prefer to spend our time socializing rather than truly engaging in politics? Why do Arabs tend to break the law and engage in violent activities in a nation that offers us a clear structure to pursue any goal peacefully? If it were my call, I would prompt the British government to work on restoring the manners of Londoners by firmly applying the rule of law, regardless of citizens’ backgrounds. Seeing London gradually loose its original exemplary behavior and good manners is a shame.

I am completely unclear about the best method to apply to reduce terrorism! I often criticize my country, Egypt’s, repressive policy towards extremists and highly value a nation like the United Kingdom that applies rule of law strictly. However, terrorist activities have taken place in both nations equally. Our Universe is certainly in need of a clear and common strategy for fighting terrorism that is rapidly spreading across every part of the world, with the aim of unleashing its hatred onto innocent civilians.

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The Myth of Western Supremacy and its ‘Invisible Hands’

Life is a matter of perception and in our eastern world, reality is observed as legend! We are not only strong believers in conspiracy theory; we tend to manifest this belief in what many define as an “Invisible Hand” i.e. one or more nations that work through extremely covert but highly effective means, smoothly steering other targeted countries in the directions they desire. Meanwhile, western citizens are living with their own myth: a belief in their supremacy, born out of a mistaken conviction that being citizens of advanced nations makes them superior.

Easterners who revere the “Invisible Hand” theory certainly miss the point that most western interferences in our part of the world occur through overt, quite visible means! Beginning with the “Balfour Declaration” issued a century ago and up to the present day wherein western nations play a dominant role in most of the ongoing crises in non-western countries, the global political leverage of western nations has enabled westerners to explicitly impose many of their viewpoints, on developing nations for the most part.

Life is constituted of many variables that interact with one another in unforeseen ways and that often lead to unexpected outcomes, which eventually re-emerge in another set of variables, and so on. Easterners’ belief in the ability of a nation or an entity to manage those variables to achieve specific results is an utterly naïve attitude that has been preventing us from digesting world dynamics and working on resolving our domestic challenges.

Westerners have many positive attributes that stem from their superior system of education (working hard to earn their incomes, logical thinking etc.) that are missing in non-westerns and that allow them to enjoy a modern and advanced standard of living. Additionally, they are a culturally straightforward people who tend to clearly express their goals, which are not necessarily always legitimate or moral. Their openness is an essential part of their culture. However, supremacy is an exaggerated designation, a label that should not be affixed to westerners or to any other ethnic group.

The willingness of eastern nations to cooperate with western ones on many economic and political matters dispels the “invisible hand” myth – unless someone cares to claim that the “invisible hand of the West” is forcing this cooperation. Furthermore, if the invisible hand is such an effective tool, why aren’t non-western nations using it, especially in light of the large number of their citizens who live in the West?

Life is driven by power and influence. Western nations are powerful; thus, they tend to work on achieving their goals – softly initially and eventually, if their power enables them to do so, forcibly. Western interference in Libya best portrays the curve of hard and soft power that the West has been exercising over the last few years in that country, along with its denial of any responsibility towards Libyan citizens. Nevertheless, the recent events in Libya and other nations are clearly visible, overt acts.

We non-western nations are left only with the influence option, which we are reluctant to put into practice for unknown reasons. Through the U.N. Security Council, the world is politically structured to favor a total of five nations (those who have the privilege of using the veto mechanism) over the entire world. However, if non-western nations were to effectively expand the use of the influence tool, they could easily exert pressure on these powerful countries.

We citizens of eastern nations often want to blame the West for many of our problems; thus, we came up with the ‘invisible hand’ theory. This concept actually exists, but contrary to what many of us believe, it is certainly not as far-reaching or as effective as to be behind every single crisis. For their part, many westerners tend to accept this notion implicitly and quietly, because it boosts their egos, particularly as related to their belief in their supremacy. In the eastern world, we live with both false perceptions that support one another – but the two are obviously myths.

 

 

Why can’t the developing world recover faster from terrorism?

Terrorism is the most horrifying ordeal ever experienced in human history! Witnessing the assassination of innocent civilians, either at the hands of a mentally sick person or for political reasons that they have nothing to do with, permanently traumatizes victims and those close to them. Nevertheless, why is it that universal citizens tend to overcome terrorist attacks that happen in advanced nations faster than attacks that occur in developing ones, whose economies continue to be adversely affected for years after each terrorist attack?

On average, the terrorist attacks that have taken place over the last few years in cosmopolitan cities such as London, Paris and New York certainly exceed (in number and magnitude) those that have occurred in Cairo! Nevertheless, tourists and business people are quick to turn the page on these tragic incidents and to resume their tourism activities or business trips to western destinations, whereas in Egypt the entire nation suffers for years in the wake of a terrorist incident as the number of visitors drops substantially and tourists desert many Egyptian cities completely.

The rapid recovery from terrorist incidents in Western nations can probably be associated with a single word – trust. Universal citizens believe that, as a rule, Western nations’ governments do their utmost to secure their citizens and visitors to their countries. Conversely, they perceive the governments of developing nations as having a laidback attitude that does little to inspire their confidence. Moreover, people nowadays associate terrorism with developing nations, convinced that the deformed environments in these countries give rise to the emergence of terrorism (although the fact that many terrorists come from Western nations contradicts this notion).

When a terrorist attack occurs in Egypt, our government’s initial reaction is to deny any responsibility – a typically Egyptian “it wasn’t me” bureaucratic attitude. The government then tends to release information (often a mix of facts and fiction) bit by bit. The denial factor, combined with the refusal to admit responsibility for the emergence of terrorists on our soil or to acknowledge the shortcomings of our security measures, gives a negative impression to developed nations and their citizens, who refrain from visiting our country.

In Western nations, on the other hand, governments tend to recognize the deficiencies related to their security measures and, to some extent, to the emergence of native terrorists. After each tragic incident, a government team is assigned with multitasks that address the crisis from different angles. This kind of openness and transparency strengthens the trust that binds developed nations and universal citizens.

Furthermore, in advanced nations where the international media are allowed to undertake full-fledged coverage of terrorist events people are able to learn exactly what has happened, as opposed to the situation in developing nations where journalists are kept away from terrorist crime scenes and pressurized into publishing accounts that the government believes won’t hurt its position. Not surprisingly, the type of policy adopted by developing nations prompts many to speculate about the true story.

Sadly, many developed Western nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, are overusing their travel alert policies to discourage their citizens from visiting countries viewed as terrorism targets. This is perceived as a political tool rather than a genuine effort to protect citizens. Politics should not play any role in combating terrorism, a threat that the entire world is confronting.

In my view, neither advanced nations nor developing ones are tackling the core of the terrorism challenge. Most of the targeted countries are not working on reducing potential terrorists’ motivation to kill innocent civilians and engage in more terrorist activity. Nevertheless, the openness of the developed countries in dealing with this tragedy helps to strengthen the trust factor that they already have and that is lacking in developing nations.

Terrorism is a universal threat; it has the capacity to strike any nation, irrespective of its political position. Its proponents claim success when they expand their attacks and kill greater numbers of innocent civilians, no matter where their victims happen to reside! Terrorists tend to target our political shortcomings; we therefore need to unite to address this challenge in a professional manner, independently of politics. Developing nations such as Egypt must adopt an attitude of openness and transparency in tackling this threat, thereby generating and developing the trust factor that we currently lack.

Bikini vs. Burkini – Beyond Physical Appearance!

The image of a woman in a ‘Burkini’ (a swimming costume that hides the entire body) lying on a beach next to a woman in a Bikini trying to expose most of her body to the sea and sun may be perceived either as incongruous or as a matter of personal preference. The scene also tests our tolerance (the acceptance of both behaviors, or the refusal of neither). Whereas the personal freedom that westerners enjoy is all-encompassing and comprehensive, as Easterners our lives are regulated by numerous cultural limitations before ever being controlled by any given government rules.

A Bikini swimsuit can be seen to portray the liberal western mentality that places women, mentally and physically, on an even footing with men – and thus views male and female bodies in exactly the same way. This western attitude is absolutely indigestible for many Eastern men, who are not at ease with gender equality and, as a result, treat women as inferior beings. We Eastern men are not only concerned with women’s physical appearance; we tend to work on restricting our women’s opinions, actions, occupational pursuits, practice of sports, intermingling activities and many other aspects of their lives.

“Our religion forbids it” is the official excuse we use, not only to accord Eastern men a status of superiority over women, but also to reinforce masculine dominance by quoting, often out of context, a religious verse in support of men’s arguments. Meanwhile, many of the Eastern men who impose the Burkini on their spouses tend to visit beaches were the majority of women are in bikinis; if we are truly in harmony with our supposed beliefs, we should keep away from these beaches. However, our Eastern macho culture tells us that as long each of us ‘controls his woman’; we have no reason to bother with anything else.

We can’t rightfully claim that a veiled or Burkini-clad woman accompanied by a male relative is more religious, or abides more strongly by true moral values, than does her unveiled counterpart – or vice versa. Moral values (that have nothing to do with physical appearance) are what really count. Our manner of dressing often reflects what is, or is not, acceptable in our respective cultures; human values and behaviors are something else entirely. Regardless of how they are dressed, people’s misbehavior is what I personally find annoying. Perceiving the world from the perspective of attire is an extremely narrow-minded attitude that both cultures (West and East) would do well to avoid.

Conservative eastern societies not only place constraints on our choice of clothing; they prevent us even from openly discussing a number of issues (beyond swimsuits) that are considered taboo. Our societies impose many moral and behavioral standards on us that are often difficult to validate! We used to claim that our cultural traditions protect us against all manner of harm (such as divorce); however, today the divorce rate in eastern and western societies is almost the same (about fifty percent). The world as a whole is becoming increasingly oriented towards individualism, irrespective of how open or closed individual social systems are.

Although western culture consistently attempts to convince us that we should abide by certain behaviors that they claim are part of universal modernity, altering our beliefs, values and behaviors is certainly much more difficult and challenging than adopting the latest manufacturing technology. Additionally, the West can’t fairly claim that all actions and behaviors undertaken by individual westerners are manifestations of true modernization that should be emulated by the entire world. We need to avoid being aggressive and give universal citizens room to consider and determine what is best for them.

True liberals should not be concerned with people’s choice of dress; moral values and positions, as reflected in people’s behavior, are what really matter. We must enforce clear codes of conduct (both dress and behavioral) in public places such as parks and beaches! Women at the beach should be free to wear whatever suits them (Bikinis or Burkinis), as long as it is made out of swimwear material; however, we must strictly dictate how people may and may not behave in public, according to the nature of the venue and its culture.

What happens when the pragmatic West meets the repressive East!

Imagine that the universe is split into two clear segments; a developed world that is famous for its modernity and democracy, and a developing one that is dominated by poverty and illiteracy. Then imagine a channel that connects these two worlds physically and mentally and through which they influence one another. In which direction would the channel run? Would it flow smoothly downstream like a river that enriches a valley, or would it take the shape of a solid concrete conduit, perhaps concealing underground potential and requiring random digging to uncover possible wealth?

Almost everyone agrees that rule of law is widely applied in most of the developed western world, where even less fortunate citizens enjoy their basic human rights in terms of education, health care, shelter and freedom of expression and where equality among citizens is a well-established fact. Whereas in the developing world, citizens are certainly denied most of their basic needs, economic and infrastructural development is weak, the quality of life of the majority is sub-standard and repressive policies applied by authoritarian rulers and their cronies are the norm.

Western nations are driven by peace and prosperity; they are keen to secure their borders to ensure that their citizens can live in peace, and they have the potential to realize economic growth by exporting their products and technologies to the developing world. Western businesses expand into the developing world aided by their friends and cronies in developing nations (who obviously know how to maximize their western partners’ revenues). This helps the wealthy to become wealthier, keeps the impoverished grounded in their poverty and strengthens the grip of authoritarian rulers through their cronies with links to the West.

The clear majority of citizens in the East are not only trapped in dreadful living conditions with no light in sight at the end of the tunnel; most of them don’t believe that they will ever actually be able to get out of this dark tunnel. This leaves the ambitious segment of the developing world perpetually dreaming of landing in the developed world where they can find better jobs and a decent living – and the mentally disturbed segment of the population believing that the solution to their problems lies in exporting what they know best (terrorism) to developed nations.

Meanwhile, most Eastern citizens strongly believe that the West is largely responsible for their miserable living conditions – an allegation that cannot necessarily be validated, but that is well perceived in the developing Eastern world. Thus, millions of illiterate citizens are left to live in harsh conditions, embracing incorrect beliefs. Moreover, its access to advanced technology and machines will prompt this depressed segment of society to make use of the latest technology to carry out horrific attacks.

“Garbage in, garbage out” is how the universe operates. The inputs we throw into the channel that connects the two worlds yield the outcomes that we are living with today. The wide availability of western technologies and machines in the developing world is sufficient proof that the West knows how to target and reach universal consumers! The fact that, unlike its product exports, the West’s moral values and humanitarian development aspects have not been conveyed to the developing East demonstrates the developed world’s disinterest in this matter. Additionally, the consistent flow of illegal immigrants and the inability to prevent terrorism in the developed world is proof of the West’s failure to safeguard the security of its nations.

The management of the channel connecting the two worlds is in the hands of extremely narrow-minded leaders from both worlds! These leaders are deliberately shaping the channel to serve the interests of a tiny minority at the expense of a powerless, unprotected majority. We are expending the wealth of the developing world, squandering it away on products that we are not in urgent need of.

Working only on realizing economic growth from a region that is known for its poverty, illiteracy and immaturity has not only concluded in the outbreak of more regional wars; it has contributed to the spread of terrorism that is taking place worldwide today. What we really need is a smooth sharing and flow of quality education and moral values. While these come at minimal cost, they will drastically enrich, secure and enhance the prosperity of the entire world.

Are Western Scholars’ Ideas Still Relevant?

Reading hundreds of articles and essays written by western scholars yearly has turned me either into a well-informed citizen or into an addict of inapplicable, unrealistic ideas. My meticulous examination and scrutiny of western scholars’ thoughts has certainly sharpened my political thinking, but it has not necessarily been of any added value to my country, Egypt. The gap between what politicians can actually apply on the ground and the ideas produced by scholars is continually widening, leaving citizens around the world lost in the translation.

Scholarship in the western world, and especially in the United States, is a large industry dominated by extremely qualified professionals, thousands of highly qualified scholars that work to shape their fellow citizens’ thinking patterns and to influence decision-makers. The scholarship field is habitually dominated by the ‘crème de la crème’ of western societies and attending debates among western scholars is often a very insightful and pleasant experience. Western leaders keep up with the work of their scholars and are enlightened by it, and are usually careful to obtain the advice of a few scholars in times of crisis.

Although scholars stimulate the minds of western citizens, they seem to have become disassociated from influencing their decision-makers. The world is currently split between knowledgeable people capable of producing functional ideas and ignorant persons in authority who insist on applying their volatile ideas – with no focal meeting point between the two. Today, politics is completely under the control of powerful politicians whose credo is realism and who know how to change things physically on the ground. Meanwhile, sophisticated scholars are trying to produce relevant ideas that are quickly abolished by decision-makers’ actions.

Internet and advanced technology have substantially boosted the work of scholars worldwide. People are no longer obliged to read only the work of local scholars! Regardless of their places of residence, they can easily read and follow the works of their favorite scholars and completely discard the ideas that their countries impose on their societies. Apparently, what used to be called the “war of ideas” (most pleasant events where scholars clashed mentally to produce excellent, functional ideas thus reviving people’s minds and better serving their nations) no longer exists, especially among international scholars.

Western scholarly institutions and publishers tend to only support their fellow westerners’ work, ignoring ideas developed by non-westerners. Not only do they publish western works exclusively; more dangerously, their minds are shaped by the western thinking pattern. The western world does not see any logical arguments in most non-western scholarly writing; it only publishes works that are in line with its way of thinking, declining to consider – and, obviously, to publish – scholarly perspectives that contradict this line of thought.

If the works of western scholars are currently irrelevant, in Egypt, only scholars whose works praise the Egyptian state and its president are recognized. A single word that is at odds with either the state or the president is construed as an effort to demolish our country; scholars that differ with the state are, quite simply, classified as state enemies and may even be arrested. The state and its cronies therefore only finance institutions that support the ruling regime and prohibit institutions that oppose the regime’s policies from receiving either domestic or international financing.

Nowadays, most powerful western countries are thrusting aside the works of their scholars, replacing them with physical action that achieves these countries’ goals easier and faster. The ability of these countries to realize their objectives by imposing their decisions on others has shrunk efforts exerted by scholars to change the world with their ideas. This situation is backed up by the sad fact that these nations are not held accountable for their actions; their trial and error policy has become a phenomenon that we must live by.

Until the time comes when their respective citizens can no longer tolerate the accumulated mistakes of their leaders, powerful nations will continue to dominate the world and to hold sway over scholars. Scholarly thoughts, on the other hand, will not expire, wagering on the emergence of new political leaders who will revisit these ideas and restore their relevancy. As this dilemma plays out, we are left with a single option: to hope that some sensible people will be persuaded by scholars’ works and advocate for their ideas – and that the world will eventually become a better place.

What Suits the West Does Not Necessarily Ennoble the Rest!

“I strongly believe that this is the ultimate solution” is a phrase that politicians often use to frame and mobilize their followers. But when this phrase is stated by a politician attempting to impose a solution on another country, we must challenge his proposition! Western politicians, unfortunately, have become quite conceited about their ideas and policies. Convinced that if it suits them it must be good enough for others, they often attempt to enforce these ideas on the rest of the world. Their superiority has given them a universal political advantage that is undeniable – but unjustifiable.

Technological advancements and abidance by proper democratic mechanisms certainly constitute a blessing that lends western nations a degree of political and economic authority. However, this superiority does not mean that their respective politicians’ international outlooks are always correct, entitling them to force their ideas on others. Western political elites whose ideas shape the world are often unaware of the political dynamics of other countries and do not truly care to enhance their knowledge in this regard. This obviously includes newcomers to the political scene, such as U.S. President-Elect Trump who, in fact, has no political background.

Applying the western world’s thinking mechanism and tools to other parts of the world has proved to be an abject failure! The political and economic dynamics in each part of the world is often unique; inherited cultures, citizens’ perceptions, and their readiness to digest and adapt new mechanisms vary from one country to another. Western politicians and thinkers often debate ideas that have major implications for other countries. While some of them have had more international exposure than others, it remains true that the entire western society operates within its closed circles and abides by its own thinking tools that are not always suited to the rest of the world.

Decision-making in the western world is quite clearly structured; politicians’ ideologies and goals are patently clear and their political circles of influence are known well in advance. By contrast, in regions such as the Middle East for instance, countless hidden factors often implicitly affect many of the region’s national policies. Ruling a nation entails clear principles of political accountability, whereas interfering in formulating solutions without being accountable as a ruler is often perceived as a violation of the sovereignty of other countries that is aimed at promoting western political interests.

Western leaders achieve their political status empowered by their citizens’ votes. The fact that they don’t have followers in other countries and, obviously, are unable to micromanage other nations’ challenges is, by default, a shortcoming that should devalue their ideas forthright. At home, within the framework of their democratic process, Western politicians tend to act softly, offering their fellows many promises; with regards to external issues that are often isolated from their internal political mechanism however, their behavior is ignorant and arrogant.

Most of the challenges that we are facing in the Middle East are the direct results of our shortcomings. Nevertheless, westerners’ interferences have complicated many recent regional crises that have led to the current catastrophic conditions in each of Iraq, Libya and Syria; western intervention has contributed substantially to the political and economic deterioration of these countries. Ironically, western politicians tend to magnify their successful interventions and to attribute the blame for all failures to domestic issues – completely ignoring the part played by their initial and continuing intervention.

Apart from the moral question of whether any given nation is entitled to interfere in the political development of another country; if Western nations insist that they are entitled to engage in other countries’ political development, they should at least openly assume the responsibility for their failures! I am not anticipating that western politicians will read this piece and refrain from international interference, but I do hope that they will consider broadening their vision to better understand how other cultures operate.