Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Logic amid the sands...

Here in the lands of sands logic continues to find very little space in our way of thinking and is had been shrinking before a language of mostly false pride, dignity and sentimental slogans.

This is not unexpected in this part of the world where, for centuries, logic was and still being cast away to prevent a confrontation with ideas that might blow up our entire set of metaphysical beliefs that were passed from one generation to the other.

Those in power are of course the top beneficiary from this marginalization of science and logic, and in fact what pushed me to write today is an article I read in al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday.
The writer of that article sarcastically demands that fighting in Lebanon continues until Israel is thrown in the sea and the writer wonders why Arabs are calling for cease fire while "we are winning" and why should Arabs stop the fighting while "we are achieving one victory after another…don't you follow our Arab media? It's just a matter of time till we defeat our enemy so why the cease fire?!" and the writer talks about how the legends of the Israeli army is falling apart before the faithful resistance and demands that for once we continue and allow a logical outcome for the conflict and to not be fooled by a truce with the enemy once again.

The funny thing is that the writer ends his argument by stressing that he was serious in everything he wrote.
Of course the satire and mockery was more than obvious and what makes the whole thing funnier (and sad at the same time) is that most of the commentators got excited and motivated and even used his words as further proof for the Arab victory!

Even the al-Arabiya channel in their daily press review didn't get the joke and used excerpts from the article alongside the usual daily boastful enthusiastic speeches about the Arab right and Arab might in this struggle…

No doubt our writer realizes that those in power in the region do not want to see a logical end for this conflict because then the bitter truth of numbers and results on the ground will wipe out the illusion of victory…all what these people want is a continuation of a low-level conflict that can be portrayed to the public as victory to justify and legitimize the concept of "patriot resistance" and "necessary leaders" so that the public stands behind those leaders and overlook or learn to accept all of their bad sides.

As it had always been the case logic can not find a place among us and "logic is heresy" said one Caliph a long time ago to shut up any one who dared disagree with his rule.

One of the forms of anti-logic propaganda common in this conflict as well as previous ones is the extreme exaggeration of one's capabilities and extreme understatement of the opponent's.
This exaggeration flows in our blood to the degree that makes us live in an imaginary world of our won making where we are always the bigger, the stronger and the better. What I find appalling is the use of vulgarity to demean the opponent to the degree that a superpower like America is described as a thief country stealing oil or to call a powerful country like Israel a "fragile mutant entity" while facts say that it's more advanced than all of its neighbors by all standards.

When I try to explain to someone (hypothetically accepting the idea that America is the enemy just to allow space for a discussion) explain that he needs to know his opponent very well if he wants to enter a confrontation that is not uncalculated, whenever I do this my attempts are viewed as demoralizing if not as treason and siding with the "enemy".

I used to (and still do) use numbers and statistics in my arguments because these lead to logical findings and this often either angers the person I'm talking to and makes him renew his accusations against me, or his jaw drops in astonishment by-for the first time-knowing some simple facts that are easily accessible for anyone willing to research but are also denied and ignored by fact-avoiding media and miserable school curricula.

For example so far I have never met one Iraqi who could answer the few simple questions I usually use in a conversation that begins with "they're stealing our oil". The questions are "do you know the GDP of the US?" or "do you know how much money the US military spends in Iraq alone?"
The common answer is "I don't know" and sadly the people I usually talk to have at least finished a college.
Then comes the other question "Ok, so do you know what Iraq's GDP is? Or the UK's or Spain's or Israel's or Iran's…?"

Almost in every case I get no answers from the people I talk to and when I then put the numbers in order I often get the "WHAT! Are we not rich then??" that sometimes even I begin to question those numbers but then my calculator always reaffirms again that we are poor.

A fellow Iraqi blogger suggests that if the people of Iraq get a small fraction of oil revenues with the rest going to the treasury of America, Iraqis will still be rich:

If a peaceful Iraq just gets to spend a small proportion of its oil wealth on its people while the rest goes to the occupier, Iraq can still be one of the riches countries in the region.

I do not question Salam's good will but I have to disagree with him, I will go farther than what he suggested and give every cent of oil revenues to the people and I will be even excessively optimistic and set a stable level for production and exports and sell the oil at the highest price oil ever reached. Now I wish my friend here and others who share the same belief do some simple math, calculate the total amount of revenue and divide it over the population of Iraq equally, and I challenge anyone who can show me a figure that says we're rich or that our only problem is that someone is stealing our money or oil.

Many of the people I reach this far with and see the numbers would respond in a way almost identical to all of them "then why did they come here? For the black of our eyes maybe??" and I hear this question over and over again from different people as if it was the smartest question that one doesn't need to think before saying. After all the point is in making the 'other' look bad.

Then I'd try with my humble knowledge to explain to the one I'm talking to that this is a world where interests are so closely connected regardless of geographical barriers and that a stable and prosperous middle east would be better for America's interests than a poor, troubled one.

What I'm trying to say here is that sometimes making people aware of simple and available statistics can change a mindset from "they came to steal" to "then why are they here?" and this for sure is a dangerous beginning for the ruling regimes in this region and this primitive language of numbers poses a threat to the dominant mentality because it leads to a few logical results that collide forcefully with the illusions being spread by the Arab and Islamic regimes and media institutions who hate logic even more than they hate the west.

The sad truth here is that fighting this misinformation is very difficult although I do see some encouraging signs and growing awareness among many thinkers and intellectuals here.
However the deepest problem here remains that the two institutions in charge of spreading information and forming the mindset of the population, that is the educational and media institutions are both in the hands of governments and I would never buy whatever being said about independent media in the Arab world; what happened here was merely adding new media networks that look independent from the first look to the already existing state-funded media.

But in fact and again taking a look at some simple statistics we find that the entire Arab media industry makes less than 1.5 billion dollars/year while consumes approximately 15 billions/year in return and this makes one think about who pays the difference. Moreover, the idea of starting a private TV or paper doesn't appeal to wealthy Arabs as it brings upon them the hassle of opposing the state's media, actually in general most wealthy Arabs would rather build a mosque when they get old than build a research center or a media network.

Another problem in the same regard is the status of emerging liberal political parties and movements that lack the proper funding compared to authoritarian parties, for example in Iraq the religious parties whether Sunni or Shia own dozens of satellite stations, radios and newspapers while people like Mithal al-Alusi or Laith Kubba or even Ayad Allawi can't even think of starting a TV channel like the SCIRI's 'al-Furat' or the Accord Front's 'Baghdad' and this is a point I'd like to discuss in detail later.

The biggest defect remains in the educational institution; it's totally monopolized by the government and surrounded by redlines imposed by clerics and woe to anyone who dares speak about reconsidering the history curriculum or call for making religion an optional class.

And so the educated and open-minded continue to fight a rough battle in the lands of sands and a logical scenario for how this battle is going to end is still far from sight…

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