Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Because I Have Nothing New To Say

...I decided to share something I wrote long before the Egyptian Revolution. If you're not aware of the Revolution, then I suggest moving to Planet Earth or, for a simpler alternative, check the Wiki link that details its events.

I was not a part of it except as a rather late online voice (took me a week to figure out what I thought). I supported it in my heart which is, as Prophet Mohammed PBUH, would say, 'the weakest effort'. This piece you see before you is something I wrote before the Revolution (I think everybody should capitalize the R, by the way!). And it was one of my efforts to understand why we (as Arabs and Egyptians) were lagging behind and how we should move forward, individually.

When I wrote it, I meant for it to speak, sarcastically at times and bleakly on others, to individuals. I intended for it to ignite the spark in them to change themselves rather than try to change what's around them. And I was also thinking of so many things (some unrelated to the purpose of the essay) at the time and they somehow managed to find a way into the writing.

So, without further ado, here it goes. It's entitled: Of Rabbits and Egyptians and I present it to you in its final form, I didn't even edit it to fit post-Revolution spirits. But I must say that post-Revolution, you would have to have the emotional range of a teaspoon (see how I, casually and geek-ily, quote Hermione Granger?) if you don't feel pride in the fact that you are an Egyptian.

Before you read though, because I know you might not hang on until the end of this, please take a moment to pray for the martyrs of the Revolution. If you're a Muslim, read the Fatiha and pray for patience to their families. If you're Egyptian, especially if you're Egyptian, try to make it your habit to pray for them and their families daily.

“My heart's so heavy,
My heart's so sore,
How can ever my heart
Be at peace any more?”
--Goethe, Faust.

Vanity…Satan’s favorite little sin. It’s born with man, lives with man and man seems to be about the only creature to possess it. A vain assumption? Perhaps. What is vanity, really? And how different is it from pride? Pride is a feeling that often accompanies accomplishment...An ideal feeling of the victorious, the successful and the magnificently innovative. It is what Abbas Ibn Firnas probably felt when he made man's first flight, what Edison felt when he lit the world and what Einstein probably felt as he put down the last set of equations in his general theory of relativity. It is the feeling that you cannot help but feel if you have just finished doing something good; either for the world or for yourself and your community.

But it is not what we Egyptians feel.

Most Egyptians claim they are 'proud' to be Egyptian. In fact, I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that almost everyone who will read this article will feel that exact same feeling about being Egyptian…pride.

So let's start by breaking this down a little: From our previous explanation of the word 'pride', it follows that to be proud, you must have done something positive to the world or the society. A good and positive action is the feeling that sprouts pride. That feeds it until it fattens up and turns into vanity. Before it does, though, you are in a very blissful state of happiness and, if this is community pride, your community will enjoy its golden ages. So if you’re wondering about that feeling deep down in your gut that tells you you’re fine just the way you are right now; it's not pride. It's just vanity. We, Egyptians, are vain creatures. We are positive that the world will never surpass us when it already flew past us. At light speed.

In a sense, we are like the rabbit in that rabbit and turtle story except we don't sit around eating carrots all the time; at least the rabbit walked a little while he did that. At least in the end he gave it a shot and eventually tried showing that turtle what a fine rabbit he was. He didn’t just sit and talk of how proud he was to be such a fast rabbit and how proud he was that he had the greatest fur in the world that could surpass (in greatness) even the hardest of turtle shells. And how his ancestors passed it to him over generations and generations of rabbits. No, the rabbit wasn’t vain…A little too self-confident but you can’t help being self-confident when you’re the fastest furry ball around.

Which is interesting in itself, isn’t it? If the rabbit was not that fast, would we have, really, ever considered sympathizing with him in the story? He was already fast, ergo, nobody really thought much of him. The story makes perfect sense because the rabbit was already the best at what he did and, therefore, it seemed reasonable he would be proud of his accomplishments. If it was the other way around though…If the turtle was the one sitting down eating cucumbers while the rabbit raced by…Well, first of all; the story would have had quite a fast ending and secondly; not so many kids would get why such an already slow creature would sit around and boast its slowness. A slow creature, boasting its slowness…Where did I hear that one before?

Perhaps rabbits and turtles seem like oversimplification. Perhaps I’m being too silly comparing the state of mind of a nation to the most famous children’s tale of all. So let’s get a little more complex. Let’s talk about bourgeois, aristocracy, democracy and anarchy…and all the other words you’d need a spell-checker to spell right. Perhaps the two most interesting words up on that list are democracy and anarchy. In Machiavelli’s The Discourses, the author makes one of his points by mentioning that there are three perfect systems to rule a country; yet all of them are liable to slip into three other apocalyptic systems to rule a country. As you may have rightly guessed; democracy, being one of the perfect systems, usually slips into anarchy. And it does not take the brightest of minds to note that we are, indeed, living anarchy. Anarchy, in essence, is the misrepresentation of the rule of chaos as the rule of the people. When people lose morality, ideals and do not even care for a punishment of the law; that is a form of anarchy.

So what does it take to raise yourself from anarchy? It takes thought…And heart. Tawfik Al-Hakeem, one of Egypt’s foremost philosophers, can say it better: In the same way man can breathe perfectly through the balanced processes of inhaling and exhaling, man can only survive perfectly through a perfect balance of thought and heart. The only way to raise ourselves from anarchy, therefore, is to understand that heart and thought can work together, that they are equivalent forces of mankind, and to arrive at the peak of our faith through the perfectionism we exemplify in our work. To understand that prayer, in its most elevated form, can only be an emotional fuel towards thought and work; that faith is the most suitable spark that can ignite the fire of renaissance within us and within the piece of land we have occupied for thousands of years.

And how many praying people have you seen taking bribes? How many bearded people have you seen being rude? Perhaps what I’m really asking is: How much effort does it take to crush down religious appearance and see how far the religious spirit actually goes? In our day and age, a lot of effort. And it would be hard to find any religious spirit once you’re done breaking the outer shell. The idea that you can substitute your religious core for a religious shell is what’s widening the gap and disturbing the balance we had spoken of before (and that Al-Hakim had adapted as his lifestyle); that balance of thought and heart that can bring about true and valuable change.

I can find no better words to describe our current state, or our current vanity, than the words said to Mohammed XII, the last Muslim ruler of Granada, from his mother, as he stood and wept over the sight of his beautiful lost city: “You weep the weeping worthy of women, over a kingdom you could not protect the protection worthy of men”. We weep the weeping of women now…For a 4000-year-old civilization that scarcely anyone of the 80 million walking the roads of this country ever thought of educating themselves about. We weep the weeping of women now…For a 1400-year-old Islamic civilization that barely anyone, that you and I have ever met, can form a few simple sentences about. In fact, I challenge you this: Go out on the streets and ask people to name you ten singers, ten actors and ten Muslim scientists from the Abbasid age. I think we both know which ten will seem the hardest to most, if not all, your contestants.

We are uneducated about our past, yet yearning and weeping for it. We are unsure about our future, yet awaiting it with baited breath. And we are disgusted, almost disgraced, by our present, but never able to find the courage in us, or the passion, to attempt and change it. We stand in the mystified status quo, a dignified stance that foolishly attempts to challenge the natural course of things, a purposeless and unsure existence; like a mentally ill man standing at the bus stop waiting for the next sailing ship. And that, constant reader, is not a turtle going slow and steady to win the race, or a rabbit too self-confident to try hard enough. It’s, perhaps, a lot like a third contestant, the sloth, who said: ‘Races are boring!’ As you may well recall; he doesn’t get a part in the story.

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