Sunday, August 10, 2003

The Civilization Bridge That Never Was

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

A Saudi concerned with the state of our relations with the West in general and the United States in particular asked me: “Who is responsible for the mess? Us or them?”
The truth is that we are all responsible. In decades of easy communication and transport, both sides missed many opportunities to build that elusive bridge between our civilizations. Yes, there was a bad blood between us — religious crusades, colonization and all. Yes, there is Israel and the West’s responsibility for its creation, expansion, and oppression of our Palestinian brethren. But most of this is now history.
New generations of good and decent people came and went without being introduced to each others. If they had been, they would certainly discover that what we have in common is much more than what makes us different. After all, we are the same species, living in the same boat, facing the same challenges to our environment, interests and future.
The real question then becomes: Why no one went first to say hello, I am Mohammad or John, this is my identity, culture and interests. What about you?
Is it fear of the unknown? Is it the need to feel superior to others, especially the different others? Or is it that the people in the middle whose exclusive religious, political and social authority is threatened if the “we against them” mindset is to become “we are all equal and same”?
I believe all those reasons are important, but the most important one is the failure of our thinkers and media, education and social institution in their most crucial task of bringing people of different civilizations and heritage together to work on common problems, dreams and interests. Instead, they worked in isolation or in competition to advance limited national aspirations.
While the world is increasingly becoming one village, the people who are freer to move and cooperate today are inadequately equipped to make the best of such freedom and material cooperation. They don’t know much about each others’ cultural environments, and they don’t appreciate the benefit of mixing different backgrounds for the advancement of human identity.
What can we do to change this? I would say: Go direct! With the miracle of the Internet and cheap, reliable communication and transportation we are able to speak to and learn about one another without biased and agenda-laden mediators. After years of communicating with friends all over the Earth, I have found this to be the best bridge of understanding and friendship.

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