Sunday, December 18, 2005

Our Missing Middle

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
What is the difference between our right and left? I was asked this recently by a bright Saudi student. I said it was the missing middle. She thought for a moment then asked: What are we supposed to be as a nation? I told her: We are the nation of the middle, as the Qur’an has described us. But that we should tolerate those on both sides.
Again, she paused. Then she came back with a stronger question: “Why would we tolerate the extremists on both sides? We are a young nation starting our way on the road of progress and development. Do we need these divisions and dividers to distract us? They could continue their fight in prison, where they belong, but we cannot afford to have them around wasting our time and energy with their intellectual, if not physical, fight.”
I reminded her that we are not new to development and progress. The Umma ruled the world for centuries. We introduced Europe to science, medicine, astronomy and technology. Today, we are restarting, not starting on that road.
Great nations read their history well before importing experiences and experiments from others. Our culture not only allows but calls for sophisticated, civilized debates. The Qur’an is full of such debates. Allah has debated with the non-believers and believers alike, including his prophets. Remember His debates with Abraham, Moses, Muhammad (peace be upon them) and their peoples? He never says believe the hereafter because I said so. No, he gave evidence of His being and supported His statements with logical and physical proofs. His prophets did the same with the extremists and doubters.
To follow this divine example, we should allow for all kinds of peaceful expressions of thought, marketing of perspectives, and discussion of ideas. Let the left and right and all those in between make their cases and defend their positions and try as best as they can to bring us over to their sides.
As long as this is done without hurting personal feelings, attacking personalities, enlisting authorities or denying the others their equal right to free association, thought and expression, we will do fine. After all, we are a young nation, with educated and open-minded citizens among us. We are mature enough to listen to all, and, at the end of the day, make our own stand and take our own position.
Those who deny the other party their day in the court of public opinion, are not sure of their ability to persuade or, worse, of the validity of their case. If they are as sure-footed as they pretend, why would they censor academic libraries and international book fairs? Why are certain groups not allowed to present or defend their “mathhab,” doctrine or stand? How come one school of thought is the one and only voice heard, taught and preached? After they had their chance for decades to establish their ideologies in our heads, why can’t they trust us enough to listen to other points of views? Is it because they don’t believe in our ability to distinguish right from wrong, or because they don’t believe in their ability to convince us? Is it that they don’t believe in us or don’t believe in themselves?
My young friend looked at me tentatively, while absorbing what I had just said. Then she smiled and flashed her bright large eyes at me said: “Man! You know what you just said? You are telling me that all what we were taught, read and trained in all our life, is one-sided stuff. That we need to re-educate, reread, retrain ourselves all over again to absorb other schools of thought, other trends and perspectives, and to open up to the rest of the civilized world. This is a huge order! This is not an evolution, but a revolution! This is like reliving your life in a different a world, starting from scratch. Man! This is mass killing of our present characters and the remake of another!”
I laughed and said: “Girl! How lazy your generation can be! All that is needed for those who have already graduated from such a learning experience is to have a taste of a new one. For those who are still entering education, we should change the parameters of their experience, allow them more freedom to explore on their own, and let them come up with their own conclusions.
“We should stop breastfeeding them after their infant years, so they can depend on themselves the rest of their lives. We must open the world for them to research and study, discover and communicate with others, instead of limiting them to our own. How hard can this be for them? After all, babysitting people is harder than letting them grow on their own.”

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