Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Our Youth, Reforms and Future

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

How do you make your youth more responsible, humanistic, and appreciative of their country, heritage and art? How can you make them more loving and lovable, caring and considerate? What changes you should apply to your education system and the way children are brought up? And how can we help some of them be less self-centered, violent, and hateful of the different other?
Is this a tall order? Not if all concerns are symptoms of the same illness. Not if the medicine comes in one package. Not if the alternative is self-destruction.
Why now? Why suddenly we have this problem and need urgent solution? And how can we solve it without antagonizing a powerful segment of our society and authority?
First, it is not a new problem; only our awareness of it is new. A whole generation was born in the middle of an economic boom that lasted seven years from 1975 to 1982. It started with the oil boycott crisis, Iranian revolution and Iraq-Iran war, and then quickly plunged into a long lasting recession.
With the huge and sudden influx of cash and foreign products, people and values, our morals and ways of life changed — not always for the better — and the virus of materialism ran into our system.
At the other end, a conservative movement went on the offensive. Worried of losing to new trends and modern decadence, they fought furiously. When Johaiman’s violent crusade to militarily change our world was defeated, the fundamentalist movement continued the challenge intellectually.
Since we were concerned that we might have strayed too far from the roots of our conservative society, we listened to them and swallowed too much of their prescribed medicine.
Some of us agreed, more were in doubt, and many revolted. The social balance and coherence were lost in the furious clash of principles, doctrines and religious interpretation.
Today, we stand to harvest what the winning school of thought single-handedly seeded in the last twenty-five years. Unrivaled and hardly checked or questioned, they made a lot of system alteration, curriculum change, school penetration, media watching, social progress administration, intellectual censorship, and comprehensive preaching and training.
Today, they are on the defensive, but they still stand by their strong-headed beliefs, resisting change and finding ways to continue their crusade. They are still influential in all the wrong places — schools, mosques and religious establishments.
Second, it is high time we did something about that section of our youngsters which lacks in worldly awareness, sympathy and direction. Those with no proper contact with the other half and the other who is different in religion, school of thought, race, language and culture tend to get confused, suspicious, and even hateful of them.
Exploited by people with extremist agendas, those angry and religiously motivated youngsters can be foot soldiers of dangerous ideologies. There is no more dangerous a soldier than the one who has no regrets, has nothing to lose, and is ready to take his own life for a cause.
Our experience shows that the only way to neutralize them is to eradicate them or re-educate them. The Interior Ministry’s re-education campaign has proved so successful that many ex-extremists are now working for the program that saved them to save others.
Third, we have no choice but to urgently solve the problem. If we keep ignoring it, denying its existence or leaving it to the healing of time, two terrible things would certainly happen.
One, the problem will persist, if not worsen, as long as the elements that produced it, the environment that encouraged it, and the rules that tolerated it are still in place.
Two, the world that waited too long for us to act will eventually get sick and tired of waiting. The least the rest could do is to leave us behind in their march toward a more integrated, liberated and prosperous world. Isolation is not an option in the New World Order.
Internally, the wiser and brighter might get the same message and reach the same conclusion — it is a hopeless case. Again two bad things might happen. They might get paralyzingly depressed. Or they may just leave us and pursue better life and future somewhere else. We can’t afford either.
So what do we do? There are a lot of proposed changes and reforms. We already know what we need to do, but disagree on the extent and speed. Shall we wait for everyone to come on board, or take the willing and move on? Do we take the winding country road or use the highway? If the latter, do we run in the fast or slow lane?
So far, we opted for the slower road of consensus-building to minimize friction and confrontation. No one is ready for a social upheaval — not in the middle of our war on terror and extremism.
I could be wrong. But this might prove too little, too late.

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