By Dr. Bouthaina Shabaan
On International Democracy Day last week, satellite TV channels across our region focused on the type of democracy imported, together with details of the bloodbaths, disasters, wars and American invasions driven by hatred for Muslims. Democracy was invoked as an ideal, regardless of people’s living standards, the disasters befalling them and the gutters they are thrown into under the pretext of raising the standard of political action to the level of ‘democracy’.
In Iraq, a fifth of the population has become illiterate after ‘democratic’ invaders have killed a million people, including thousands of scientists and intellectuals. Mesopotamian memory is full of millions of tragic stories about widows, orphans, poverty, killing and violence brought about by Americans. No one in the Western media writes about the life of these people or tries to assess the actual destruction of the quality of these people’s lives. The same applies to Afghanistan and Pakistan which have been torn by violence and war and daily killing by American drones. American talk about ‘democracy’ is completely divorced from issues such as provision of water, electricity, schools, work, security and dignity. So, what is this democracy, and what are its objectives if it does not aim at improving people’s lives?
No one tried to link this International Day of Democracy to what has happened in Turkey, where an Islamic democracy is growing, based on an unprecedented popular mandate. The constitution has been amended in accordance with the results of a referendum based on national needs not the narrow private interests, as the custom is in Western democracies.
Media coverage of 9/11, International Democracy Day and the referendum in Turkey mostly consisted of spreading hatred against Islam, spreading fanatic concepts against Islam and linking Islam to increasing violence in the world, while ignoring all forms of violence, oppression, killing and wars which Muslims are subjected to at the hands of non-Muslims.
What happened in Turkey is an expression of the essence of Islamic democracy based on the power of ideas and logic, not on coup d’etats encouraged by the West in Turkey and other countries in South America, Asia and the Middle East.
The problem today is that our language, values and ideas have become a tool used by the other to speak for us and about the crimes it is committing against us in our countries, while we sit and watch our own news from the other’s perspective and its coverage of our suffering through its racist lens.
A number of countries, particularly in Asia, have realized the danger of what is going on. So, Asia has become a pioneer of scientific and technological advance; its share of published articles increased from 13 per cent in 1980 to over 30 per cent in 2009 according to Thomson Reuters indicators. Turkey is rising, as did Malaysia and Iran, in terms of scientific research and university education which is the foundation of every industrial, agricultural or even political achievement.
What is worrying about this is conditions in the Arab world whose status is reflected in all scientific and research indicators, including those on reading and publishing. The Arabic language has seen a frightening retreat under the aegis of Arab ministries of education as a result of the concept promoted by our enemies that their language is the language of science and knowledge, and that the language of the Koran cannot assimilate modern sciences. I know of no other nation whose children are taught in private schools and universities in a language not their own. Here the problem starts when we become passive recipients of knowledge and scientific production. It follows that we become passive inn the political, cultural and human arenas. Some of us even become parrots repeating Western phrases of hatred against Arabs.
Recent studies have shown that the mother tongue shapes people’s attitudes because it determines people’s intellectual habits and directs their experience and their positions in life. That is why we see most countries today insisting on using their mother language, except Arab countries, where the Arabic language is suffering unprecedented official neglect. Most private schools and universities now use English or French; and those who want to study Arabic find it difficult to find an Arab university that teaches different sciences in Arabic.
I am trying to connect the complete political absence of Arab countries on the international scene – except when they are called upon by necessities of American public relations – with the deliberate neglect of language, heritage and culture. If people are not the product of their language, culture and the different components of their civilization, what are they? If democracy does not aim at improving the living standards of people, making them happy and improving the different aspects of their lives, what else should it be?
The more serious problem is that, we, Arabs, have become recipients of Western systems when it comes to our causes and interests. Malaysia has provided a good model for democracy as a Muslim country. So has Turkey. When an Arab or Muslim country provides an illuminating experience to the world, it is usually talked about aside from its Muslim identity, and without any link between it and the civilization of Islam or the region.
But this does not have any impact on Western media which insist on promoting Islamophobia.
Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria.