Category: Arab World

حادثة زليخة وبنية التفكير الجمعي المتوتّر

Zula

مروان الحسيني

أقف دوماً إلى جانب الكلمة الحرة العقلانية. تلك الكلمة الجريئة المنفتحة على التفكير النقدي الواضح والأدلة العلمية الراسخة. وهو في رأيي تفكير لا يزال غير فاعل كثيراً في سياقاتنا العربية، وإن كان كثيرون يرفعون لواءاته.

أقرأ مقالات لعديد من الكتّاب والمفكّرين العرب والأردنيين الذين يضعون أنفسهم في بلّورة التفكير النقدي، أو يقاربونها، وأجد في مقالاتهم ما يجدر الانتباه إليه وتطويره إذا ما شاء أحد أن يؤسس لحالة نقدية تفاعلية مثمرة بعيدة عن الأضداد ولغة الـ “نحن” والـ “هم”، وبعيداً كذلك عن ثقافة الهجوم والهجوم المضاد، وأساليب الاستفزاز الشعوري المتنوعة. (more…)

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‘Religion — phase two’

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The relation between religion and the media, in light of the problematic concept of freedom, was examined in Beit Mery, Lebanon, this week.

An exciting conference, in which I participated, addressed this complex triangle in a context of post-Arab Spring tensions.

Participants of various backgrounds and cultural references from many Arab countries presented their opinion on the subject. I represented the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies.

As I am always interested in the theme of religious references and their role in the structures of different identity components, I was thrilled to see such diverse and complex identities gathered at the conference.

The hall in which it was held embraced Muslims and Christians, secular and spiritual people, conservatives and liberals, people from religious institutions and from civil society, in addition to all sorts of media representatives. Bloggers and social media activists were also present.

This varied mosaic added to the richness of the subjects discussed.

Points of views coming from hundreds of angles helped create a very active atmosphere of intellectual exchange. Elevated religious ideas, philosophical themes and humanistic trends were expounded at the same table, often with humour, fun and creativity.

The intelligent design of the sessions and their management met the expectations.

Indeed, tackling such an important subject as “freedom, journalism and religion” always requires a smart formula.

I was relieved to find out that it was not “just another conference”. The seriousness of the subject and the design produced a great environment, conducive to such intellectual exercise.

I always differentiate between religion as identity, and religion as representation. When religion is lived as an identity by its adherents, we need to look deep into emotions, mentalities and hidden forms of expression if we are addressing a serious issue. Yet, if a problem is related to a representation of religious affiliation, then a different approach is needed. In this case, it depends on the context it lives in.

This is often the situation of political parties that base their ideological discourse in religious conception and language. The conference in Beit Mery based its work on the latter embodiment of religious experience. Maybe it is a good idea for the organisers to think of another conference that tries examining the above-mentioned triangle with identity as its main flavour.

Though the conference discussed issues related to religious identities, its structure inclined to the representative mode of religions. It enriched the participants’ storage of religious-based images and shadows of images.

It was a great opportunity to map some of the crisis stimulating issues that reside deep in the conjunctions the freedom, journalism and religion combination.

I hope that the outcome, whether in publication shape or electronic format, will be an excellent foundation for what we might call “Religion — phase two”. Identity as concept and as a lived reality helps much in resolving many puzzles in the Middle East.

The writer is a media strategist, and an interfaith and intercultural specialist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

Beit Mery… A Divine Touch

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I am in Lebanon to speak at a conference on: “Freedom, Journalism and Religion”. The plane took about one hour to fly from Amman to Beirut. The car took another hour to deliver us at the Bustan hotel in Beit Mery. The area is one of a big mountain. Cedar trees are one of the remarkable parts of the place. They are of strong green colors and sharp forms which make one feels that they are embracing the skies.

The top of the mountain overlooks Beirut. An astounding view reveals in front of our eyes. Amazing scenes feed our emotions and thoughts. Beit Mery comes from Aramaic and it means the house of my lord or master. And indeed it is a sacred place of nature and history. This combination provides a divine touch.

Walking in the streets of Beit Mery on my first night with some friends, I felt that this location is liberating me. The fresh air, the trees, the heights and the churches have their deep impact on souls and feelings. One cannot be there without expressing astonishment. Surprise is the first impression one forms about the beauty of such setting. Immediately love starts unconsciously.

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With love come feelings of quietness and spiritual transcending towards higher states of harmony. It is not just the relation with the place that controls you. It is more of the various images of beauty that this place sends to your eyes and perceptions. Beauty here is conceived as part of one’s description of self-dream. Yet, such dream is activated during the most conscious moments.

While walking in the streets of Beit Mery, I kept thinking of nobility. History is still residing in everything around; the trees, the houses, the stones and even the air which runs from the top of the mountain downwards.

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It is an enchanting place which defines its relation with its visitors, right from the first moments of encounter. It invades senses and feeds them with a philosophy of magic. Nature is a great master in this context. It intelligently mixes with the presence of history, religion and various components of social fabrics.

I will always remember Beit Mery as a place of heavenly pleasure.

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Geography of Religious Borders

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by Marwan Al Husayni

 

When writing about social issues in the Arab world, special focus needs to be placed on religion.

Religion has the strongest and most effective impact on the social fabric throughout the region. Many people identify themselves in a religious way, on the basis of their stand on certain religious beliefs.

One of the most apparent social trends nowadays in many Arab societies is the absence of what is perceived as “personal expressions of privacy”. This is due to the strong sense of collectivity, which religions and religious rituals maintain in the individual psyche and social life.

Though the global aim of religions is to spread human values among people at individual level, religious rituals are powerful factors for strengthening the sense of collective identities or illusions of identities.

The pressing collective identities force individuals to sacrifice their personal expressions of privacy, especially in times of high tensions and wars. One of the ways to address this problem is to question the relationship between religion and identity.

The questions that come to mind in this context have to do with what I call the social geography of religious borders: Is religion an identity? Is religion a component of identity? Is religion a source of identity?

One can understand the reasons behind the lack of privacy in the Arab social sphere if the differences among these three questions are looked at carefully.

It is more important to examine how various communities in the region locate themselves within the socio-geographic map of religions, their rituals and manifestations.

From experience in interfaith studies, I can say that a big majority of Arab groups believes that religion equals identity. In this case, religious borders match the borders of society itself.

Members of these groups live their lives and express their being in line with what they think is religion. For them, there is no such thing as “personal”. One is asked to live his or her daily life in accordance with a certain interpretation of religion and religious rituals and practices.

A good number, but not a majority, of social groups departs from this stand. Religion, for them, is only one component of identity. Still, it is a powerful component in their relations with others and to life in general.

Identity in this context is controlled by religion, which colours the other components. Personal manifestations have some space among this category, though it is restricted. In this case, religion occupies a big chunk of the map.

The third category perceives religion as a source of, among others, identity. It is a reference, a guidance tool.

In this case, religion does not control the personal. It becomes personal among other expressions of privacy. In other words, religion is a separate territory that has its special paths towards to the other territory called “individual”. Few in the Arab world belong to this category.

Another way to examine the place of religion in the Arab social life is to look at the illusions of personal fear and security among the different communities.

Some religious leaders instill fear in their followers in order to keep them inside their circle, i.e., collective identity. Such leaders embody religion itself for those followers, and thus they are the source of security.

This is a huge illusion that covers all the map of Arab social life.

Perhaps this gives a hint to why religious fatwas are famous in the region. People need to have a secure opinion from a representative of God regarding their lives. They do not want to decide by themselves. They sacrifice the personal for the sake of feeling secure. But at the same time, most people are sacrificing the meaning of their intelligent existence for illusions.

Religion and illusions of religion have a great control over social trends, problems, issues and dynamics in our part of the world. When religion is everything, then everything else is ignored. A very negative outcome of this reality is that we do not move forward but keep moving around the same old circles.

Such circular movement does not lead anywhere. It only keeps thickening the borders of religion to match the borders of fear itself.

It is when we give religion its normal size and photo by lace in our lives that we can move forward and live our personal intelligent existence.

This is not a call for abandoning religion or religious rituals. It is a mere reminder that life is very diverse and religion is one of its colours.

What happens if you always perceive everything as red or white only?

The writer is media strategist, and interfaith and intercultural specialist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

Personalization versus Personalization

 

Marwan al-Husayni *

Many Arab writers are forced to clarify themselves at the beginning of some pieces they write: “I must say that I am not defending this person”. “First, it is better to clarify that I am not attacking him”. “This is not to say that I am against the government”. “This is not a pro government article”.

What are the factors that make us, as writers, state such clarifications? What pushes us towards adding these words? What culture and what mentality? Is it fear of misinterpretation, misjudgment or misreading?

Sometimes I feel that our cultures in the Arab World are built only on two extremes: praise and satire. If I write about some errors of a certain person, then I am against him or her. If I mention some positive attitudes of another person, then I am totally pro.

Such interpretations by a majority of readers are the results of “personalization mentalities”. Most of them focus on persons not ideas. Objectivity is lost amid a thick fog of misreading or non-reading at all.

“Personalization” is often used nowadays to mean customizing web pages or applications according to the interests and needs of the individual to facilitate life in the Cyberspace. “Personalization” in our cultures means that the personal mood or stand controls everything else.

One of my previous articles gained a modest number of comments on one of the news websites. Most of the comments were about my photo which was posted with the article. The commenters thought it was a photo of the person whom I was talking about his art in order to explain my core idea. We both had our share of attack: I for praising his creativity, and he for being himself. Anyway, no one commented on the main ideas of the article.

As a result of such mentalities, most writers are judged, not discussed. In a social context, the “personalization” approach is also a mainstream. One is not praised for his or her skills, ideas, achievements, creativity or intelligence. It is personal connections, ties or moods that control the process of social classification.

This is why many writers feel it is necessary to clarify that they are not writing based on personal stands. They are sure that they will be misjudged and mislabeled by many readers who turn on the machines of personalization while reading. Is it a crisis of mistrust or a complexity of social, psychological and historical factors? Many analyses go beyond the mere fact of misinterpretation.

A culture that is based on strong sensations of praise and satire expects any writer to work within those two edges. Other edges are not allowed. Analysis is disregarded and misjudgment is activated. Thus, “personalization” becomes the main criteria for building any approach towards individuals.

Unlike “personalization” in the Cyberspace, “personalization” in the Arab social space does not facilitate life. Writing, as a social activity, is doomed right from the beginning. Creativity is also ruled by personalized narrow outlooks.

If one personalizes his writings to fit others personalized attitudes frames, then he is a powerful writer. If he goes for the hard task of objective thinking and analyzing, then he is ignored for “personal reasons”.

 

* Media Strategist, Interfaith and Intercultural specialist