I do not understand why we are paralyzed with fear when we speak of Western culture. To many, it is like the hordes of Mongol horsemen who rolled in from Central Asia sweeping away everything in their way. I say this because of the fear expressed by participants in a seminar entitled "The Role of Educated Arab Youth in the Information Era." The fear was that the onslaught of Western culture poses a threat to Islamic values.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Ghaddami, a literary critic said cultural values were falling apart under the sweeping tide of Western culture. He expressed the example of the naming pattern of Saudi children being changed. "In the past the child used to be named after his grand parent. Now some young people change their own names under Western influence."
I don't understand what acquiring a different set of names has to do with Western values. Many people find it boring to have the same name repeated 25 times in the same family.
Dr. Ghaddami cautions against setting up barriers between societies which would choke off technological progress.
Here I would like to print that barriers have long since evaporated - the last physical one being the Berlin wall. In today's world of satellite technology, there are no barriers. In addition, I would like to point out the number of people who travel abroad, seeing things, observing and wishing to be like others. The barriers that exist today are only in our minds.
Dr. Abdul Qader Tash, editor-in-chief of Arab News expresses dismay at the limited use of computers in the Arab world. He refers to the dearth of information. He also regrets that Arabs have remained mere "consumers" of Internet programs. He believes the non-existence of Arabic programs on the Internet testifies to their being passive followers. Well, Dr. Tash is right. We have reached such a state of complacency and lethargy that we are incapable of using our gray cells. At the same time this problem of the flow of information cannot be slowed if the barriers are not removed.
There are many in the past year and a half who have come up with programs to place our religion and region on the Internet. They have all the qualifications and tools to do so. However, they lack the financial resources.
The Internet is a private vehicle for dissemination of information. It is important that media officials in the Arab world note this. People do not like to visit sites that are government-sponsored because they perceive them to be propaganda. In the light of all this, it is important that Gulf businessmen use part of their earnings to promote our values and provide an insight into our culture and ideology while at the same benefit from the immense profit-making powers of the Internet.
Dr. Tash expresses pessimism at the widening gap that may occur between the present and future generations. He asks for alternative programs to boost cultural values and traditions. Many would like to ask him what these alternative programs are and who would fund them. It is not feasible to ask governments to do that. They have priorities of their own such as welfare programs. What is needed is a public response.
However, why has this generation gap occurred? The fault lies with us. Parents and all elders are so busy with their own lives that they have failed to respond to the crying needs of their children. The father is out every night playing cards with his friends. The mother is busy with her friends. The communication gap thus created and the lack of time spent together has thus created tension. Young people turn to other things to compensate for this lack. Many of these acts tend to be harmful. What has Western culture got to with this?
Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Oraini, president of the Saudi Computer Society believes that the advantages of new information technology outweigh the harm it may cause. He called upon the Arab/Islamic world to use the Internet for influencing others rather than being influenced by it. I think as long as there is regimentation of thought and lack of creativity in the Arab world we will be incapable of meeting these challenges.
In the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf region, there are young men and women who can compete against the best of their Western counterparts. They only need recognition and encouragement.
We also need to tailor education to the changing situations in the world. Dr. Tash is sad about the almost complete lack of use of computers in the society. I would like to ask him how many schools in the Gulf teach the use of computers.
President Clinton has a goal of connecting all American schools to the Internet by the year 2000. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamed wants to connect every home and make Malaysia a paper-less society. In Singapore, every household is now capable of communication with one other by computers and the Internet.
In the Arab world there are those who say that the Internet is the work of Satan and a Zionist tool! Such is our sorry state.
Many similar seminars have been held and many more will be held. The question is not in quantity. The main point is whether we are going to take action in containing these "perceived" dangers of Western culture.
We have had enough talk.
However, in all honesty, one should commend the organizers and participants of this seminar and advise them to publicize it so that a much bigger audience can be attracted.