We must come up with a fitness program
"The countries of the Middle East and North Africa are the least prepared to meet the challenges of the next century"
-(by Paul Kennedy, eminent writer and historian)
This unequivocal statement made by a person who has done considerable research on how different regions of the world will react to the challenges of the unknown 21st century. We should think deeply and not indulge in "they against us" behavior.
I pondered this statement for quite some time. I also did a bit of research on what others are doing. In Tokyo, Singapore, Bangalore, London and Akron, Ohio, there is a virtual bee-hive type of activity.
In the Arab world, on the other hand, there is almost no movement. Some will surely accuse me of being a pessimist. I am not. But the truth is that for years we have indulged in congratulating ourselves while at the same time our media, devoid of analytical skills, was hailing and praising.
It is unfortunate that many in the Arab world believe there is no one better than we are. Here again it does not necessarily mean we are worse off than others; however, the question arises: Why compare ourselves with losers? Why not use shining examples of success as our yardstick?
Education is surely the key to survival. In a world that is changing rapidly, the Arabs must produce a system that will help their people to take control of themselves rather than be recipients of second- hand technology and shoddy goods. How can this be done? By radically overhauling the existing educational system. We have had enough of committees and subcommittees. What we need now is a closer look at education in the East as well as the West. Let us examine how countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong - all of which suffered heavily during the second world war and after it - became synonymous with progress, civilized behavior, good government and work ethics.
Education by itself is not enough if it does not bring with it dialogue, communication and a spirit of community. While we stress technology and use it in every imaginable situation, we must also maintain our ideology, creating an awareness among our people of the need to do good and avoid evil as Islam directs.
No nation or region can feel safe if it is dependent on the whims and caprices of others for its food. The shortage of food in the Arab world is alarming. Despite huge land resources, water resources and an agricultural population, we regularly note in our papers the alarming increase in food imports.
There are of course the usual meetings of the Arab League agricultural ministers. This has been going on for years and while I don't know what they discuss, I am sure they must be concerned.
And agriculture without water will naturally amount to nothing. While there is ample water in the Arab world, there is a shortage elsewhere. This is due to an increase in population. Many in the Arab world believe that a larger population will give the Arabs a quantitative edge. Over whom?, I ask. Today, a highly qualified man or woman sitting in a dingy office, surrounded by high technology, can paralyze whole armies, electrical power stations and cause dams and other utilities to malfunction.
Unless the Arabs have a qualitative edge, it will be difficult to thwart those who would subjugate us.
To achieve this needed edge, we have to adopt completely new work ethics. There must be no room for the lazy. Society should reward those who contribute to it. Creativity and innovation will lead to excellence and this should be the goal of our men and women.
Non-governmental organizations can help in this respect. They must focus on the needs of society. As impartial observers, they are in a good position to identify the causes and effects of social trends and movements. They can also assist the government in many other ways, provided the government wants and requests assistance.
All these possibilities will come to naught unless there are elements in the society that encourage development and change. As is truthfully said, the only constant in life is change. To refuse to change will amount to failure in the 21st century. To pretend that we can continue as we are, believing that our past glories will carry us forward, would be the biggest mistake we could possibly make.
The new regional economic blocs are going all out for the kill. If we fail to gear ourselves to met their challenges, we will be reduced to the position of second class players in the world's economy.
Did you know that the combined GNP of the Arab world is less than that of Western Europe's poorest state? Did you know that if the state of California were independent, it would be the fifth largest economic power in the world? Are we aware that GATT and WTO are going to strain our economies to the limit? Have we done anything at all about it?
Instead of the media's hailing and praising, they must focus on issues of survival.
Have our town planners considered what our cities will look like in the year 2025? While others are talking of environmental control, greening, societal expectations, Arab cities are sprouting ugly gray buildings which frankly, are an architect's nightmare and a simple viewer's horror.
All these issues can be discussed within the parameters of a well- informed society. This in turn means a flexible media that acts as a bridge between the authorities and the people. The media's role in strengthening society cannot be overlooked but the media itself has to be a highly professional one. Instead of hailing and praising, it must be honest and true to itself. By doing this it can serve the country.
We don't want to be like others. Our media must provide an insight into the workings of society, expose the ills and come up with facts and figures to act as a tool for action. In this way our society will possibly become well informed. Information is power and we must be on the information superhighway.
Many people believe that the coming changes will not affect us. They are wrong. It is a cruel world where only the fittest will survive. It is imperative that we come up with a fitness program.
Topics: Media Values: Education