The Closing of the Arab Mind
By Jacob Thomas
8 July 2017
In his book, “ISIS and Islam: Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim,” Brother Rachid wrote that from its very beginnings, Islam’s grand conspiracy theory was to claim that any troubles it experienced, were because of the “Other,” particularly from Jews and Christians. Rachid cites Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 109, one of several other chapters, as an example:
“Many of the People of the Scripture long to make you disbelievers after your belief, through envy on their own account, after the truth hath become manifest unto them. Forgive and be indulgent (toward them) until Allah give command. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things.” Pickthall
Brother Rachid reminiscing about his own upbringing, adds, “a child grows up with this outlook ingrained within his memory: Jews and Christians are always plotting against the believers with the goal of turning them away from Islam.”
While conspiracy thinking denigrating Jews and Christians prevails among Muslims, they are also suspicious of others, within their own Muslim communities. For example, Rachid’s mother used to warn him not to share with his friends, any information about the good grades he got at school, because it would make them jealous of his achievements, leading to envy! Somehow, envy breeds harmful and mysterious effects on others. The best course is to keep good and bad news about one’s self, strictly within the family.
Another superstitious belief throughout Middle Eastern societies is related to one’s admiration or praise of children. Such an expression or sentiment, may be harboring envy! To ward off the “Evil Eye,” mothers pin a blue bead on the clothes of a baby. A rule must be followed regarding what you must always say, when remarking about the looks, or the health of a child, namely the invoking of the Arabic term, “Mashallah,” i.e. the contraction for “Oh, may Allah will that no harm would befall the child!” Unless this invocation is made, you have committed a serious faux-pas!
This topic discussed on 23 May 2017, on Al-Awan, the online reformist/liberal journal, with the headline: “The Conspiracy Theory and the Closing of the Arab Mind”
Here are excerpts
“The ‘Conspiracy Theory’ has almost become the interpretive lens through which Arabs view the world. It functions among various societal and political groups, both secular nationalists, and Salafists. Ignoring the serious nature of their domestic problems, Arabs blame Western Imperialists and Crusaders! This attitude has led to the ‘Closing of the Arab Mind.’
“Such an outlook reveals a basic mistrust in human beings’ ability to make proper decisions about critical issues that other cultures had succeeded in solving them. For example, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Western civilizations (the latter regarded by Muslims as Christian) had not been static. On the contrary, they have been impacted by philosophers like Spinoza, Leibnitz, Kant; and by theologians, like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Nicholas Berdyaev, and Jacques Maritain. In other words, they had open minds to interact with other cultures, unburdened by suspicion of the motives of ‘Others.’
“As a result, several problematic issues have dominated Arab societies, both with respect to themselves, as well as to others. Unwilling to be open to world-wide civilizations, and being excessively suspicious, they give full credence to the Conspiracy Theory. The ‘Other’ must be eternally conspiring to inflict harm on Arab and Muslim societies.”
Both the insights of Brother Rachid, and the article on Al-Awan, dealt with the deleterious impact of conspiracy thinking and its derivatives, on Arab and Muslim societies. In fact, many of the problems in the Arab/Muslim world, could be ameliorated, were the participants able to deal with them realistically. We all know the difficulty of putting off old ways and concepts. Especially difficult, when the authoritative texts of Islam promote it. The collective memory of the Islamic Umma is pervasive and very controlling over the thought habits of its adherents.
For instance, an event that took place in the Middle East fifty years ago, is illustrative of how the conspiracy theory has maintained a tenacious grip on the Arab Mind. President Nasser relied on its hold over the Arab masses, when he decided to take on Israel in what is known as the Six-Day war. He claimed that it was not so much the Israeli Air Force that attacked Egypt’s airfields, but that they were joined by France and Britain on that fateful Monday morning, the 6th of June 1967. Eventually, his theory was proved wrong!
President Nasser passed away in September 1970, and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. On 6 October 1973, he launched a surprise attack on the Israeli forces on the east side of the Suez Canal, and managed to make headway in the Sinai, only to be thwarted by General Ariel Sharon, who crossed the Canal westward, encircling the 3rd Egyptian Army. In early November, a cease fire came into effect.
Unlike his predecessor, Sadat was a realist; he surprised the world on 19 November 1977, by his trip to Israel, which led eventually to a peace treaty between the two nations. Radical Islamists violently disapproved of his action. On 6 October 1981, while reviewing a military parade in Cairo, commemorating the 1973 victory, he was gunned down by a member of the Egyptian Army! A sad reminder that an anti-Jewish attitude, deeply entrenched in the holy texts of Islam, still motivates some Muslims to react violently against anyone who seeks peace with Israel!
In 2011, popular revolts against Arab dictatorial regimes broke out first in Tunisia, spreading east, to other parts of the Arab world. It was hoped that they heralded the beginning of an “Arab Spring.” However, by mid-2017, the much-needed reforms had not taken place, and that peace and prosperity remain elusive. The Arab Mind remains closed and crippled; a fact that cannot be blamed on external forces. The causes are internal; they spring mainly from a worldview that’s anchored in the sacred texts of the Qur’an, Hadith, abd Sirat (The Life of Muhammad), that instill suspicion and animosity toward all non-Muslims. What a grim commentary on millions of our fellow-human beings who are mired in a crippling worldview!