Casablanca – It is heartwarming to see Moroccan columnists and bloggers write on a wide variety of topics in different languages. As a huge advocate of writing, I can only commend whoever participates and encourages it. However, even such great activities as writing and reading can be a source of trouble and concern in Morocco. In this country of ours, where ignorance, unfortunately, persists even among the few literate and so-called well-educated people, anyone with a keyboard or a webcam can become an authority, and their opinions, absolute truths to adopt, support and even fight (sometimes literally) over.
A few days ago, I read a blog on the illicitness of Islamic banking by Mayssa Naji, a blogger and columnist with a fairly wide online readership. In her blog, she claims that the so-called Sharia compliant transactions are mere rebrands of the traditional interest loans. Although she alleged that there is support for her argument from Muslim scholars who oppose such financial transactions, she admits that the main basis for her argument is a personal conviction that she reached after an internal inquiry. I believe that Mayssa’s intuition is way off the mark, for there is plenty of clear evidence that Islamic banks are not only Sharia compliant but are also capable of giving Morocco’s economy an unprecedented boost, and, thus, solve Moroccans’ social conditions.
However flawed and weakly built, Mayssa’s conclusion per se does not pose any concern for me for two main reasons: (1) it is easy to rebut and more importantly, (2) I know that such opinion articles and blogs convey primarily personal views rather than facts, and thus are not to take at face value.
What worries me, instead, is the other 75 % of readers who cannot distinguish between a personal blog and a scholarly article, between a personal opinion and proven facts. This group of readers believe Mayssa’s opinions to be true, and any blogger’s opinion for that matter as if they were self-evident truths, responding to her articles with praising comments, cheering her veracity, and praying for more triumphs for her. I like to call such reactions the “Mayssa syndrome”.
Although we find such inane reaction to many bloggers’ opinions, Mayssa’s case clearly highlights this issue because not only is her article essentially an opinion article with no substantial evidence, but she even explicitly states that her position on Islamic banking transactions is precisely a personal one. Furthermore, at the end of most, if not all opinion articles, editors make sure they attribute the opinions expressed in any article to the author only. Why is it, then, that despite all these caveats, we’re still susceptible to a sort of syndrome that makes us take whatever we read in a magazine at face value without deep investigation?
I believe that what I chose to call Mayssa Syndrome is a complex issue with many reasons and manifestations, or to extend the metaphor, many causes and symptoms. But I would like to focus, here, on two main factors.
First, we like to read and we are ready to believe anything that fits our preconceived notions of truth and our cultural and political affiliations. Any article that echoes what our culture has taught us is beyond investigation. Thus, those who were convinced, for example, that Arab Moroccans have stigmatized Amazigh people and their culture at certain points of history will believe any points that an Amazigh activist such as Ahmed Asid makes. Supporters of Abdelilah Benkirane, for example, will believe and defend any statement that praises him and his party no matter how unreasonable the statement is.
We do not think for ourselves; we give up this task to those who lecture or write. Only a few people can go against the current of ideology, politics, and religion, and form a well thought-out opinion on any of these issues. Mark Twain insists that “a coldly thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing — if it has indeed ever existed.”
The second cause of Mayssa Syndrome is idealizing famous people. For reasons unknown to me, we in the Arab world, tend to get attached to intellectuals, thinkers, clergy, and even beginning bloggers more than to their actual substance. An example of this issue that always comes to my mind is the famous Imam Alqazabri. Before he began leading prayer in Masjid Hassan II, Alqazabri was an imam in a smaller masjid in Casablanca. During this period, he transformed the neighborhood: more people started praying than ever before, the masjid was filled with people who exhibited a tremendous amount of piety and cried hard during his sermons—some even passed out.
Outside the masjid, you would see dozens of pious youth in “Islamic” outfits, hugging each other and solemnly discussing matters of religion. Then, the May 16th attacks occur, Alqazabri is stopped, and all of a sudden, the spiritual atmosphere of the neighborhood fades away. Day by day, the number of people who came to pray shrank. Many of the once bearded youth in “Islamic” garb shaved their beards and went back to their former lifestyles.
There is only one explanation to such bewildering behavior: those people were more attached to Alqazabri than to his thought and teachings, which did not matter after he was gone. Such behavior obviously reveals an important aspect of our social hypocrisy, but what matters for discussion here is that when we become attached to some figure, his or her opinions become beyond questioning, beyond skepticism. This applies to renowned writers and speakers as well as columnists and bloggers. The rule seems to be that if an individual is famous enough, he or she must be knowledgeable or an expert.
Do you suffer from this syndrome? Do you take in opinions passively, without questioning the validity of their premises? Do your political views stop you from questioning your favorite authors? If so, you ought to be as concerned as if you had some severe illness, if not more. Do not let your authors’ charisma fool you. Don’t let their rhetorical language hypnotize your reason. Don’t surrender your intellect to anyone no matter how famous or eloquent they are.
In a nutshell, do not take anything you read or hear for granted. Instead, challenge their claims and demand evidence. In figurative terms, don’t be a dead fish who can only swim with the current. Be a living fish and swim in any direction your sincere pursuit of truth may lead you.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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