The big contradiction
The big contradiction
Rabat – Amongst the topics that often come up in debates, in articles of newspapers, news shows, talk shows, international conferences as well as in literary and worldly debates, we often find the following themes: dialogue, intercultural dialogue, interfaith dialogue, tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other in his difference, cultural diversity, globalism etc.
The recurrence of these concepts bluntly shows to us that the third millennium, so often described by experts as the era of communication par excellence, ultimately is not what it is supposed to be for there is an acute shortage in all the above-mentioned areas.
It is true, that the human being can physically and virtually move from point A to point B, with ease nowadays, but yet, culturally speaking, he cannot communicate with the person standing in front of him. It is even worse when each individual seems to bear against the other dangerous and degrading stereotypes and, duly, surrounds himself with walls and shields, supposedly to defend him from a potential cultural danger and destroys, consequently, paths and bridges.
On top of that, it must be said that in spite of the fantastic digital revolution, which the whole humanity is experiencing and celebrating with great fanfare, today, the image of the other one has not improved, it is still dull, not to say, of course, lugubrious and negative due to stereotypes and the preconceptions that trace their origin in ignorance, racism, xenophobia and ill will. Sadly, these stereotypes, so harmful towards universal harmony and love for one another, are cultivated by certain media with the prime goal to raise their percentage of audience or readership for purely commercial reasons.
Where it hurts the most, is when racist groups, xenophobes or simply fascists that, to make selfish inroads in their campaigns or achieve base objectives, put psychological pressure on common people to give them allegiance by invoking the stereotypes that create existential fear of all that is different by highlighting all false images and representations of the other.
Therefore, today, although science has pushed further the frontiers of ignorance and our world has become, as predicted by the big Canadian visionary Marshall McLuhan in 1960, “a planetary village,” yet we ask ourselves, with insistence, is our world really a village or is it just a romantic metaphor with everything we cherish regarding the village environment: solidarity, warmth, harmony, friendship and love, and the truth of the matter is it is mostly a “jungle,” where only the strong are rampant and where all blows and bad practices are allowed?
If things continue at this rate, our era will certainly be one of total contradiction: on one side, we will communicate virtually and physically much faster and more effectively, and on the other, each one of us will isolate himself in his own world and refuse any exchange.
It is about time to destroy natural and superficial cultural barriers for good and to establish, instead, open and honest dialogues amongst the different marginal groups of society. This noble objective cannot be realized other than by the adoption of the philosophy of sharing, so dear to Saint Martin de Tours, this great man who re-invented, many centuries before and more precisely on the year 337 AD “solidarity amongst men”, while he was in garrison in Amiens, in Gaul, he generously made this universal gesture whereby he shared half of his coat with a poor person shivering in the cold and frosty weather.
Sharing within traditional societies
One of the harmful consequences of this fast and crawling globalization is the inevitable destruction of secular norms of traditional society. In fact, the economic constraints of globalization in the world, today, push towards the standardization of the nuclear family social format leading, ultimately, to the extinction of the extended family. In reality, apart from certain places in the planet, still geographically untouched by globalization, extended families are mere vestiges of the recent past.
It is true that with science`s constant progress, human society automatically and simultaneously follows its course and tries to, somehow, adapt to the new realities and new ways. Globalization brings humanity closer and creates new wealth, though, however, this wealth is not evenly distributed amongst the different layers of society and its different groups. Indeed, the gap between wealth and knowledge and between a developed and rich north, and a bruised and poor south, gets bigger and bigger not to say, of course, wider and wider.
Formerly, the south subsisted thanks to its traditional social structures, on the other hand, with the disappearance of these structures, this part of the world is, today, very vulnerable and in many places, it is torn by the violence of ethnical wars, religious conflicts and political greed and wanton behavior.
This leads us to ask the following question: what is the secret of the traditional social structures in keeping its members together and united?
One of the prominent aspects of the extended family is without a shadow of doubt the philosophy of sharing symbolized by twiza, an amazigh concept, which is based on values such as:
- Sharing of responsibilities and wealth in a fair way;
- Active solidarity;
- Mutual protection;
- Safeguarding of the vital interests of the community; and
- Protection of collective identity.
These societies were governed by a strong sense of community; the individual existed as an individual as long as he belonged to a community and bore its identity.
But, for the philosophy of sharing to be able to manifest itself in a traditional society without any hindrances, it ought to, definitely, oppress individualism for the sake of collectivism. The individual, in reality, is a small particle of a given community, not having any existence on his own. In fact, in these societies, people would generally identify first by the person`s clan, then, by the family surname.
That which the individual would lose in identity, he would gain in sharing, solidarity and protection. In these communities, wealth is shared in a fair way: all members of the clan would have enough food to eat, would have a ceiling to sleep under and clothes to dress decently. There are no big differences of wealth or inequality in opportunities between the different members of the society, or feeling of insecurity or any form of resentment towards the others.
It is true that traditional societies are less developed than modern ones, less sophisticated, but, they have this great quality of being human, in the full sense of the term, as they believe in and practice sharing and active solidarity by conviction and by love.
This type of society mostly outdated, today, on the view of the development of human society and modernity, boasts many positive teachings and vital concepts, which we can use to construct a fair modern society, devoid of greed, inequality and injustice and aiming to achieve development and modernity fully.
Aware of the importance of the positive aspects of modern society, many human groups have reinvented, by conviction, the traditional society in their present environment and have settled in the comfort of such communities. Others have recreated the conditions of the traditional society in religious brotherhoods, sports associations or simply in political parties or cultural associations. The central axis of all these human groupings is solidarity and sharing. This solidarity manifests itself through mutual help and social justice, which are, no doubt, sine qua non conditions to have a decent life of dignity and humanity knowing that human beings, today, are dangerously threatened in their humanity, if not to say existence.
Solidarity in Islam
It goes without saying that the majority of human religions and faiths revolve around putting face to face the central duality of good and evil. For the religions of the book, the most important manifestation of the good is, without a single doubt, sharing and caring.
In Islam, the philosophy of sharing is inscribed in a multitude of surahs from the Koran, such as:
“Help one another in goodness (sharing) and piousness
and put an end to evil and aggression”
We can find a wide range of expressions in many different notions: the notion of Ummah, zakat, kafalat al-muhtaj, and kafalat al-yatim.
1. The Ummah “The Nation of Believers”
It is a notion where all Muslims are all equal in front of God in spite of their ethnic, linguistic, material or geographical differences; the thing that distinguishes one from another is their degree of piousness, belief and goodness.
The transversal notion of the Ummah is generous sharing and active solidarity. This is illustrated, in a transparent and direct way, by a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:
“When a member or a part of the human body is attacked by illness (a germ or a virus) the whole body flies to the rescue of this part of the body without hesitation”
This hadith shows, without detours, the importance of the values of sharing and solidarity in Islam.
This effective solidarity amongst Muslims from different regions and cultures finds its ultimate expression during the season of Hajj
(Pilgrimage to Mecca) when three million believers or so, from hundreds of countries find themselves shoulder to shoulder in a cramped space in Mecca or Medina in Saudi Arabia, to accomplish the rites of pilgrimage. This rite is supposed to be based on solidarity and sharing, which is what the pilgrims strive to accomplish with dexterity and flair.
2. Zakat: is a religious annual tax paid by the believer to bayt-al-mal, a religious state fund, to combat poverty and exclusion from society. Unlike modern taxes, religious taxes are voluntary and in case of non-payment, the law does not repress such a behavior.
3. Kafalat al-muhtaj / kafalat al-yatim: is the immediate support given to the needy and orphans by the Islamic state thanks to the funds of bayt al-mal. The needy are looked after until the end of their stay in diverse institutions, which have been financed by the funds from bayt al-mal or the religious legacies known as the Habous.
Regarding the orphan, he is taken care of until he reaches majority or his insertion in the active professional life making use of the same funds. The believers make the religious legacies or habous in cash or goods, with the finality of the establishment of a system of sharing and solidarity. These legacies are either anonymous or carry the name of the sponsor or donator.
It should be strongly noted that these religious practices are of great value to the believers and, for centuries, have become a citizen obligation, what Antoine Selosse, from the Cultural European Center Saint Martin de Tours calls “shared citizenship”. Besides, the believer that makes the donations towards the state with the purpose of sharing and solidarity is called in Arabic: mohsin “benefactor” this same word has passed to the French language under the lexical form of “mécène.”
States in crisis
At the beginning of the last century appeared in the Arab world a philosophy that preaches the nahda, “renaissance” and modernity in politics, culture and thinking.
With the access of the Arab countries to independence, the regimes that came with it were mostly political systems of European inspiration, therefore the ultimate desertion of the concept of the Islamic state: caliphate. Unlike Europe, their structures were not democratic but rather totalitarian either of military or oligarchic nature. This system of government favored the emergence of leading classes and elites whose wealth increased at the expense of the state by illegal means. This condition brought a great division in Arab societies between the elites that have enriched due to the system of rent and the hard working class, poor at the beginning and impoverishing further. Failing to anticipate a system of solidarity and sharing, the lower classes found themselves totally marginalized, so easily retrievable by the anti-establishment movements, henceforth leading to the uprisings that spawned the famous or infamous Arab Spring.
In 1972, appeared in Morocco a band bearing the name “Nass El Ghiwane” that highlighted in song the problems of the less favored class. The anti-establishment themes of this popular band galvanized the common people unlike with other singers because the band interpreted themes about exclusion, poverty, corruption, mismanagement and lack of social justice.
The songs of this band found audience amongst the anti-establishment intellectuals, common people and the less favored societies everywhere in the Arab world.
The exemplary success of this type of music, from the emotional hinterland, at both the national level and in the Arab world is due in a big way to the shared themes of sharing and solidarity openly addressed for the first time.
35 years later, the band “Nass El Ghiwane” is still anti-establishment, in a metaphorical way, and still carries the solidarity flag with much faith:
O human being!
O human being !
Why are we enemies?
We are brothers
We are cousins
We are neighbors
O human being!
But they, also, deal in song with the major predicaments of modern Arab society with eloquence and without detour:
O all merciful God
Why has our summer become winter?
And spring has morphed into fall?
Why are the officials
Liars and oppressors?
And the judges unfair in their rulings?
And why are statesmen
So oppressive and inhuman?
Of course the latter band songs, in themselves, could not resolve the poor Arab citizen´s problems, mainly related to illiteracy, oppression by dictatorship and the weight of the past, which is glorified to evade modernity, democracy, good governance and social justice, but they managed successfully to raise his consciousness.
Before the advent of the Iranian revolution of Khomeini at the end of the 70´s of the last century, Islamic groups appeared like mushrooms in all the Arab countries, preaching the return to tradition and orthodoxy through the re-islamization of society and the return to Islamic values and sources, by getting rid of any trace of modernity or West’s influence.
Islamic groups owed their evident success not only to their religious orthodoxy, but rather to their concentrated and voluntary actions of solidarity and sharing, assisting the less favored class forgotten by their corrupt and oppressing governments. Thus, without firing a shot, Islamists won their cause thanks to support from the less favored from many Arab countries where the percentages of poverty vary from 60% to 70% of the population.
So, how did the Islamists manage to achieve their feat of sharing and solidarity where governments with their structures, their ministries and their budgets have miserably failed?
The Islamist´s success in their politics of sharing and solidarity is due largely to their righteousness with the local affairs, their transparency, their realism and their availability at all times.
The Islamists take periodically a census of the demands of the needy population and immediately meet their urgent requirements of food, clothes, school supplies, medicine, and wheelchairs for the handicapped or eye glasses for the visually-impaired.
In case of death, illness, accidents or natural catastrophes, Islamists take charge of expenses related to burial, hospitalization and medicine without any conditions, apparently of course.
In this indirect way, the project of the Islamist society wins the hearts and, at the same time, wins electoral votes of the underprivileged, while secular or other political parties suffer from impaired credibility status because of their lack of transparency and political voluntarism.
Islamists in Turkey with their Party for Justice and Development or AKP (Adalet ve Kalk?nma Partisi) have shown, clearly and convincingly, that they are capable of big social advancements due to their politics of voluntarism, sharing and solidarity within their societies, which made them win the trust of the majority of citizens, even of those that did not believe in their political and religious dogmatism.
The era of sharing and solidarity has arrived
Thanks to men such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many others, the world of today is a safer environment, more democratic and, somewhat, more egalitarian but there is an urgent need to highlight more the values of solidarity and sharing among all human beings with the aim to give hope to all.
It is the duty of all citizens big and small, poor or well-to-do to adhere strongly to the much-needed philosophy of voluntary solidarity and positive sharing as, unfortunately, the world, today, is becoming a harsh place to live in due to wars, diseases, ideological conflicts and natural catastrophes.
To achieve this, it is the duty of everyone to reinvent the historical gesture of Saint Martin de Tours and to solemnly universalize such a behavior and go, even further, to include such an act of human generosity in the constitutions of the member-states of the United Nations, as was the case with human rights, decades ago.
Today, our world, is more divided than before, and, therefore, is in more need for compassion and love to spread more generosity of sharing and of solidarity amongst the citizens of this planet, our only habitat. We, definitely, need each other, today, more than ever before.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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