Hello from the back of the plenary session on Day 2 of the Israel Presidents Conference, Tomorrow 2012, with our gracious and ever-activist host, Shimon Peres.
I’m huddled with (real) press members in the back after explaining
sheepishly excitedly to a The Marker reporter that I’m a blogger (and, uh, former journalist).
The first perspective I’m thrilled to share is the talk by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali who I found wildly more fascinating than former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi AShkenazi (who by the way, made a great statement about the Tal Law and changing army model) or Ambassador Dennis Ross (loved your book, though).
Quick background on Hirsi-Ali:
- Born in Somalia, Muslim, moved throughout Africa and Saudi Arabia.
- In 1992 at around 20, came to Netherlands as a refugee.
- Admired world figure after Islamist-related murder of her colleague.
- Known for intellectual integrity and bravery.Critical view of Islam.
- Lives in the United States.
I have great admiration for what your nation, your country has achieved in a very short time.
It’s not only the only free country, but the only functioning country.
First two decades of my life versus the second half of my life since I came to the Netherlands – the first half of my life was categorized by three aspects.
First aspect is absolute authority. I grew up in a Muslim family, my father’s authority over our family was absolute. Couldn’t argue with him, didn’t discuss – we had to obey him. My relationship to my teachers was exactly the same. Students were expected to learn what they were taught. On a national level, authority was also absolute. If u disagreed with the policeman or the general or the president, then you ended up in jail. And you were lucky.
Second aspect that characterized first half of my life – I don’t know how to formulate it in English – but ‘to compromise is to suffer shame, lose face. If there was a conflict, you only had winners and losers. Makes settling a conflict, if you were clever, didn’t mean you compromised, but you bear a grudge and wait for the moment u can defeat your enemy.
In Koran school, when I got into fights, thats exactly how I behaved and how everyone else behaved.
The third aspect is that all problems from the micro problems of your life to the macro problems – national, international, global – you could find all the answers in the Koran or the Hadith example that Mohammad left.
This was all baked into me. When I left my country and came to Saudi Arabia, I recognized all these aspects. I didn’t feel they were that different.
When my family moved to Ethiopia and I associated for the first time with the non-Muslim community, I realized they were different. Kenya – I went to school in a multicultural society, I associated with children from Yemen, Pakistan, other Muslim countries. These were the three defining features we shared (the three aspects).
Fast forward: I came to the Netherlands and I find almost an exact opposite of that. I find that in the west, in fact, authority is not absolute. I know theres a long history before things came that way.
To compromise is one of the most honorable things you can do.,
and religion, the bible, whatever holy book – does not contain all the answers, there are other books, ways of teaching a solution.
If I extrapolate – and I know I’m being cheeky – from my early life to the issues facing your region, I see that in Israel, and indeed in America and other western countries, there is this disconnect, where you are dealing with a culture where you as a democracy have to negotiate with men who have absolute power and expect it. What I find optimistic about the events of last year and this year – Arab spring turning into Islamist winter – hopefully things will go in a different way – but what I find interesting, I find it thrilling, the first time Arab countries, Muslim countries, have questioned that absolute power. The masses have organized themselves and driven away the despot.
Can it translate into questioning, top down, the authority of the leader to the authority of the father, the teacher? That will be true revolution.
Principle of non-compromise: this region is a region governed by honor and shame. A true revolution will be once people move from this idea; to compromise is to suffer shame. If it can happen, it will impact the region and will have a fantastic impact on Islam and Arab world and indeed the Jewish people and Arab people.
Finally, religion – Islamists and Muslim brotherhood have won the hearts and minds of large Arab population because they offer religion Islam the Koran and the Hadith as the source that they will look into to resolve problems. Again, a true revolution is only likely if people put that aside.
Those three characteristics – absolute power, non compromise, fixation on religion – if all three change can we really speak of a revolution in the Arab world. And its impact on the whole world and the Jewish people, cannot be overstated.
Other Tomorrow 2012 coverage: