Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Socially Conditioned to Acquire a Herd Mentality

Here is another type of entry that Le Monde 2 refrains from quoting when citing Healing Iraq's Zeyad as a weblog suppedly intent on castigating the American intervention of March 2003 (links and all emphasis mine). It is suggested that you read through the article before clicking on any links…
I spent the bulk of my time a few days ago closely following the various Arab satellite channels and their extensive coverage on the present state of Islam, global terrorism and the Arab world three years after the earthquake of September 11th.

Not surprisingly, a few channels, such as the Iranian based Al-Alam and Hizbollah's mouthpiece Al-Manar, focused on recycled conspiracy theories that have long been debunked and rubbish speculations unsupported by even the slightest evidence (Al-Alam named its program "9/11, The Hoax Of The Century"). Some of these include the false claim, wildly propagated by the Arab media at the time, that 3,000 New Yorker Jews did not go to work on 9/11, that the Mossad had prior knowledge of the attacks, that the CIA had trained the suicide bombers, that the planes were directed to hit the buildings by ground control, that the Pentagon was not hit by an aircraft, that the Pennsylvania flight was downed by the US Air Force, that there were no Arabs on any of the 4 flights, and the idiotic self-pitiful argument that Arabs simply do not have the required know-how to carry out such a highly coordinated attack. These are only a tiny fraction of the theories given by Arab viewers but, for the sake of brevity, I will not recount them all.

Most Arabs and Muslims are unfortunately unaware that these claims would be laughed at by most people, they also cannot be possibly blamed for such thinking simply because they have been repeatedly fed prepackaged rumours and conspiracy theories as truth throughout their lives by school texts, speeches of immortal Arab leaders, official statements and state-sponspored media. Sociologists call this process 'communal reinforcement' One cannot think for himself when he has the state to think on his behalf. One would even feel 'wrong' and out of place if he disagreed with the prevalent opinion all around him. In time, the Arab individual would be socially conditioned to acquire a comforting herd mentality.

Try to imagine it this way: starting with your early childhood you hear adults around you blaming 'Jews', 'Israel', 'Zionists', 'infidels', 'colonialism', 'imperialism', 'the West' for all the ills of your society. At school you are taught a flowery refined version of Arab and Islamic history. One in which the Ummah was the center of the world. You revel in the glories of your ancestors, their superior military and economic power, their benign tolerance of religious minorities, all the wealth of scientific knowledge they brought to humanity while the west was wallowing in the Dark Ages. You then learn about the conspiracies against the Islamic Empire and its divine message for humanity. Colonialism. How the west came to enslave your countrymen and plunder your riches for centuries. You look around you at the Arab and Islamic world today and you wonder what went wrong. How can such a glorious 'chosen' Ummah suffer such a pathetic fate.

Remember that you are completely blocked from the outside world, you only read newspapers and books allowed by the government, the rest are censored. You only watch state-sponspored tv channels. Websites that are 'unacceptable' are blocked by state-sponspored Internet providers. The government tells you that 'this is for your own good', they protect you from 'the other' which is trying to poison your thoughts, undermine your faith, and destroy your traditions. Your fellow countrymen who inadvertently step over the lines are strictly 'punished' by the state because they have become 'spies' and 'agents'. Anyone else who dares to ask for more liberties, reforms, who criticises or acts against the ruler/government/state is an enemy acting on behalf of Zionists and imperialists, or is part of a grand plan (that has been planned for centuries) against 'the revolution' or the historical role of the ummah/Caliph/Sultan/ruler/government/state.

The above situation is not out of George Orwell's 1984, it is what all Iraqis for the last 50 years had to endure. Arabs and Muslims in other countries suffer from basically the same albeit in different or lesser degrees, but again nobody can really know exactly because the state has all its citizens in a constant state of paranoia. I have faintly sensed it when communicating with other Arabs by email or IM. I had online friends from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Egypt reluctant to answer any of my questions regarding their domestic affairs. I remembered my own situation before the war when people asked me about Iraq or Saddam and how I would steer to change the subject or simply end the conversation out of paranoia and fear.

My point is that a significant percentage of Arabs and Muslims (especially the simple minded and the uneducated) are irreversibly affected by this elaborate brainwashing process. Repeated exposure to outlandish theories and nonsensical propaganda propagated by the state, mass media and other members of society strongly engrains them into one's worldview and over time they turn into concrete facts that are almost impossible to let go of, despite their lack of supporting evidence. They become so strong that the person turns a blind eye to any information or evidence that refute his theories. In fact the person may be profoundly astonished that you can't see things the way he does, when his evidence is as clear as the sun in the sky. He might even call you a Zionist or a CIA agent because you would rather think for yourself and refuse to adopt his worldview. He might even go farther and try to harm you or your family physically. Indeed, thousands of individuals across the Arab and Muslim world have been killed for just that.

It should be important to note that the process above is not exclusive to Arabs or Muslims. It can apply to almost any nation, group or society, though perhaps in a lesser degree.

Why is it that France and certain other European countries come to mind here? In fact, I suggest you think of those countries while rereading the parts of the text in bold (all the while bearing in mind the "lesser degree" that Zeyad mentions, needless to say).
What distinguishes us Arabs is that most of us continue to live under repressive totalitarian regimes that owe their existence to such tactics. The recent developments in Lebanon with the constitutional amendment to ensure Lahhud stays in rule are a sad example in practice. … Another example in Sudan where the government accused Israel of being involved in the Darfur crisis. And last, in Iraq where it seems a Mossad agent is behind every bombing and every assassination, and that Israelis are buying land and building settlements in the Kurdish north. Again, the biased Arab media is to blame for spreading such absurd claims without evidence.

Another thing that distinguishes us Arabs is our rich heritage and the wide gap between what we are in theory and what we are in reality. I mentioned before the flowery version of our history and religion every child of ours is fed since the age of nine. Not one word is mentioned about the violent internal conflicts in early Islam, not one word about the bloody civil war that followed the assassination of the third Caliph Othman which marked the schism in Islam, not one word about all the bloody revolts and assassinations throughout our history, not one word about how Muslims converted the defeated nations and how minorities were treated as slaves or tax paying second-class citizens when they did not convert, not one word about the plight of women under Islam, not one word about all the massacres and atrocities that were committed in the name of Islam in all corners of the world.

When I first started to read other history books written by early Muslim historians such as Al-Baladhiri, Al-Tabari, Ibn Al-Athir and Ibn Khaldun, I seriously thought that I was mistaken and was reading about some nation other than Muslims. A few years later, and after devouring every tiny bit of history written about Islam by Muslims and non-Muslims, I had come to the realisation that I was fooled and duped into believing a totally different picture. In fact, I was even scared of what else I might discover next. With that realisation in mind I moved on to the 'untouchable' scriptures, the Quran and the Hadith, but that is another story. …