Monday, June 02, 2008

"The state department has reinstated Fulbright grants for seven Palestinians in Gaza to study in the US." How generous of them, how thoughtful. In the days of the Raj, the British had long ago realised that if they educated the future princes and rulers of India, there would be a lesser likelihood of dissent and rebellion. You take a brown man and put a white person inside them as they grow up. You steal their life, give them your own ideas and view of life, then you send them back to rule the natives. That of course, would never happen to our Arab rulers, we're much too clever for that..

7 comments:

Arima said...

Sorry to be the proverbial thorn in your side :-p but how does this reflect on us as Arab expat students in the UK, US or wherever? Are we not being given their ideas?
Mind you I don't think many of us have much chance of going back to 'rule the natives'.

On a more serious note...I can see why you are so bitter, it is sickening and degrading

yaman said...

Well, I echo the concern of the comment above, and I can't help but think that this is a mis-directed sentiment. (I don't mean to be a thorn either haha!) Fulbright allows you to do your research independently, and I know many people who have been able to carry this out successfully without interference. So, I think this Fulbright thing is a little bit different than the king's kids who go to the elite boarding schools abroad in order to learn how to come back and oppress their people as proxies for the West, especially since it is usually ordinary students (maybe bourgeoisie--but we probably all are in the blogs, to be honest) not the kids of the authorities who are accepted and approved.

Wassim said...

One thing I probably should have mentioned is how politically convenient this stunt is for the US state department. I see what you both mean with regards to how a large number of us actually do study in the West and of course the extremely low likelihood of any of us ruling a country in the Middle East. Mainly I don't agree that this comes with a slight cost if any and we should not be quick to trivialise this. I think that living and studying in the West not only firmly roots us in the historical and cultural context which is taken for granted as universal when in fact it is Western, but it also shapes even the nature of our 'resistance' discourse. When I read philosophy, it is firmly rooted in what Western philosophers have interpreted and built on the classics whether with regards to morality or political philosophy. We fall into the categories that they have created, we know little, if anything, about our own language, culture or history.

We feel much more comfortable writing in a Western language, expressing ourselves in a Western language. The nature of our discussion on religion and the state, no, even our taking for granted of the state as a normal political form of organisation is Western. All of this and much more tells me that whilst we have certainly acquired an education here, I feel it has come at the cost of something else. As Arabs, or Muslims, or Chinese or whatever you wish, something has been stolen from us and we are given someone elses thoughts, life and aspirations as our own. There is something very uncomfortable about that.

I don't believe peoples should wall off ideas or become isolated, on the contrary. But I am trying to point out that being aware of where our ideas have come from, and more importantly, exploring avenues of thought, education and perspectives which have long been dormant in our own cultures and backgrounds might help us find something completely new and revolutionary.

Arima said...

Your ideas sound very much like those of Arab naionalism, the whole idea of going back to indigenous identities etc which is a good thing and certainly should be looked into more particularly in this day and age of globalisation. However, I would argue that the concept of Arab nationalism itself borrows a lot from earlier western ideologies. In fact I would go further in saying that there is no such thing as an 'authentic' Arab ideology--- just as there is no 'authentic' western ideology. The nature of society is that ideas are exchanged between civillisations which rise and fall.
The west certainly took a lot from Islamic civillisations during the renaissance period and now it is our turn to take from them.

Wassim said...

Hi Arima,
I would like to think that what I was referring to is a lot more sophisticated than just another variation of Arab nationalism. In fact what I am referring to is the furthest from ideology one could imagine. It is about how we know something, how we rearticulate issues such as human nature, government, justice and morality along completely different lines, lines which others had already started but which have been abandoned for sometime. For example, what is the nature of a person of a land with those who are said to "rule" or are custodians of it. Where does the legitimacy of law come from if not from the people as in Western democracies? What makes something 'right' and something 'wrong' and based on what standards? How would an 'educated', learned and non superstitous Arab have attempted answering these questions in a pre-colonial or Ottoman Egypt, or Syria or Iraq?

I don't know if such a thought exercise is even possible, but it would be pretty darn interesting for us to try and trace such thought.

Arima said...

Hmmmm...I think that might be a bit too deep for me. I think I get the idea though, however isn't what you're saying the essence of ideology. When these ideas are dreamed up, are the thinkers not trying to do as you are suggesting?
I don't believe that we are entirely influenced by western thinking though, many ideas of what is right/ wrong are based on Islamic laws, although arguabely you could say that all three major religions are from the same abrahamic tradition and thus have the same roots.
As for ideas of legitimacy- I believe that legitimacy from the people is quite a primeavil idea.

yaman said...

Wassim, I absolutely agree with you about the norms we grow up with but are unaware of because of our isolation/distance, but these are university graduates from Palestine who are being given Fulbrights. It's possible that some of them are in the situation you've described, but also quite possibly the contrary, given that the grew up and lived in Palestine and will come to the US to study English among other things.