Men Who Do Not Know the World

Men Who Do Not Know the World

Monday, 2 April, 2018 - 08:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
The world is changing at a remarkable pace and time is merciless. It eliminates old ideas, books and methods and replaces them with new ones, before also leaving them behind. Revolutions and changes no longer take place on the street and by the people. They are born in laboratories that never sleep. The successive technological and scientific revolutions change the lives of peoples and countries and they do not need permission to cross borders.

Nothing can stand in the way of the approaching waves. You either join them or get pushed aside and are abandoned by the world. Your incorporation in the world demands that you change and abandon what you thought were unwavering convictions. You now come to realize that the “generals” of technology are more effective than the generals of armies. The effect of a major organization is more powerful than the might of a country or military.

It is not enough to say that you are headed towards the future. This is not an invitation to a wedding or a reception. It is an invitation to a difficult test that you will not pass unless you are part of a world that lives in the shadow of institutions and men who know this world.

The Middle East stays with the reporters that have left it, no matter how far they go. Perhaps because it is a lake of blood and tears and a swamp of fears and tensions. Lost peoples, porous borders, dark cities and waves of refugees. Schools are weak and unemployment is rampant. We have paid the heavy price for failing to build institutions. We have paid the heavy price for long remaining in the shadow of men who do not know the world.

Today, it is no longer enough to seize control of barracks, radios, parties or capitals. What will you do tomorrow? The antidotes of the old world have expired. You either belong to this age or die in your isolation.

In New York, you find success, money, greed and art. I remember former late Yemeni President Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, I asked him about the security incidents in his capital. He smiled, replying that those killed in Sanaa are less than those killed in New York. I thought it was a strange comparison. I asked him how he managed to remain in power since 1978. He replied sarcastically: “The Washington Post predicted that I would not last more than six months. And here we are now.”

As I rose to bid him farewell, he said: “Do you remember the names of the presidents of the White House since the time the Washington Post predicted the duration of my tenure?”

I mulled over his statements. Can the individual crimes in New York be compared to crimes committed in Sanaa? What about the major financial corporations? What about art, innovation, success, universities and opportunities? Are we an island that is isolated from the spirit of the world and its accomplishments? Can the United States be considered weak because a president is forced to leave office after serving two terms because the institution is more powerful than the man? Can he be considered weak because he cannot tame Congress, predict headlines before newspapers are printed and prevent a judge from imposing the law?

Not knowing the world is a calamity. Saddam Hussein did not know the world. He believed that a ruler is instated through the spirit of the nation, not the ballot boxes. He often wondered how a man, who won only 51 percent of a vote, could be able to make historic decisions. He believed that historic decisions can only be made by a man who wages elections alone and reaps 99 percent of the vote, ignoring the fact that these record figures were concocted at the Interior Ministry and intelligence offices.

Failing to know the world has led many countries to disasters. Believing that the West is weak and quickly accepting of the status quo, Saddam committed the sin of invading Kuwait. Based on his military thought that was inherited from World War II, he believed that he will confront the American army in the streets of Baghdad. He had forgotten that the world had progressed and that the massive technological gap will not allow the Iraqi army to come face-to-face with the Americans.

Moammar al-Gaddafi did not know the world and its real balances of power. He was overjoyed when Silvio Berlusconi kissed his hand and took joy in Italy’s weakness and humiliation. His ignorance of the world reached the extent of disrespecting Tony Blair. He was also tempted to meddle in the French presidential elections, believing that the new president will become a pawn in his hands. He never once believed that those nations have institutions that were awakening and correcting previous errors. No one in the world knew.

The most dangerous thing a ruler can do is waste successive generations and prevent his country from moving forward. Wasting the time of the people is no less dangerous than shedding blood. It is a form of mass murder. It is enough to examine the capitals of countries that were long ruled by men who knew nothing of the world and the real balances of power and the meaning of scientific and technological advancement.

The time of the isolated island is over. The river of progression is flowing and revolutions are being produced in laboratories. We will not be able to head towards the future without institutions, without men who carry the torch of progress. Men who know the world and have the courage to become part of it. Men who draw the path of dreams with numbers.

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