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A Return to Reading - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ten years ago, many people in our region announced the death of the greatest invention of knowledge, i.e. reading. The killers of reading were identified as the television, VCRs and video games. However, I think that we have exaggerated slightly in our conclusion and have rushed into pity as we are witnessing a return to reading. The number of readers has increased, not necessarily the number of people reading books in comparison to those who surf the net, the greatest invention of modern history that comes close to the inventions of the light bulb and penicillin.

Just like any balanced person impressed by technological development, I admit that sitting in front of a computer is not always a case of reading useful articles; however, reading remains a virtuous advantage. The internet has opened the door for many young Arabs in search of knowledge, research and reaction. Evidence of the magnitude of different content available on the internet is that many of those who have joined terrorist groups have stated that they were influenced by what they found on the net. Obviously such reading is classified as harmful however this is part of life and good is always rivaled by evil.

We wish that reading would have been assigned to us as homework so that it would have become a habit. In London, people read as they wait for their buses, whilst sitting on the trains, in their beds before they go to sleep, and half naked as they lie on the beach [on holiday]. It is true that a lot of this reading is trivial, nevertheless it is harmless.

Perhaps, reading is of no use to some adults as proven by the case of US President George W. Bush who is addicted to reading. It has been said that he has become a bookworm to the extent that he challenged his political advisor, Karl Rove, on who could read more books. Bush won the bet as he read 80 books in one year.

At times, books do not stimulate the right decision to be made given that the issue of democracy has stuck in Bush’s head. He dwelled upon discussing democracy with or without occasion which has led him on to a very bumpy road in our region and that has terrorized friendly regimes that now question what has come over this man. The reason for his solid conviction in the democratic solution lies behind a book written by the Israeli minister Natan Sharansky entitled, ‘The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror’. The writer had stated that the dilemmas of the Middle East can be resolved by imposing democracy. Based on this call, Bush opened the door for strong, ignorant powers to reach power, or fight for it, without taking into account the required time for transition to the stages of elections, free choices and respect for rights. Therefore, it is here that shortsighted reading becomes detrimental to one’s health. For Sharansky, the idea is excellent because Israel is already a democratic state, regardless of the fact that it occupies land belonging to others or that it does so at the expense of the rights of its people. In return, Arab states are totalitarian regimes that could be easily exposed in case of any political controversy or any rushed changes according to Sharansky’s theory and this could possibly lead to chaos.

Reading does not necessarily make the individual an intellectual regardless of how many books s/he has memorized. However, poor literature, such as that on the subject of UFO’s or the ideas of ignorant fanaticism, is still better than illiteracy that deactivates the brain.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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