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In Search of a Noble Spirit - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The most impressive and astonishing aspect of American First Lady Barbara Bush’s visit was the surprised laugh she let out as she put on the Saudi scarf over her head.

The image said more than a thousand speeches and articles ever could; it was spontaneous (or so it appeared to be), direct and effective.

The story is that Mrs. Bush visited several countries in the region, Saudi Arabia at the forefront, for social and charitable purposes. The emphasis of her visit was to combat breast cancer and spread an awareness about the disease among the women of the region.

Under this banner, the US First Lady met with a group of Saudi ladies and female intellectuals in Jeddah  all of whom were actively combating breast cancer and calling upon other women to learn about the disease, and those who are afflicted to courageously confront it.

The truth is that this courage is not just a pretext or ‘empty words’, it is a reality and a practice. It would suffice to highlight the model of courage exemplified by Dr. Samia Amoudi. A Saudi writer and physician Dr. Samia Amoudi was diagnosed with cancer but she confronted it with an unprecedented boldness and courage, writing several newspaper columns about the disease and urging women to go public with their breast cancer.

In an article written by Saudi journalist Faiza Ambah for ‘The Washington Post’, she mentioned that Dr. Amoudi had spoken about her battle with cancer in over 30 televised interviews and in dozens of articles. Amoudi believes that the best solution when facing a crisis is to confront it rather than escape it.

Dr. Samia’s valor, maturity and confidence were recognized when she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last March.

The doctor spoke to the American media about the necessity of brining cancer awareness to the forefront of Saudi society. She drew attention to a very important point, which is that the presence of a tumor in a sensitive area, such a woman’s breast, prevents her from openly declaring her malaise  especially in a conservative society. Add to that the deep-seated fear and dread of cancer and other diseases that are regarded as fatal and the belief that anyone afflicted would inevitably die when in fact many people have fought against them and survived.

However, this article is not about breast cancer or about spreading awareness about the disease  although it is a noble and honorable thing to do. I have previously written about Dr. Amoudi’s story; however for this endeavor, I wanted to contemplate and elaborate upon this bold and mature ‘spirit’ possessed by this Saudi lady and others like her.

Why doesn’t this same spirit extend to apply to other problems that beset Arab societies? Why do we always prefer to hide garbage under our carpet rather than uncover it and publicly rid ourselves of it and its related problems? The problem with hiding garbage under the carpet is that it does not eliminate it, rather only conceals it from eyesight.

There are many problems in the Arab world that we prefer to adopt a carpet-garbage approach and logic towards. We have conflicts arising from religious and ethnic minorities, for example, as well as sects and the different systems of governance whether monarchical and republican, in addition to the problem with the relationship between religion and state, and the blight of corruption…

There exists a multitude of such problems and it would be good, useful and healing to be able to see them clearly and in doing so, recognize them so that we may collect them and sweep them out of our houses to annihilate them once and for all.

Recently a group of Coptic Egyptian Immigrants held a conference in the US to discuss their problems and demand rights that they consider have been usurped. Meanwhile, some parties in Egypt became agitated and denied the existence of a problem between the Copts and Muslims in Egypt and said that the issue is a case of foreign instigation since Egyptians were never discriminated against because of their religion.

Of course such talk may be deemed rhetorical and it will never solve the problem and can only exacerbate it. If you reject the other party’s right to complain then you have exercised the most severe degree of elimination and isolation against it.

Recognize the other party’s complaint in principle, and then a discussion of the details may follow. In cases such as these, the famous ‘devil of details’ will not appear. The party seeks to be recognized and understood and it will not insist on bringing in too many details into the story.

The same applies to the problem of Darfur in Sudan. The official story coming out of Khartoum upholds that there is gross exaggeration in describing the problem and all the clashes between the residents and a group of gunmen over water and grazing land. The same sources maintain that the foreign parties have made a mountain out of a molehill, and that is not true. It would have been better for the governors of Darfur to have faced the problem since it erupted from the start and borne the cuts and scrapes that would have ensued as a result  rather than let the situation escalate to what it has become now.

Today, the people holding the reins of power in Iraq declare that there is no problem between the Sunnis and Shia, and that everyone loves one another  if only it hadn’t been for…

This type of talk is an escape from confronting oneself and clearly examining the core of the problem and actually striving towards resolving it. The same applies to the problem of the Shia in the Gulf region and their demands.

Moreover, there is the dilemma of women and the obliteration to which they are subjected, cancelling their identities and all the tensions arising from her existence socially. Women face the most severe obliteration and isolation in a society such as the Saudi society.

The truth is that there can be no smooth sailing and social peace and progression cannot exist until after problems are recognized, in addition to recognizing injustices and confronting oneself  no matter how harsh, disturbing and heavy it may be. There is no crossing over to the other side except through this road.

A brutal  yet short  moment of confrontation is better than an era of disregard that although might be comfortable is also utterly devastating and lethal.

During the Apartheid rule in South Africa there were harrowing confrontations between the victims and their persecutors but after both parties admitted the problem and put the past behind them, they rose above these events and were finally freed of the weight.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI did well when he paved the way for a confrontation between the security persecutors from the past and those whom they had wronged and oppressed. Despite the ugliness and awkwardness of such confrontations, the results were beneficial to all parties and provided a sense of comfort and reassurance to all.

It is inevitable to drain the pus out of a sore to ensure its healing  that is the main issue.

The accumulation of problems related to religious minorities in the Arab world has led to an inflated sense of injustice among minorities; firstly because the existing oppression itself, and secondly; by virtue of the denial of injustice, or of certain facts related to it.

In the midst of all this, how refreshing and worthy of respect it is to find a brave model such as that of Dr. Amoudi, which is as far as can be from the previous problems that have been discussed here, however; it comes very close to the ‘spirit’ that is lost and absent.

The benefits of recognizing errors is that the individual who had committed them acquires a sense of peace, and the same applies to ‘public’ recognition on a more macrocosmic level. After this, problems are aired in the light and thus bring about a lasting peace, since nothing lurks in the dark and gets magnified and distorted.

Had Sudan acknowledged the rights of the people in the south and listened to the complaints issued by the inhabitants of Darfur; the situation would never have escalated to its current state.

If Baghdad had acknowledged the complaints issued by the Kurds a long time ago, we would never have faced events that include secession, and the situation would not have reached the point of taking down the flag from the confederate building in Irbil, and if… and if only…

This is what makes the story of Samia so special, away from politics and its related problems. Indeed, it is an impressive story that is worthy of our admiration and respect.

Are there any other noble spirits who can tackle the problems rather than flee them? We hope so  in fact  we dream, and I’m the first dreamer.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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