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Arab diseases: The time of money, vanity and egotism

At our present time, the most influential criterion of evaluating people in the Arab world is the credit in their bank account and how much money they possess. The majority of people show respect to those with money when they walk down the street or speak in a sitting, even if their conversation, actions and morals are trivial. Unfortunately, this is our miserable time. I remember in the 1950s and 1960s, when someone would propose for marriage, the first thing people would look for in their daughter's suitors is his morals and behaviour.

They did not ask how much money he had. The most important matter for them was that their daughter would marry a well-mannered man in every sense, and in this case, they would be reassured that their daughter would be fine. Today, things are different. The most important question asked by a bride and her family is whether the groom owns his home, a luxury car, a comfortable bank account, whether he is willing to hire a maid, and if he would have the wedding in a well-known luxurious hotel, even if the groom remains in debt for many years after.

They do not ask about his morals or other interests; this is the least of their concerns. They also are not concerned with the nature of the relationship between their daughter and her husband. Other issues we see today is families bragging that their daughters got married in a seven, not five-star hotel, that the food was imported from abroad, and that their daughter's husband is wealthy. Moreover, many refuse to allow their daughter to marry a man because there is a difference in their social classes, despite the fact that the couple want to marry each other. Instead, some force their daughters to marry a rich man. My point is that nowadays, money has become a source of pride and bragging.

Wealth, of course, is not made with money, but having a wealthy soul, and as they say, contentment is an inexhaustible treasure. All religions preach values such as contentment, humility, generosity, courage and honesty. Zoroaster says that every human must possess the following seven virtues: wisdom, courage, chastity, fairness, loyalty, trustworthiness and generosity. Buddha said: "Wisdom and modesty are the plough; my mind is the guiding-rein; I lay hold of the handle of the law; earnestness is the goad I use, and exertion is my draught-ox."

Hippocrates believed that "honest poverty is better than unjust wealth", as the wealthy are afraid to lose their fortune, so they monitor the stocks and exchange rates every hour and are obsessed with daily questions regarding profit, loss, etc. However, those who do not possess much more money than they need sleep soundly, free of worry. Socrates said that justice is a virtue, not that wealth is a virtue, like many believe. The Arab proverb says: "If you marry a monkey [i.e. someone ugly] for his money, the money will go away and the monkey will stay the same [as ugly as ever]."

Another Arab disease is the spread of trivial and ridiculous songs. When our generation first became aware, we began with songs about values, principles, authentic tunes and true art, with the likes of Umm Kulthum, Abdul Wahab, Abdel Halim Hafez, Farid Al-Atrash, Najat Al-Sagheera, Shadia amongst others. In addition to these songs, there were the national patriotic songs that inflamed our emotions. I remember during my days in primary and secondary school, the daily morning anthem we sang about Algeria said: "We are determined that Algeria will live on".

I am not one to remain living in the past; I am not against nature, evolution and life. I realise that every era has its own characteristics and developments due to technology, education and means of knowledge, but the present cannot be separated from the past, otherwise it would have no roots, just as the present is related to the future. This are a series of events that connect the past, present and future while taking into account the new values that emerge. We cannot have songs that say, "The tub called me to shower", "I don't drink tea, I drink shots", etc. Such uncivilised and inappropriate songs are only being played in our present day because the time we are living in now is morally poor. I realise that political deterioration imposes itself on other areas, but this is going too far.

In fact, there is also another common and growing Arab disease, egotism. The thought of putting oneself before others, wanting to get their work done first before anyone else, even if they were waiting for many hours before them, is an example of this. It is like seeing a long queue of people and realising that they have been waiting long, but still wanting to go first. It would be like me reading lectures on the topic of women's freedom, but in my house, I treat my wife, daughters and sisters like pieces of furniture; I do not allow any of them to discuss or contradict my views and opinions, nor do I view them as humans like myself, with rights and equal to me in every sense.

Some parents demand from their daughter's future husband that their daughter's salaries are given to them, even after she gets married. This unfortunately happens in the lives we are living now.

Some ask why we are behind in many aspects; our lack of development was not bestowed upon us, we made it with our own hands. We pretend to be developed, but we are far from it. We believe that development comes from fancy furniture, the newest technology, designer clothes and other shallow matters, but this is all trivial when it is measured against the most important requirement for development: a mentality that absorbs all that it new and developed, a civilised, democratic mentality that it open to others and respects others before oneself. This mind-set does not see the secret of human existence in itself, but sees itself as an axis that everyone must orbit around.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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