Reading Arab-Islamic Awakenings and OWSM

Dallas Darling

In “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam writes that television watching, especially dependence upon television for entertainment and news, are closely correlated with civic disengagement. Furthermore, habituation to omnipresent television reveals less awareness and knowledge about news and events in the world. Studies have proven that not only does television viewing mean less civic engagement and knowledge, but it is correlated with other factors that depress and discourage civic involvement, including poverty, old age, illiteracy, and sickness.
On the contrary, those who read feel and act more empowered and are more critically aware of their government and political leaders. They are less likely to think and behave in individualized concepts and ways. Research also reveals readers attend numerous meetings and are more involved with local, state and national clubs and civic organizations. Incredibly, those who read are more knowledgeable about the world than those who watch the news. They vote more regularly, volunteer and work on community projects more often, and visit friends more frequently.(1)
It is obvious that the Arab-Islamic Awakening occurring throughout Africa and the Middle East are much more profound and appear to be more sustainable than the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWSM). Even though these predominantly Arab and Islamic protesters and demonstrators have sometimes suffered greater poverty, and in some cases less opportunities and oppression than Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, the immense fortitude and will of Arab-Islamic movements are truly inspiring. They reveal a deep commitment to civic engagement, political reform, and economic transformation.
While this can be attributed to a belief that private and public faith and mosque and state cannot be separated in the public sphere, including the motivating factors of serving God and the obligation to the umma, or Muslim community, it would be a mistake to ignore the importance of the written word and of reading in predominantly Arab-Islamic societies. Unlike electronically image-oriented societies, many Arabs and Muslims still adhere to the spoken and written word, as proclaimed by traditional storytellers or Prophet Mohammad and later recorded. Words were mystical, spiritual and extremely sacred and important.
Before Islam, Arabs maintained a strong tradition in recalling their literature and reciting poems. The Qur’an’s words and their sacredness emphasized the importance of written language and literature. The Qur’an also set the stylistic pattern for most Arabic and Muslim writers, which have developed a great corpus of dramatic, empowering and protesting literature. Initially, Islam also forbade the depiction of living beings and animals which was considered idolatry. The rejection of images was based on the idea that only Allah could create life. Reading and listening to words and poetic narratives were stressed.
When Muslims and Arabs read WikiLeaks, which documented the horrors of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, including war crimes, and how the U.S. sponsored and militarized their corrupt dictators, readers turned into resisters. When they listened to how U.S. corporations and neo-liberal policies were exploiting the poor, poets became protesters. Combined with a lack of political and economic opportunities, many Arabs and Muslims revolted, transforming their own governments. The altruistic self-immolations that occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, and other places, galvanized millions of protesters.
U.S. citizens can learn from Arab-Islamic Awakenings. In a virtual and image-oriented society, they must re-occupy the capacity to read literature and listen to poetic narratives. Reading is interacting with words and stories and their ideas, ones that produce a sense of meaning and empowerment. It is also listening to oneself and developing the important skills of introspection, critical reflection and imagination, all necessary for a vibrant and lively democracy. Studies have shown that reading strengthens neurological endings that lead to critical and analytical thinking. It also helps develop “public action” skills.
Unlike watching and consuming the fluidity of electronic images and their conspicuous values, which appears to produce a passive state of mind and neurological endings that promote learned helplessness, readers are able to control the written text and words. They are able to pause and reflect, to underline and circle important phrases and sentences, and to write down in the margins of life evaluative ideas and applicable behavior. Readers and listeners also become empowered with new and imaginative poetic narratives, ones that point to alternate worlds or different political, economic and social realities.
Albert Camus, born in Algeria during its independence from France and who documented untold injustices, and later, as a journalist and polemicist, passionately read and wrote against Germany’s occupation of France, said of the West: “We only think in images. If you want to be a philosopher, write and read novels.” Camus strongly believed one should read and interact with great literature and poetic ideas. Muslims believe God was revealed through the Arabic language. It became known as the “tongue of angels.” If only Americans thought of words and languages as the tongue of angels and read more too. Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com. You can read more of Dallas’ writings at www.beverlydarling.com and wn.com//dallasdarling.)
(1) Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, New York: Simon &Schuster Paperbacks,2000., pp. 216-235.