Lebanese youth
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Lebanese youth
Last updated: April 29, 2013
Mohamed Hemish: How Middle East youth can save us

"The youth of today are not only more educated than their parents but also have a better understanding of world trends"

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The youth in the Middle East have the capacity to become the saviors of our countries. We have qualities that no other generation in our region ever had. By the time we were 10 years old, we knew how to use computers and access the Internet. We speak many languages and watch programs and films from all over the world. In the Middle East we have an internal struggle between accepting our traditions and cultures, on the one hand, and wanting to be as modern as anyone in the developed countries, on the other. 

This gives young people in the Middle East a heightened sense of political awareness. The youth in the US and Europe are born into societies where laws that empower and promote the rights of their people are already firmly in place. In most Western European countries political leaders can be tried in court for corruption, journalists are not jailed for criticizing politicians or for expressing opinions that do not necessarily agree with those of the government or mainstream society.

So, how can we, the younger generation in the Middle East, be the saviors of our societies?

* The first step is to abandon the traditions of the older generations that for example restrict girls and women and prevent them from fulfilling their potentials, the ones that idealize authority and put unreasonable family expectations before our dreams and our future. We have to start to critically examine the traditions that our parents and the elder generation took for granted to make sure that they are in line with ourprinciples and sense of humanity. We should follow a tradition because it is right not simply because it is part of our culture.

* We should reject the ethnic and sectarian allegiances, which are tearing our societies apart. In Iraq thousands of people have been killed because of the Sunni-Shia divide. In Bahrain, the minority Sunni authority is suppressing the country’s Shia majority, a source of continuing unrest. In Turkey, the Kurdish minority issue has been responsible for more than 40,000 deaths on both sides. Historically, when Middle Eastern people fought against occupiers and oppressors, they were united, Sunni and Shia, Muslim and Christian, Kurd and Arab, Hazare and Pashtun. Neither religion nor ethnicity mattered because the goal was justice. Our goal should be the same today.

* If we are indeed pursuing justice rather than promoting tradition, the issue of women’s rights takes on a different perspective. Adult women have the right to be treated as adults both as a matter of custom and as a matter of law. The rights of women should be no less than the rights of men. In a Middle Eastern family there are certain restrictions that apply to a woman that never apply to a man. In Jordan, a woman living by herself is considered an anomaly and is a source of suspicion.

Honor killings are common, and there are special laws that protect the offenders. In Saudi Arabia, women are treated as perpetual minors under the law whereby a male relative is always her legal guardian and it is he who makes decisions regarding travel, education marriage, etc. A Saudi woman who is being abused cannot even file a case in court, and it is her husband, who is her legal guardian, who must file on her behalf. We should first acknowledge and then ensure that men and women are equal in dignity and entitled to the same rights.

* We should take a different view of government. A government should be in the service of the people and not a source of enrichment for the powerful few. The youth in the Gulf States should start holding their kings and the sheiks accountable. We need to set aside the tradition of the past that idealizes authority and regards it as inherently “wiser.” Age and status are no longer a guarantee of wisdom and knowledge.

The youth of today are not only more educated than their parents but also have a better understanding of world trends. They are familiar with democratic societies in North America and Europe. They are learning about human rights principles in the west and witnessing how the implementation of these principles promotes individuals to flourish and explore their potentials.

* Finally, we should not allow family traditions to limit our ambitions. We should exercise our rights within our families. Many Middle Eastern families suffer from an environment of authoritarianism and abuse. We should understand that our future is valuable and thus should not be decided by the traditions and the expectations of the family but rather by our own principles and ambitions. Many young men and women are unable to pursue their dreams and ambitions because of family values that favor being close to your family, staying in your homeland and sacrificing your “happiness” and ambition for the sake of the family.

We ought to pursue opportunities outside our countries and cultures because that is the only way we can become more aware of and can evaluate more objectively our own cultures and countries.

These ideas concerning women, government and away-from-home ambitions run counter to the traditions and expectations of an average Middle Easterner who has come to believe that the West has an agenda against us Muslims and Arabs. We have to free ourselves from these delusional and counterproductive views. These destructive ideas are the propaganda promoted by our politicians and religious clerics in order to control us and protect their hold on power and influence.  

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