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Pluralism can best be defined as the fundamental commitment to political diversity at all times. It means that no party has a monopoly on the truth and no party can impose its views on the rest of society.
Does that sound like a fair statement about the Middle East or north Africa? No. Marwan Muasher and I would agree with you. Not even Israel, which pretends to be a democracy can claim pluralism because it fails to treat its Arab citizens equally, let alone treat the Palestinians fairly. Muasher writes clearly and provides evidence and citations for his claims. He is very well placed to write a comment on the political situation in the Arab world, having deputy prime minister in Jordan and represented Jordan in peace talks with Israel.
Respect for diversity is not an innate characteristic. Humans have a well-developed sense of “us” and “them”… Appreciating differences is a taught behavior… respect for diversity is glaringly lacking in Arab educational systems.
I took a long time to read this book because I’m not a scholar about the Arab world but it does interest me, so I persisted and it was rewarding. Our library in Trondheim had the book on display and that’s how I found out about it.
Among men, employment and a higher level of education correlate with support for women’s rights. Across the Arab world, men’s support for women’s equal legal status and their right to hold a job for which they are qualified was positively linked to their own life satisfaction, employment, education, and other mafia of economic and social development – not to their support for sharia.
Muasher provides a framework to understand the so-called 2nd Arab spring of 2011 when 100s of 1000s of people took to the streets across the Arab world in protest against repressive dictatorships and monarchies. He explains why all of these attempted uprisings failed and blames a lack of pluralism.
Teachers emphasized rote learning and neglected the development of more flexible skills such as problem solving.
Educational systems in the Arab world tend to be authoritarian. The teacher’s word is supreme, and there is little room for dialogue, discussion, or dissent.
Most Arab states’ curricula instill obedience to the regime and do not use education to develop responsible, informed, and civic-minded citizens.
Reading that made me feel better about the many conflicts I’ve had while working in Arab countries with locals who seemed incapable of thinking for themselves or questioning anything or solving problems but instead waited for very detailed instructions. Poor fellows were doing exactly what they had been taught and must have found me to be some sort of irksome alien female creature.
Muasher encourages the Arab world to:
I have travelled and worked for short periods in the Arab world on and off since 2012. I was almost caught up in some riots in Bahrain during the Arab spring but I managed to avoid it. I blog carefully and respectfully to attempt to avoid upsetting any regime. The only regimes I am comfortable to criticize are places like Israel (because it claims to be a democracy) and Australia (because that’s my home country and it is a democracy). And if I do accidentally cause upset I hope that my choice to blog anonymously protects me. Citizens and residents in these oppressive regimes don’t have those luxuries. I hope that Muasher’s carefully chosen words of advice can help to set these countries on the path to pluralism.
As always I have offered personal reflections rather than a review. I’m not a scholar on the Arab world. I spent time learning Arabic and I’ve made many trips to Arabic speaking countries and read quite widely for a non-scholar. I thought this review was well-written and considered Muasher’s points from a position of learning.
You also may enjoy reading about my travels through the region (under the travel tab) or my reflections on a selection of some other books I’ve written about that are from the same region: