Friday, October 22, 2004

Turning the Development Tables

(A little something I am working on-let me know what you think!)
"Turning the Development Tables: What the Islamic World can Teach the West About Social Wellness."

A brief glimpse of the evening news of any American television network reveals a variety of startling images of the Middle East. Bombed-out busses, ragged children, women shrouded in black, angry politicians, gun-toting teens—all of these images imbed themselves in the viewer’s mind and function like a virus, distorting and exaggerating the negative stereotypes of the Arab world. Indeed, the most positive aspect of Islamic societies—strong and responsible social structures—is easily overshadowed by the global media’s disproportional focus on the violence and poverty in the Middle East. Additionally, the excessive efforts of the “Western” countries to “develop” the Arab world obscure the contradicting fact that the nations of the Middle East have much to teach the developed world about social wellness. Recognition and realization of the potential of the Islamic states to assist the West with its increasingly severe societal problems is, in my opinion, the most significant situation in the Arab world today.

An example of a valuable aspect of Middle Eastern society is the importance placed upon the unity of the family. This is exemplified fundamentally by the amount of quality time spent together. The typical Egyptian family eats, sleeps, and plays together. Everything is shared; selflessness is cultivated. Respect of elders is essential; no child enters a room without formally greeting the adults present, and disrespectful behavior is not tolerated. Parents and relatives reciprocally encourage and praise the children at every turn. Everyone takes responsibility for each other, creating a strong family unit.

It is clear to see how Islamic social structures benefit from the strength of their families. The constantly nurtured children grow into emotionally stable adults. The teenagers, actively engaged in household duties, have no time or inclination for drugs, alcohol, and other destructive behaviors. Islamic societies are essentially free from violent crime, teen pregnancy, divorce, and AIDS. In contrast, the homes are happy and full of content individuals, dedicated to keeping all members of the family unified.

In comparison to the rapidly deteriorating American family unit, the superiority of the Arab social system is undeniable. Why, then, have not American policy makers tried more actively to incorporate such values into U.S. social programs? One answer may be that it may be difficult for both the U.S. and many Arab countries to break from their traditional respective roles as the “teacher” and the “student.” Additionally, neither group has much practical experience functioning in the opposite role. The process of incorporating Arab values into functioning Western social policy is not a simple task. The initial studies in the Middle East and sub-sequential efforts among social and political strata in the West will require dedicated effort by those familiar with the culture, beliefs and attitudes of the people of both regions.

The rewards, however, of reverse development theory implementation will be great for both the Western and Arab worlds. Not only will countries such as America benefit from the domestic application of Islamic social values, Arab-West relations are certain to improve from increased communication and mutual appreciation. It is time to “turn the development tables.”

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