Friday, May 27, 2011

The Ingredients of History

Can we truly believe in history?

I have come to the conclusion, recently, that we shouldn’t. Let’s think about this for a moment. What is history? The first definition you are likely to find on history, is this: history is a narrative of events; a story.

Looking under the definition of a story; this is what you will find: a story is a recital of an event, or a series or events. More amusingly though, it lists such a story as being either a) an account, b) anecdote, or c) a lie.

Thus, in effect, we more or less admit to history having a fictitious aspect to it. Unlike with science, history cannot truly “prove” anything. It’s up for interpretation and it is, more often than not, nothing more than the perspective of whoever was the storyteller at the time. The only thing it can prove is the storyteller’s own agenda, his own precedence.

Yes, the main events cannot be disputed, or questioned, as some can actually be backed by some sort of scientific proof. But mostly, the history of humanity has been written, or controlled, by those who were in power, those with influence.

History is not written by those who were defeated. It is written by those who have won. Won wars, won battles, won political struggles. It’s an affirmation of their superiority, be it directly or indirectly.

Whichever way we look at it, whichever angle we decide to take on history, if there is one fact to it, it’s that it has been dictated by violence, something that as human beings we have always been drawn to. Of course, there are other accounts, other versions of history, written by the “other side”, but that’s often been disputed, refuted or marginalized.

We believe blindly in history because we seek a form of consolation, to justify where we are today, and how we have reached there, regardless of its validity. We are prepared to take history as it’s been told, and not as it had occurred. Partially because we love a good tale. Dramatic retellings of past events are far more appealing then, say, scientifically proven past facts, if any existed.

With all the technology and science that man has mastered, the chances of proving history once and for all is as far fetched and unrealistic as some of the most outrageously creative science-fiction novels. It’s all up in the air. We take things for face-value because we don’t have another choice, or that if there was one, it was too inconvenient to obtain

History is up there for whoever wants to claim it, like stars and galaxies far, far away. We know that they are there, we know that they affect us, one way or the other, even if we don’t comprehend it, but we cannot, for the life of us, find them tangible. Perhaps there is some comfort in the thought.

We can keep making our own histories, but that doesn’t mean that it had truly happened.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Arabs Online: Between Fact & Fiction

For years I had grown concerned about the impact the infamous Arabic online forums has on forming public opinion. When many internet-users across the globe used this tool to create, innovate, engage and discover, we Arabs took it upon ourselves to turn it into one giant puddle of misinformation and abuse.

The forums are considered by many to be the only reliable source of information and news, which is remarkably ironic since it rarely ever basis it’s content within the realms of reality and fact. So much so, that it had managed to turn many myths into indisputable facts, be it in terms of political issues, religion, history or science.

One of the reasons behind this is the lack of serious investment in the Arab world – and the Gulf region specifically – in online content and the extent of the strict regulations and censorship imposed by the authoritarian bodies. By restricting the possibilities of creating serious, independent online sources, we have created a vortex that had to be filled one way or the other.

These forums had one characteristic in common, they had hardly any moderation and had high tolerance – if not even promote – hatred, racism and sectarianism. Users hiding behind their anonymity, with their colorful names and avatars, felt unchained and free to abuse such a platform to attack, demean and undermine anyone who opposed their own views.

As the Arab Spring finally hit our shores, we have witnessed that same abhorrent attitude transfer from the forums to other social media outlets that have become widely available to everyone.

In Bahrain in particular, Twitter users shot up by 82% over the past few months, a staggering statistic, considering the small population compared to other Arab countries that have witnessed similar unrest.

Many of these users took the same approach they had in their forums and applied them on these outlets, which have become synonymous with strong political and citizens journalism movements.

Trolling is nothing new in cyberspace. But we Arabs took it to the next level. In addition to bullying, we added the small matter of fabricating news, events and falsifying evidence, as well as prosecuting people for their views, opinions, accusing folks of high treason and advocating violence against them. And that’s not all of it.

We need to relook out relationship with the Internet in this part of the world and really calculate how its use (or abuse) can have a significant lasting impact on our lives.

I have always been shocked by the gullibility of some Internet users, who take anything they see on the Internet, and namely those infamous forums, for face value. I’ve heard people believing things they read online that are written as a hoax or a joke!

But now we’ve seen it all. Thanks to Arabs, the “Internets” will never be the same again.

And neither will we.