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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Thursday, 1 September, 2005

TO REFORM OR NOT TO REFORM: The Question: What's The Form?

By: Ghoma

       This is a short essay, to avoid the more pretentious term analysis, which may appear, to some, as out of place, a far cry, these days when Islamist revivals are the only game in town and are on the rise, just as in the last round the area had been shaken by outside invasions -the latest colonization period. This time around, however, seems to be no different, just as in the last round, when the Mujaheddin's movements lack of political sophistication gave way to a sort of historical compromise, with, of course, the half-baked secularists sectors, which has resulted in a strange and incongruous amalgamation of neither one or the other of the ideologies of the constituent parts to be fused together. A stew of sorts! The state that came out of the colonization period, in addition to having lacked the sine-quo-none of its existence, that's, social consensus and legitimation, was neither secular nor theocratic. Unbalanced motley and bad mixture of both. A fake and fragile set of institutions raised on tribal constituencies.

       Given the fact that the seams of the post-colonial (more apt term is the neo-colonial) state are coming apart in many parts of the so-called Arab world -at least three Arab states are in the failed states' status1 at this point and many others are in the ICU!- a moment of repose and reflection is not out of place. What's the goal this time around2? Is still the same? To wrap things up again: divide the spoils among the winners, throw some bones to this tribe and another to that group, and sweep the unpleasants under the rug and pretend there's a social consensus and national unity; or face the unknown head-on and build once and for good a durable and modern state, a truly democratic and future oriented state, founded on reason and run by commonsense? A secular state with a constitution and a bill of rights, where the separation of powers is supported by checks and balances, where reason and common sense are the hopping stones on which the citizenry walk in their daily chores, where equality among all, but particularly between the two sexes, is realized in fact rather than the usual lip-service slogans hypocrites were apt to repeat, where consumerism is a result of production rather selling oil, sovereignly, or cheap labor force to do the menial jobs for those they despised, etc. If the answer is the second then there's a lot to do, plenty to ponder about, and more to fight for.... But before we get into: 'What needs to be done?' let's sit-down what are the issue(s) here: reform vs. total overhaul of the state.

       Reform is one of those terms universally overused, nay, misused! Its roots reach deep into the Latin word re-formare [re-present the form anew with some refurbishings], which meant, to tweak, adjust or change the existing form to suit some latent or stated purpose. History had been generous to the term and employed it in all kinds of situations, from the Protestant Reformation in the Christian world, to Parliament Reformation [called also Reform Bill] in England, to the various less-drastic and specific reforms, such as land reform, voting reform, education reform, etc. This accrued richness had also added to its being a dilute term, nice to use but difficult to pin down. In other words it has become a trite shibboleth, a hackneyed word not many pay attention to it anymore. Notice, however we look at it, it assumes there's an acceptable form in need of some sort of shaking to fit the new set of circumstances or conditions.

       Some Libyans have lately taken to using this term in all of its richness not to say ambiguities. Its discovery, or rather uncovering, may come as a manna to its users since it doesn't force them to dig deeper and say what they meant. Convenient since it implies some clarity which is not there. And with no precise definitions were volunteered except what some perhaps implicitly wish that it would communicate the user's fuzzy and roundabout hoverings and meet what the readers's crave. In other words it's used as a panacea by the political pundits and wannabee intellectual hags. They blurt it out whenever they're pinned down with no will or desire to want to say what they mean nor mean what they say. Thus our reformers3 have it all ways, right and left. You named it and it's there. Save for what're really in need of reformations but controversial to approach and difficult to carry on. For instance, religious reformation, cultural renewal, etc.

       Sometime, one is driven to throw his/her arms up in the air and say the hell with it. No good is going to come out of this desert4! Its political gangs are illiterates and its so-called intellectual pretenders are drinking from the same trough and ruminating on the same cud5. These cliques and leagues, despite their acrobatics of trying to reach to the outside world, seem to inhabit their own universe, away from the planet earth, oblivious to what's happening around them, here and now. They may pretend to mimic and ape what this or that are saying but only in passing. They're merely scratching on the surface. No real attention was paid to what the rest of the world, the Western World, really mean, if they meant anything at all, and the historical conditions of our times and conditions require, when they say democratize, open yourself up, respect human rights, institute equality, etc. In other words modernize!

       Reason, commonsense and any serious student of history can ascertain the different strands of political, economic, cultural, etc. will not come to anything unless they're seen within an overall framework: the modern conditions and their challenges. That's if they're taken within an overall movement whose purpose is to overhaul the whole system(s) which has kept the area prisoner to its long forgotten glories and likewise as much of no less illusions. The movement to modernize, to do away with a corrupted culture and all of the trappings associated with a history of resignation, defeat, humiliations,... The movement to modernize has to overcome the delusional state in which the Arabs find themselves, that's, to stay in the Middle Ages mentally and behaviorally, yet hope to live and participate in the 21st century. No language has yet been found, by the rest of the world, to talk to the Arabs and let them know that those ages and those behaviors have long been abandoned and that no one is going to listen, not to stay pays attention or understands, them unless they're willing to get out of the cycles of homo religicus and tribal mind-set6.

       One can say this kind of talk will only fall on deaf ears because the Arabs, including the Libyans, are not pissed off enough to undertake what's necessary to get out of the jam in which they find themselves in. They seem do fit what J. Baldwin meant when he wrote: "...there are people in the world for whom 'coming along' is a perpetual process, people whom destined never to arrive."7 Unlike other societies when they realized how different and backward they were [the Russians, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Indians, ...], Arabs are still plagued by the disease of 'don't get it'! All these humiliations, all these enslaving, all these invasions have not ticked the bug of "I can't take it anymore," let's do whatever it takes to prove we've left with some human dignity to parry with. But again as the Arabs themselves say: "If one lacks something he/she cannot be asked to give it back". What Arabs lack is a deep sense of tragedy, of history!

       Arabs may had been one of the first groups to inhabit the earth, they may occupy what came to be called the "cradle of civilization," they may think they're among "the best of communities God had created," they may think of themselves the Rambos of toughness and endurance,... etc. The facts of history, as well as of today, however point in the opposite directions. The picture of the Arabs in the world comes closer to what the Western, and Hollywood in particular, have long drawn of them: Unreliable, treacherous, back-stabbers, liars and cookies! All images that are associated with slaves and colonized people [just read any book on slaves and slavery or F. Fannon on the colonized]. The question is why among all the races and groups who'd been participating in the human march of civilization through the ages, Arabs, in the last one thousand plus years, were almost the only ones who turned their back on it? A not too far off guess is because of religion, not of itself, but its dominating and suffocating the life of culture in general. If there's an apt situation where F. Fukuyama's lopsided theory of end of history finds its application, though, retrospectively is the Arabs' case. But this time not out of the success of one ideology out of the pell-mell pot of ideologies but rather out of inertia. When a group of people takes for granted that the truth had been to them revealed once and for all, then there's nothing else left for them to strive for, except to bow down and obey the dictates. But if the wheels of history were moved by the search for the truths [partial truths, not the Absolute!], then its nuts and bolts, its gears, not to mentions the oils lubricating them, would come to a standstill anytime the search was interrupted or abandoned. Stagnation will rule supreme. A complete stop had overtaken that brief season of flourishing minds -8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, & 12th centuries of the Christian Era- and the result Arabs, since then, in their different clownish outfits were fawning to their masters on their knees to let them be, well, Arabs!

       Societies, cultures just as civilizations in general sometimes appear to go in cycles as the economy in the free-markets does. However, on deeper reflection the similarity is deceiving since there's no overproduction of cultural outputs or deficiency in civilizational efficiency. The trio of society, culture, and civilization, are so intricately intertwined that any attempt to untangle them apart is doomed to failure. All three, as any living breathing organism, need the optimum conditions for its survival and growth. They need their feeders, their weed-outers, and their watch dogs. These were the better when they were believers in 'let one thousand flowers bloom' than when they groomed only the flowers they liked. In others words it'd have been much better if Arabs ever heeded the call of the Ibn Rushds, the Ibn Tufails and Maimonids than al-Ghazzalis and his cohorts! But history is one-way street which has only two outlets either to the charted destination or to the bridge-of-last-sigh8! And it looks like our history has led us to the bridge of last sigh or to the Gate-of-no-Return9 and now we're faced with either immolating ourselves on the altar of I-don't-know-what, or accept the bane of the chains!

       Either Arabs do what others have done before them10 [Europeans from the Renaissance to Enlightenment, through the Reformation, Russians between Peter the Great in 17th century and Lenin in the 20th , Chinese with Moa-Tse-Tong and his Civil and Cultural Revolutions, Indians and their Ghandis and Nehrus, etc.], that's, to say the heck with the past, its values and its culture; its history and products, these had become rotten fishes a long time back, and they still do stink to hell; all these have led to where we find ourselves today and no good is going to come out of getting used to their odors. They're in need of being buried in the deepest pit around so a new start all over again will be possible; at last free. Fresh from scratch! I'm sure it's a dizzying thought for many, but only the strong, the confident and the futurist will subscribe to it, the rest most probably will prefer to hum along vegetating in their chains and praying for God to come to their rescue!

       The call to reform falls on deaf ears since every thoughtful person knows that there's nothing to reform. Culture just like any old and dilapidated, structurally unsound, and out of sync edifice will only cost a lot more but most probably no architect will ever be able to bring it up to code, not to say par! To patch up the pocks and wholes, to coat the grime, to prop up the beams, are only temporary measures until a better opportunity will arise when a new and shining building will stand on the foundations of the old one. Those who ask to patch up are only buying time and delaying the inevitable, there's no cure better than a good surgery when the patient is on support systems. The band-aide cure to tumors is part of the shamans and magicians's tricks and stock-in-trade, no self-respecting physician will ever advice or allow!

       This may appear as in bad taste to the few left dinosaurs, such as, remnants of the old regime, monarchists, naive religionists, and reactionaries in general; and it'd certainly appear sacrilegious, if not lethal, to the gangs of the present regime to be outranked, outflanked, and surpassed in the game so much and so long have invested in, that's, the claim they'd looked to the future and the mirror has reflected their faces. Far of being the portents of the future they're the ghouls of the present nightmares. As such they'll most probably embrace the call for reform since it'll postpone the day of reckoning further into the future. All the elements that call for reform have something to worry about: fear of the future and the unknown! Since none of them are interested in renewal and real reform: the reform that'll free the enslaved half of society -women- for instance! They'll find a way to patch some of their differences and circle their wagons together to fight the common enemy: the futurists.


1- The failure of the Somali state, the coming apart of its seams, that's its deconstruction, points to the way it was constructed. The constituents parts' lacking of the glue that' d have held them -political and economic stands and ideologies- together, were never fused into a coherent whole. Each tribe, each chieftain, each unit kept its integrity in a coalition that seems to have been put together in a hurry!

2- While the goal(s) of the post-colonial state as have been reconstructed post facto, was more to prove to the colonizers the ability to govern, to build a state and to keep order, not to forget promises - made, of course, to the departing power and others who made themselves the guardians of the nascent and still minor state. Its birth was wrapped up in misty fogs in which it is still difficult to tell who was working for whom. But one thing though becomes clearer by the day: No one from both sides, the locals and their guardians, was interested in creating a real modern state.

3- The so-called reformers wallowing at nausea of such terms as constitution, parliament, rule-of-law wouldn't come to anything serious since they never have accepted the premises of modernization. All they could envision is a charade a la Egyptian, a la Moroccan, or a la Jordanian, etc. Where the appearances may seem to be modern but the substratum is still set on religion, tribe, and family!

4- The attempt to reform the present state is no different than any attempt to modernize a shack or a hut made out of palm-tree fronds or mud. One may dig a septic-tank and install a water-pomp, introduce electricity, put a tv set in and an antennae on the top, even a telephone line and a computer set, etc. nonetheless it still remains a shack unworthy for living in these days and age.

5- If they even read a small snippets of what others think of them, not to mention what they say of them and on them, they'd have been committing suicides in droves. But they don't read or follow anybody except their voracious greed to have more wealth and to more collect wives and kids. They seem to be oblivious to what's out of their surroundings, their normality and apparent tranquility are reminders of the existence still amongst us of what Levi-Strauss has called, Primitive Savage!

6- Rationalism has been holding grounds and penetrating fast a large swaths of the inhabited world. Religions had long given way to Reason; and this latter became the currency of communication. Though no system is pure. Contrary to religiously dominated cultures, the remnants of past injustices , or pollutants if you prefer, in modern societies are only a matter of time and political will. No cultural horizons are left to impede the granting of equality status to whomever asks for it.

7- James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountian, New york: random House, 1952, p.78.

8- The Bridge of Last Sigh, in the Serenissima (the republic of Venice), between the the dungeons and the gallows in the public square where the executions took place.

9- The Gate of No Return is on the an island on the western coast of Ghana where the slaves were led to the galleys for the Middle Passage.

10- Most societies who underwent traumatic upheavals and changes, since at least the 18th century, have ended up founding modern states. One of the most important cornerstones of the modern state were/are the objectives and goals on which it was founded and for which strives to achieve. The " freedom and pursuit of happiness' in the case of the American state, " liberty, equality, and brotherhood" in the case of the French state, "socialist paradise" in the case of the Russian and Chinese states. etc.

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