Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
THE man interviewed on Arabic TV Channel, MBC1, was explaining why women don’t need to drive. "Look around you; I have three cars in my garage: One for me, the other for my son, and a third for the family with a driver," he was boasting.
Good for you, I thought, but you are answering the wrong question. It wasn’t whether "your" women need to drive, but why women, in general, need to. Again, the question is raised and answered the same way about women’s need to work. Those who are well off decide for the rest of us.
Their argument is that men should take care of their families, but what about those who don’t have men to take care of them? Some women are actually taking care of their families - parents and children, and even unemployed husbands. Besides, why should work be associated with financial need? What about work for work, work for experience, work for social service? What is the use of female education if it ends up with a certificate hanging on the wall of a kitchen?
The same logic goes with any and everything. The idea is that "your business is my business, but mine is not yours." Why? Because, I am more religious, conservative and patriotic than you are. I know what is going on, even in your head and heart. I am aware of the conspiracy of local and global liberals to destroy this society. Since I am the self-appointed guard of virtue, it is my holy duty to fight you and your fellow conspirators with all means, even if not holy.
“Together, with my fellow faithful, we will protect our society from your moral decadence, even by force. And don’t tell me you are free to live your rotten Western lifestyle here, we won’t allow it, not even in your own home. We are the representatives of God and the guardians of his religion, and we have the right to correct your habits and dictate your ways. If you don’t like it, you may leave and live where it suits you. This is the land of Islam and holy places, and there is no place for liberalism and liberals.”
So whether you are preaching your beliefs or keeping it to yourself, you can’t be free or safe. Your neighbor will criticize the women in your family for not covering their face and “mutawwas” will put you in jail for driving your female colleague home, and your friends will hammer you for allowing your wife to work in a mixed environment.
This mentality is spreading in the Muslim world. In Arab Spring countries, Salafis are forcing their way of life on the rest of the population. If persuasion doesn’t work, force or the threat of it is applied.
My friend Dr. Omar Elmershedi called this phenomenon the herd mentality. People tend to defend and impose collective rules on all members of the group because they fear the dismantling of societal structure. Mavericks with disruptive new ideas and lifestyles are treated as agents of disorder.
I agree with Dr. Elmershedi. Fear of change takes on different disguises. Religion and patriotism are the most used. People who fear the loss of control of their herds raise holy and/or nationalistic flags. They plant the fear of change and the unknown in their followers’ hearts. The herd mentality then makes each member vigilant.
The real game is control. Leaders may have full control of the herd when they claim to only have access to information and ideas. As gatekeepers, they take strong measures against independent thinkers and free spirits because their ideas are dangerous due to their unpredictability, independence and attractiveness. Persuasion, silencing and intimidation are used to reward or punish them. When logic doesn’t serve leaders’ arguments, they resort to conspiracy theories and the occult. How can you argue with someone with exclusive access to Divine guidance and inside information from the source of power?
The struggle for power and control will continue; it is human nature. The use of patriotism and religion will continue. They are the winning cards. Our fight against these people should also continue.
To all these self-appointed guardians of virtue and rightfulness, I would say: Mind your own business. We are born free.