January 02, 2006

History: A teacher of what kind?

Many times we wish we could freeze time, little moments in our life that meant something more than the rest of the charade that is life. Other times, we wish we could erase time or even change it.

Throughout history and still today, we produce time capsules in the form of books, pictures or even films. Who knows, this blog might still be around in 20 years? (or perhaps not). With such extensive coverage of the world's events and one day never the same as the other, one still finds a red thread in the lives of mankind.

Be it the slaves of Pharaoh, victims of Pol Pot, Hitler, various presidents/prime ministers of so called free democratic countries, one thing is the same no matter where in the world it takes place or what period of time; mankind is still mankind.

What do we then learn from history, and what awaits us? Some would say that history teaches us to better identify the wrong in the world, however this not automatically meaning "improved methods of solving and preventing". We are very keen on establishing and defining events in the world. What is genocide and what isn't, what terrorism is and what isn't, what a democracy is and what isn't. Naturally even here history becomes our reference, the terrible holocaust, the massacres of innocents in Bosnia, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. Yes, it was all a case of genocide and now we proudly say that we have established that Darfur in Sudan is also a "clean cut" case of genocide because history says so, the books say so and so do all the experts who dedicated their lives to better defining what the problem is, after it's already taken place.

In all fairness though, it is said that the first step to solving a problem is defining it. The next step would be finding out the reasons for it. Perhaps it is there our carriage comes to a halt, our wheels stop spinning. We find it hard to agree on why there is a problem and can therefore never get to the part where one sits down and solves it. For how do you solve a problem that in fact has two faces that are not identical twins?

Nuclear proliferation:

- "A" says it is due to nations wanting to demonstrate power and instil fear in "enemy" nations that subscribe to the "western way of life".

- "B" says it is due to nations feeling scared and insecure with unstable neighbours, some war struck and therefore initiate nuclear programs in order to maintain "stability" in the region they reside.

- "C" says it is because of the major super powers of the world having nuclear programs and thus not setting an example for the Lilliputs of the world who feel it is nothing but hypocrisy denying them nuclear capabilities when the same people criticize them for it have it themselves.

Nobel Peace Prize winner IAEA and Mohamed ElBaradei perhaps did not win on accounts of solving the problems of nuclear proliferation. Perhaps it is so that the sole reason they won and deserved to win is due to their accurate definition of the problem. A definition not shared by the key players and thus hampering the process of nuclear disarmament. I know that there exists many more dimensions to the definition of both history and the world as such today and you can read all about it in the various time capsules of yesterday and today. Still I would like to believe that we have something positive to say in the capsules left for tomorrow, and that we will move closer to some sort of state of peace or respect for human life in this world.

An interesting project going on initiated by Swedish journalist Mats Omne called City Signs caught my attention today. Basically it is meant to be a time capsule of the world in the year 2000 documented in writing, pictures and on film by visiting ten major metropolises, bringing ten canvases and ten different coloured paints asking the same 28 questions to each city's population. The answers are both surprising and disturbing.

A young Russian boy answered the question about what he hopes for the future by saying; "I hope all ni**ers and dark skinned people will disappear. Russia is for Russians only", and on the canvas he drew the Nazi symbol. Another new Yorker in his early 40's answered the question about what he thinks will happen in the future by saying "I don't mean to be pessimistic but it seems we don't really learn much from history, it's just a bunch of mistakes really". Ones repeated it seems...

Question is, should we take the approach of Singapore where they have stopped teaching history in schools saying that it only teaches children resentment and leads to conflict? Or is history perhaps just like all teachers can be, detrimental to some and essential to others?


BuJ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BuJ said...

Very interesting and thought-provoking, this article!

I don't know where to start really. However, on the subject of history I believe we have to strike a balance. They say that history is written by the victors, and that might be partially true, but useful history is objective history that is truthful and factually correct regardless of whether the winner or the loser writes it.

I would say that we need to look at the negative aspects in history to avoid them (e.g. genocide, natural disasters, wars, nuclear issues etc), and we need to look at the positive aspects in history and improve them (e.g. advances in medicine, the internet, etc).

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

In order to write objectvive history one would have to write a history of "two faces"... a simple example of that would be the independance day for israelis that is the day they gained sovreignty and the day palestinians feel they lost theirs. It's one day, one date, but two different ways of defining it. A third version would not be able to exist thus leaving history no choice but to in all fairness include both versions of the event and leave it to the reader to judge what infact it really was. And how the reader judges events, well, that is a whole other discussion.

BuJ said...

agggh... the nakba is one thing i cannot be objective about.. what independence??!?! They make it seem like Palestinians "occupied" Israel, when it's the other way round...... (blood boils!)

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

I see what you mean, and that's where the dilemma of history and objectiveness appears. Because the blood boils for so many people and for soo many different reasons.

Objectiveness and fairness is something that is an attribute close to selflessness, and man has trouble being totally and utterly selfless at all times. We will always be biased at some point or the other...when our blood boils :) And who knows whose blood will boil at what time making the documentation of history a bit tedious.

BuJ said...

absolutely agree.. true that history should be "selfless" to be objective, but I'm always quick to note when I'm not being objective (e.g. by indicating that my blood boiled).

with israel i feel the problem is that two wrongs don't make a right. true, that jews were killed enmasse in europe but killing a 3rd party (palestinians) and evicting them from their land surely doesn't solve the problems the jews had in europe.

israel should have been created in germany with it's capital in auschwitz (poland). this way the same country that created the problem would have to solve it.

mind you, the poles won't be too happy by that, since the nazis occuppied their country then used it to do their dirty business.

(sorry too lazy to use proper punctuation, it slows me down!)

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

indeed buj, you made a note of your blood boiling to show a rop in objectiveness but... in all fairness...fancy a history book where it says 1919 the treaty of Versaille took place although it makes my blood boil. :) haha

sorry...evening joke...am bimzah ma'ak.

well about Israel being created in Germany...who would wish to live in a country where people who wish to murder them live?...alas, history and problem solving never is easy... :) which is why it's so hard to comprehend that they would apply similar hateful approaches to the palestinians after going through such autrocities...

yet again... empirical amnesia rears it's ugly head.

BuJ said...

aah.. i profess my ignorance with regards to the treaty of Versaille! According to wiki, it seems to have been signed. I need some serious education with regards to WWI.

Well with regards to Israel in Germany, this is just a concept idea. You say "who would wish to live in a country where people who wish to murder them live?". If you look at the average Joe, Mahmood, or Yassin in the Palestinian West Bank then these guys are living under the administration of Israel who have shown time and time again that they are intent on murdering Palestinians.

I agree with you though about "empirical amnesia"! Never heard it before but I like it. shaklek muthaqqafe wo bit7ibbe el siyase wel taareekh :)

BuJ said...

Free Arabic Tutoring:

I am not sure if you know these "internet conventions" but when typing Arabic in Latin script, one cannot always express some Arabic sounds fully using the Latin script. You probably know this, but it wouldn't harm to repeat it:

2 : This is used in place of the hamza. E.g. "ma2" = water.
3 : This is used in place of the ayn. E.g. "3abdullah".
5 : This is used in place of the kha. E.g. "5aleej" = Gulf. (Also " 7' " is used, see below).
6 : This is used in place of the ta. E.g. "6ariq bin ziyad".
6' : This is used in place of the tha. E.g. "Abu 6'abi" = Abu Dhabi. (notice the use of an apostrophe to mimic the dot on top of the Arabic equivalent.)
7 : This is used in place of the haa. E.g. "7imar" = donkey (hehe).
7' : This is used in place of the kha, identical in sound to the "5".
9 : This is used in place of the sa. E.g. "9alam" = Salam.

I don't think there's a single source of reference for these conventions, but they are things I've picked up over the last couple of years online. I've noticed that "3" and "7" are the most widely used ones.

Hope you find this useful!

BuJ said...


3' : This is used in place of the ghayn. E.g. "3'adban" = angry.

sometimes the apostrophe is used before or after the "number".

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

ya salaam! 3 posts.I think I will stick to using 3 and 7..the rest would be to learn a whole language, which bi iznillah I might. Thanks :)

Yes the treaty was signed, and famously it is known to have been signed in a carriage and stripping Germany of all dignity which others say lead to the demise of German moral and economy thus making way for someone like Hitler to be democratically elected with promises to change what has been...

Akeed, two wrongs don't make a right and therefor it is very hard to understand why they treat the Palestinians the way they are doing. Empirical amnesia, well I never heard of it before either but thought it up and it seemed to fit what I was trying to say. :)

ma ba3rif iza shakli muthaqqafe am la wa lakin ashiaa areeb min albi bahebb an aarifhom. Haqq ma'ak, al ta3reekh howa shay min ashiaa illi bahebbhom. A'ssiyaasa indaha ahyaanan binnisb li, ma3na salbiyyeh...iza bitshoof an-naas fi hadhihil ayyaam illi tad7ol fi'ddaairah assiyaasiyyeh.. well you know what I mean.

sho ahsan? iza baktob bil ammiyyeh am fussha? yimkin al ithnain bi nafs al waqt laenno'llogha taba3i da3eeeeeeeeeeffffffffe!

BuJ said...

lol@ya salaam, you'r coloquial arabic is excellent, you know exactly what to say what.. mashalla.. mish 2aleele :)

mumken a2ool enno el loghaa ta3tek a7san min loghati al maktooba.. well you know what they say about arabs.. we like to talk not write hehe..

interesting about the treaty, thanks for the info.. always good to keep such info as i belive history is very important. it gives us perspective.

el sara7a ana bakrah el siyase, bas ba7is inno el wa7ad mafi yetfada el mawdoo3! ya allah.. ya kareem!

amma fe mawdoo3 el 3ammiye aw el fos7a, hada shee be3ood ilek. ana sha5siyyan bastas3ib aktob bil fos7a, bas la ilek yimken testafeedi aktar min ta3alomek lal fos7a mishan tetkalami ma3 arab min el khaleej ela al madeeq (ie from the gulf to the straight, indicating East to West) bedoon ay mushkile.

3arabiytek MISH d3eefe.. mashalla 3leiki shatra.. addeish sarlek tudrusi?

yi5zi el 3ayn!

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

lak Buj! oltillak alf marrah, moo? dallait thamaniyat shohoor fil jami3a bi dimashq wa lissa am tis'alni 3n kam waqt kont adros. shibbak? :)
sah, akeed astafeed min al fussha aktar iza osaafir fi bilaad al arabiyyah wa lakin bifaddil atkallam bil amiyyeh bishakal 3am. Al fussha taba'an ajmal...

BuJ said...

ok ok tayeb baseeta, ma fi da3i tekseri rasi!

oh my.. 8 months is very very very quick to reach this level of arabic.. mashalla.. i guess a part of me just wasn't registering that it was JUST 8 months.. i expected you to have studied for ages before your trip to damascus.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

wain baksir raasak? :) ana bari'a :)
no I never studied arabic before going to Damascus although I am sure I would have benefitted more from doing that. It's been 2 and a half years since I got back from Damascus and I haven't studied anymore since which is royally stupid seeing as I am forgetting everything gradually.

BuJ said...

u definitely have a knack for languages.. mashalla.. keep it going.. lazem tistamirri fil logha.. leish ma teqra2i majalat wo kutub 3arabiya? ana ba7eb aqra Al-Arabi, have you read it? I prefer the printed version of course.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

qara'toh marrah bus 3ala fikrah howa shwayat sa3b aleyyi... lakin ana ma'ak, lazim astamirr fil logha...

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