Why Do We Live In The Past? [Archives:1998/23/Culture]

June 8 1998

By: Mohammed H. Al-Qadhi,
Yemen Times, Taiz.
Yemen is the best country in the world. Yemen has a glorious past, since it was the cradle of all ancient civilizations. We are the grandfathers of all Arabs and the grandsons of the Queen of Sheba. This is actually the tone we hear from some of the people in Yemen. The same thinking is applied to people in other countries.
Generally speaking, I don’t really know what is wrong with us Arabs in general, Yemenis in particular, we are always moaning and lamenting the loss of our glorious past. We never think of the future or look beyond the present time.
This fixation of our mentality is quite clear, even in our language, Arabic, which is unique in the sense that it doesn’t even have a future tense. In other words, to express the future time we only use “Sawfa” or “Sa.” We inexorably never give up thinking of the past and how we were the pioneers of the world. But, what is the value of this over thinking if it doesn’t inspire and push us forward to think of the future. I don’t deny that we had a great thriving civilization that illuminated the world for many centuries, but this doesn’t, at any rate justify our present state of somnolence and inertia towards the affairs around us.
Our past cannot be useful to us if it doesn’t help us face future challenges. Rather, it should act as a cornerstone for future development and progress. Look what is now happening in America and Europe, for example. The people and the governments there are thinking how to improve and better their lives, rather than thinking and lamenting what is lost. They have their own massive plans and strategies in all provinces of life for many years to come. They make precise calculations and estimates based on statistical data for everything. Unfortunately, we Arabs, Yemenis especially, are absolutely blind as to what is to come. We just chew qat and consume the output of the developed nations and cry over the ‘glorious past.’
In about two years time, the world will move into a new century. Yes, a new century! But, we need to ask ourselves these questions :
What have we been doing in the 20th century?
What are the achievements and inventions we have to our credit during this century?
What are our contributions in the areas of medicine, agriculture, computer science, education, manufacturing, etc?
What is the state of democracy and human rights in our country?
Such questions, which are actually endless, are of vital importance. This is because they will display and inspire us to think of the future challenges and how to avoid them. But, because we are spiritually living in the past, we disregard the future.
I always hear students lamenting the loss of their previous studies and teachers, officials and clerks cursing their present situation and bosses eulogizing their past time where they could feel and dress themselves well. So, wherever you go, you will hear murmurs of complaint against the present and nostalgia for the past.
It goes without saying that we should all think and work hard for a better tomorrow. Everyone should dream up to the sky of having honorable and prosperous lives; everyone should dream of finding someone able and willing to patronize him and give him free room to think and realize his potential. But, the ever-worsening state of affairs of Yemenis and Arabs, in general, in this modern age is behind their overwhelming state of despair and helplessness. The Arab community, in the last five decades, has witnessed many shocks and adversities, which have had a pulverizing impact on minds.
There is actually a galaxy of bright minds and enlightened thinkers who have their own ambitions and dreams of improving the recent disappointing regressive behavior pattern of their people. But, their dreams and aspirations remain in the clouds and never see the light of application. In fact, they are wholly marginalized. This is, without a shadow of doubt, owing to the past-oriented mentalities that have the decision making power.
Such fossilized regimes think only of maintaining the situation as it is, because if these right-minded luminaries are given position of vantage, this may endanger the very existence of such fragile regimes. They are intentionally marginalized, glorified only at the time of their funerals. These regimes also put their people in frequent crises, so that they don’t think of anything but keeping their body and soul together and nothing more. Their progressive deteriorating life conditions make them obsessed with the past, wherein they find some comfort. The future for them is ominous and unfruitful, because whenever they think that it is okay, it only gets worse.
For instance, when there is a public demand that a corrupt official must be changed, he is replaced by an even worse one. The situation evokes the oft-repeated English proverb “Out of the fire and into the frying pan.” Hence, it becomes quite clear that these regimes play cat and mouse with their people. Therefore, we can conclude that it is merely these regimes that lie behind the plight of the people and the habits of their mind, which lives in and clings to the past. So, it is only through the installation of an effective democratic structure and political freedom that, according to many thinkers, can we hope to find a way out of the present impasse.