I repeatedly make efforts to turn to Arab media, including the realm of social media, as they are the primary source of information, in order to grasp the "truth" of what unfolds in our Arab world by posing the traditional questions: Who? Where? How? When? Why? Unfortunately, these attempts of mine often hit stumbling blocks, compelling me, in the end, to resort to foreign media, despite their occasional shortcomings or biases, in an attempt to find answers to my queries.
The core issue does not lie in the scarcity of information available in Arab media and communication platforms. On the contrary, modern technology has inundated us with an abundance of information that far surpasses our capacity to absorb. The issue resides in the authenticity, accuracy, precision, and impartiality of this information. Far too often, it is tainted by omissions, additions, or distortions, resulting in the corruption or even erasure of the "truth" on numerous occasions. The chief reason for this conundrum can be traced back to the stranglehold of most ruling regimes in the Arab world, over all forms of visual and digital media. This control is wielded either directly or through comprehensive censorship over the media content, be it "news" or "opinion". This manipulation leads to the contraction of the role of independent, free media, with only a handful of exceptions in digital or print media, which are also rapidly diminishing.
Yet, the crisis doesn't merely stem from the control and grip of ruling regimes over media outlets. It extends to their utilization in the first place as effective means to disseminate their own viewpoints and ideologies – often bearing exclusionary perspectives and suppressive ideologies. From this perspective or mindset, controlling the "narrative" through the manipulation of information and the distortion of facts, becomes an essential component of state policies. These "media appendages" then become an integral part of the state's anatomy, aimed at shaping the collective consciousness of its people to endorse policies and positions that are inconsistent and contradictory. Many of these policies are rooted more in personal disputes or rifts among rulers than in genuine national or patriotic interests. Yesterday's foe quickly transforms overnight to become today's ally, and vice versa. Naturally, such rapid policy shifts and orientations require an incessantly working mechanism to continuously align the collective consciousness with the prevailing policies and trends of the moment.
The crisis doesn't merely stem from the grip of ruling regimes over media outlets, but rather to them being used in the first place as effective means to spread their own views and ideologies–often bearing exclusionary perspectives and suppressive ideologies
This Machiavellian atmosphere has been reflected in the realm of social media, whose primary aim, still, is to engage people to a greater extent in shaping their present and future by democratizing information and increasing scrutiny over governing systems.
While social media platforms have indeed succeeded to some extent in achieving this and making it challenging for regimes to completely withhold information and truths from their people, attempts are still being made. These persistent efforts, executed through 'electronic flies' and other techniques, aim to flood these platforms with torrents of false and misleading information in order to propagate obscurantism and evoke emotional fervor.
Unfortunately, these unceasing efforts by governing systems to "weaponize" information and conceal realities on these platforms, have had a negative impact on the nature and quality of dialogue among individuals at large. The old adage "people reflect the character of their rulers" holds true. It has become rare to encounter a discussion that doesn't rapidly devolve into personal attacks, with the discourse often resorting to a "say whatever comes to mind" approach, rife with lies, vulgarity, and prejudice — whether it's rooted in religion, sectarian, gender-based, or otherwise. It has also become rare to find rational dialogues aimed at fostering unity instead of division, or finding common ground; they're all zero-sum battles where everyone loses.
What I'm stating isn't new or groundbreaking; but I fear that governing systems might remain oblivious to the fact that human societies do not progress without the availability of expansive spaces that grant the maximum possible freedom of thought and expression, alongside legal and operational mechanisms that embrace the other and ensure their acceptance and participation. Such frameworks could be built upon a social contract grounded in equality, solidarity, and safeguarding minorities from the tyranny of the majority.
I hope our regimes recognize that the key to our advancement in this fierce world lies in freedom of thought and expression so our societies break free from the constraints holding them back. Free thought should reign supreme, not in the shadows of prisons
History teaches us that freedom of thought and expression is the essence of life, serving as the cornerstone for progress in any human endeavor, whether in the fields of natural and social sciences or within the creative fields of literature and the arts. Our current position, while modest, within fields such as scientific research, technology, artificial intelligence, megacomputers, and other pillars of scientific advancement is a testament to this.. History also teaches us that societies that have understood that their strength lies in their diversity and pluralism, and that only in effectively harnessing this diversity with competence, would societies be at peace with themselves. Such societies are less prone to conflicts and wars and are more inclined towards stability and resilience.
My hope is that our regimes recognize, before it's too late, that the key to our advancement and our ability to compete in an increasingly fierce world lies in granting freedom of thought and expression so our societies break free from the constraints that hold them back and soar alongside other nations that have preceded them. Free thought should reign supreme at the forefront, not in the shadows of prisons. Free media is an imperative for freedom of expression within the framework of a robust civil society that guarantees the freedom and autonomy of associations, institutions, and parties. I imagine that, in the long run, the existence of "independent" media entities, primarily funded directly by the people to ensure their "neutrality" away from political and financial influence, much like the cases of the BBC in the United Kingdom and PBS in the United States, might significantly contribute to the freedom and independence of media.
In the context of freedom of thought and expression, let me underscore once again that our progress is intricately interwoven with the realization that each individual is an addition to the other, rather than a replacement. Maximizing what unites us, which is abundant, and embracing the "other" with tolerance and solidarity is the best path forward. Diversity is the essence of life, a source of strength and wealth, not a cause or justification for weakness and regression. My heart breaks every day as I witness the magnitude of polarization and hatred that fills hearts. We have succeeded, in our ignorance, in becoming our own adversaries!
At this stage of my life, my hope still endures.. That's why I write, with my eyes set on the future generations to guide us out of the predicament we've placed ourselves in – a predicament that we, and only we, have the power to overcome.