Monday, August 29, 2011

About Teachers and Moral Courage

Bertrand Russell, in one of his Unpopular Essays, tries to explain that the role of a teacher is to be the guardian of civilization. A teacher, says Russell, "should be intimately aware what civilization is'.

But what does Russell mean when he invokes the term "civilization"?

It's much more than advanced technology. It is "a thing of the mind"

"it is a matter partly of knowledge, partly of emotion... A man.. should see his own country not only as home but as one among countries of the world, all with an equal right to live, and think, and feel. He should see his own age in relation to the past and the future".

The danger and impossibility to fulfill the true role of the teacher is much less present in democratic countries. A teacher, however, in totalitarian countries, cannot hope to serve his noble goal, for

"In each of these countries fanatical nationalism was what was most emphasised in the teaching of the young, with the result that the men of one country have no common ground with the men of another., and that no conception of a common civilization stands in the warlike ferocity". In such countries, he goes on to say, "Collective hysteria, the most mad and cruel of all human emotions, is encouraged instead of being discouraged".

Sometimes we do encounter the miracle of civilization doing its work, despite the indoctrination, the teaching of implacable hostility, as evident in the figure of the Egyptian author and intellectual, Ali Salem, about whom David Price-Jones wrote:

"The world needs men like Ali Salem. He’s one of Egypt’s most distinguished writers, aged 72, with a long list of books and plays behind him. In every way, intellectually and physically, he’s very big. There is tremendous humour in his face. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks, being an outspoken critic of Islamism and an active campaigner for a real peace with Israel. In 1994 he first visited Israel, and the book he wrote about it was a runaway best-seller. Since then, he’s been to Israel many times, and has received an honorary doctorate there. He keeps saying that Arabs have nothing to fear from Jews, that there’s no place for hate, and that peace is better than war. Back home in Cairo, the elite boycott him and his writings, and those on the street can kill anyone who talks and acts as he does.

... Ali Salem’s humour came out the moment he started his acceptance speech. He quoted the scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when a citizen attacks Cinna the poet, shouting, “Tear him for his bad verses.” He also gave a great and apposite example of an Egyptian joke, told about a man going home one evening, only to find himself surrounded by an armed mob who demand “Are you with Us or The Others?” With Us, he replies, whereupon they shoot him dead declaring that they are The Others."

How appropriate, from a Russellian point of view, that this particular Arab teacher should be awarded a prize named "Civil courage".

You might have a greater appreciation of this one Egyptian man's courage in the face of the current incontinent hysteria in Egypt if you compare him to what his countrymen consider to be heroism.

You might have an inkling of the kind of hostility he faces among his own fellow Egyptians if you read what Prof. AbuKhalil has to say about him:

"Ali Salim, the vulgar and crude (and plagiarizing playwright) is Israel's only friend in Egypt. He, by definition, was a staunch supporter of Sadat and Mubarak's dictatorship. I wrote about him before: he speaks well of Arab-Israeli peace at WINEP, but on Aljazeera he rails against Israel and even Jews (all of the handful of Israel's friends in the Arab world are rabid anti-Semitic). Here, he attacks Ahmad Shahat in the mouthpiece of Prince Salman and his sons (Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat)."

It is eminently fitting that the professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley should thus castigate this Russelian Egyptian who literally speaks truth to power, in the most basic way, the truth of a single voice addressed to the massive Egyptian and Arab madding mobs that cheer for warmongering and hatred and would rather heed these words:

O Muslim community! For too long we have had faith in [our] agreements with the Jews. Does history not attest to their treachery?" wrote columnist Ibrahim Abu Kila in an August 23 article in the Egyptian daily Al-Gomhouriyya. "What the descendants of apes and pigs [did] on the border with the occupied Palestinian territories is not their last [act], since we still have mutual agreements, contracts, friendship [ties], and security [arrangements that will be violated] until the Day of Judgment."

If you wish to take the real ethical measure of the teacher who teaches young American minds at California State University, Stanislaus and Berkeley, all you need to do is read his blog where his idea of teaching about ideas and recorded verifiable facts is declaratively manifest. In this one example he rails against Egypt's de-facto government's attempt to provide Egyptians with a fuller picture of what has taken place on August 18 on Israel's southern border with Egypt. In another example, he is exasperated with an Arab journalist who "humanizes Israeli "victims" and talks about a baby".

We know that in AbuKhalil's moral universe, there are no Israeli babies. Only Israeli soldiers.


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