Venue: a suburb – a small town in the heart of the English countryside close to a gentle valley. Time: My vacation this summer 2004
I was with four friends, in my humble house in the old woods. The scent of fresh pine was charming, a sweet condolence for five Arabs trying to forget, for a while, the miserable reality of the .
Unfortunately there was no way to do that. One cannot retire from the real world, migrate from the actuality, or desert the daily challenge - that of survival as it unfolds in occupied Palestine, or the challenge of a scorched land that develops in Iraq.
From time to time, we, this Arab generation of thwarted dreams, try to find a place for joy, a touch of condolence. We drag ourselves far away to remote shade, or glaring sands to slash this mental burden, but in vein. Our crisis follows us like shade, inhabiting our suitcase, mocking this effort of false escape that quickly disintegrates.
I had invited a group of English friends to join us and our discussions generally covered social and political topics.
I can no longer remember exactly what we were talking about when one of them asked about the number of Arab states that have a social system, which provides government assistance for families with newly-born babies. He meant financial assistance to help families provide the additional needs beyond healthcare, because the government freely provides the latter, not only for every UK citizen, but also for every resident in the country.
Let me admit that I pretended not to grasp the question at first to hear it again. And my guest repeated it slowly, in a robotic way, stressing in his expression, “When the baby sees the daylight”.
Taken by the question, which had a manipulating investigative tone, I asked the guest whether this policy was implemented in the UK.
In the same quiet tone, typical of the English, my guest raised his eyebrows, listening to what I had said and confirmed that the UK government pays families £60 a month for every child. This is effective from the day he or she is born until he or she is 16 years of age, regardless of the number of children in the family.
Of course, this in no way means that the government is free of any liability towards these citizens after they reach the age of 16. There are other responsibilities - it provides them with free education and healthcare and tries to create new jobs. Moreover, there are certain establishments, commissioned to provide career-planning advice and direct them towards academic qualifications sought by employers.
Let’s not forget the social security system for the elderly and establishments dedicated to their wellbeing. This is just to name a few of the services implemented by the UK and other countries catering for their people.
My English guest didn’t end his general remarks about the European social systems when I began contradicting things.
First, I was full of admiration for these policies which aim to protect people from poverty and social insecurity.
Second, I was bitterly frustrated by what I knew about the deteriorated social conditions in most of the . Despite the vast wealth of some of our states and gigantic natural resources of the Arab lands, the majority of Arab people lack a social security system and live with an increasing fear of tomorrow. This has resulted in a situation which has alienated most of the Arabs from their governments, whose last concern is the wellbeing of their subjects.
While in the , billions of dollars are plundered by some Arabs, the funds in the are systemically invested to eliminate poverty and assist people to meet their own needs.
An endless train of images from all over the Arab and Islamic World crossed my mind and the general theme is the same - totalitarian regimes that put the interests of their people at the bottom of their priorities.
It is a matter of fact that the Western nations achieved those vast strides of development only after they fulfilled the needs of their citizens and provided them with a socially secure environment that could nurture creativity and productivity.
On the other hand, the nations that aborted the dreams of their people, frustrated their minds, uprooted their creativity, suffocated their thoughts, stole their liberties, nurtured corruption and deepened alienation, are at the bottom of a list of nations in our world.
When will our Arab and states wake up to reality and reconcile with their people?
It’s not too late.
Adding to this bitter situation, the Arab private sector doesn’t attempt to bridge this gap or to counter balance government imbalances, or at least try to improve it.
In this regard, I don’t make even some officials of the Palestinian Authority exempt, from the responsibility of this theft. Belonging involves a sense of commitment, sacrifice, partnership and benevolence. It’s not whatsoever an escape from responsibility.