I walked through the streets of Hammersmith, sporting my suit and a small, neat Palestinian flag pin on the lapel of it. I turned this way and that into some side streets and I come to the road I need to be at. After walking past a few downtrodden, small offices I get to my destination; the Palestinian “embassy” or delegation.
I breath in and press the button. A loud buzz and click comes in response and I step through, and it was like going into Narnia.
One minute I was in London, the next I am in an office block in Ramallah, Palestine. Pictures of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas hang either side of the reception desk and all of the furniture is of Arabian style, a little bit over the top, but Arabian nonetheless. It had a faint smell of pipe smoke. As I approach the receptionist I automatically speak English, for some reason or other, and so I carry on instead of switching to Arabic because that would make me seem weird.
‘Sorry, she is off sick, and the person she asked to take the interview is busy.’
Arabs I thought, we are so disorganized and chaotic. I came all the way, preparing for an interview for some volunteer work at this little office, and there is no one. I am at a loss, I take out my phone to see if I can phone the interviewee, but her number just goes to the office’s switchboard, damn it!. Just as I am about to turn around and head out in defeat, a deep, throaty noise catches my ear.
I say hello in return to the big, burly man that just turned up. The receptionists face contorts in confusion as I suddenly start speaking more or less perfect Arabic. Before I know it, I am sat down at an office just behind the reception, in front of yet another man I never thought I would meet. I don’t know if it was the mess or just the atmosphere of them speaking in Arabic, but I kept on being reminded of my father and the office he works at in Ramallah. We exchange names and a firm handshake, and then he leans back, conversational and friendly.
‘So Ziyad, what do you study?’
I say philosophy quietly, like I am brushing it under the carpet, but he catches that word nonetheless and raises an eyebrow ‘Philosophy eh?’ This is it I think, this can either go two ways. He is, at best, going to make a joke about it, or at worst, take the piss for his amusement. ‘Philosophy is very important, you know’. OH THANK GOODNESS! I think as I breath an audible sigh of relief, that sigh where I don’t have to deal with questions like ‘so what do you do? think?!’ or simple statements like ‘it is a waste of time’.
Considering that the Arab world technically saved the Ancient Greek Philosophy of the likes of Plato and Aristotle, why is it that Arabs today only seem to tolerate it or outright despise it? Now I am saying most Arabs, as my interviewee clearly approved and generalising a group of people under one statement is never literally true.
For one, Philosophy today is essential to get someone to think critically and “outside the box”. Not just for random ideas, but for entire policies and practices of society. From the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to Siddhartha, they all began with critically thinking about themselves and the society around them. They did not follow the status-quo just because they were told to, they thought and reformed, and their ideas influenced many people in the future. They may have had a gift, or they may have been talented, but the point is that not everyone today will be capable of doing it unless they learn a subject that touches upon philosophy and practices philosophy. Coming up with “thought provoking” quotes is not philosophy, but making statements about the very fabrics of reality; be it the existence of God, morality, politics, the purpose of human life, the meaning of human language or whatever, now that is philosophy.
If you want me to be honest, I feel that the Arab world is highly lacking in Philosophy and critical thinking. And something should be done about it.