Abu Shreek was waiting for the next teacher to walk in when a strange buzz appeared in the classroom. During those times many people carried portable radios around. The minute a substitute teacher confirmed the news, Abu Shreek took off running. He stormed out of the school gate and into the street. Flashes of the typical 12-year-old dreams were the only thing on his mind: The triumph, the Arab unity, the end of the oil sheikhdoms, and the liberation of
Abu Shreek was later told that his role at this stage is to stick to his role: A student. “Education is very important”. “Education is the weapon that will let us win the bigger battles”. “We were defeated because of ignorance”. And all the other clichés often used to motivate a 7th-grader to memorize a 30-verse poem.
It would be years later until he experienced a similar feeling. While he was still fulfilling his duties and concentrating on his (seemingly-endless) education, the anger, helplessness and despair feelings were triggered again by the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa: The Secretary General of the PFLP. Abu Shreek could not believe that the leader of the pioneer revolutionary movement that used to instill fear in the hearts of the enemies could be taken out so quietly and effortlessly. Ten years later and the answers were exactly the same: “Avenge him with education”. “Take care of your school and you will be in a better situation to help”. “Did you see how accurate that rocket was? It is the product of the educated minds”.
And finally, at a yet another transition period, he looks into re-organizing the priorities. He examines the “practical” near-future options and finds them limited: Hopes of a steady income, a house and a car. A piece of furniture and a vacation. A career and a contribution to the field. Maybe even a disgruntled beautiful wife and three special disobedient kids!!
Once you start obtaining any of these things it is a different ballgame at much higher stakes. It will be implied that it is the time to “cash in” on the investment and to protect the “gains”. You become “attached to things that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
It become a chase of an “adapted” dream (that is not and should not be yours), neglecting how insignificant it is compared to the real challenge. An endless search for the acceptance of other miserably pretentious and equally detached peers. An endless search for a socially-imposed “success” standards. Education ends up being a tool that enables you to better fit in the skewed system, not a tool to trample it!
But what is the substitute for an eternal daily grind that produces minimal results beyond individual recognition and status symbols?
The solution: A collective change to the “accomplishment” standards, understanding that our population issues extend much farther beyond one self’s recognition and fulfillment. Whether it is the fortune accumulators (the lowlifes at the bottom of the social pyramid), the blue/white collar dedicated workers (with their endless complaining) or the distinguished scholars (who usually settle for a less challenging lifestyle abroad), it is obvious that the Westernized version of the materialistic success (not necessarily money-oriented) is not contributing much to the resurgence of the Arab societies. On the contrary, it is becoming an integral part of the status quo. A collective attitude that brags: “I am lucky to be an Arab. At least I know I have a set goal and a meanigful purpose in life” to replace: “I worked too hard for this and I deserve a “normal” life”.
Without engaging in fruitless philosophical interpretations of life, happiness and satisfaction, there must be something more worthy to subscribe to. There must be something more compatible with the childhood dreams. There must be something outside of mindless observation of the train of civilization passing by. Something at a communal level higher than a published book, a graduate degree or even a non-profit organization. (Not to mention the simple minds fascination with trivial consumer products).
Abu Shreek ideally prioritized the bigger cause. But Abu Shreek is also a realist, a pragmatist and an “apathist”. Since it is obvious that the those alternatives are farfetched, and since maintaining a drug habit appears to be unfeasible and carry a few “hazards” (not as hazardous as challenging the system though), he just hopes he does not end up looking forward to: “the job, the family, the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear, luggage, three-piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die.”
“I wish I knew what I signed up for but This is definitely not it”.