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Stuck in the past

May 28,2015 - Last updated at May 28,2015

Our culture is more backward than forward looking.

While a lot is said about the past, mostly in nostalgic and therefore somewhat fallacious ways, very little is said about the future.

Ours is a highly retrospective culture.

Such nostalgia or retrospection is seen at work at many levels. One is attachment to the distant Arab/Islamic past, mainly the days when Islam “reigned supreme” and all was milk and honey.

That was the heyday of Arab/Islamic glory when justice prevailed and when Arabs and Muslims conquered the world and contributed remarkably to all fields of knowledge, all branches of science and all spheres of civilisation.

Another is attachment to a closer era, mainly the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

This was the time when “our” neighbourhoods, cities, institutions, family structure, songs, movies, politics, people, etc., were remarkably simpler but better.

We, in the higher education community, for example, view the 1960s and 70s as the time when our universities worked and our system was both vibrant and effective.

We had quality programmes, quality administrators, quality professors and quality students.

The same narrative can be detected in almost all our institutions: Radio Jordan, Jordan Television, ministries, municipalities, etc.

Such nostalgia is, to a degree, understandable. There is a lot of disappointment with both our institutions and our society at large. And there is also a feeling of inability, even failure, on the part of many of us to change the situation.

Therefore, people resort to reverencing and glorifying the past.

It is, in part, a defence mechanism that enables people to cope with the disappointing present. But it is also, in many ways, a natural outcome of our educational system that focuses a lot more on the past and glorifies it, and says little about the future, therefore ignoring it.

There is no denying, of course, that our past, distant or near, was in some way better than our present. And there is no denying that people in all cultures cherish and reverence their past.

But our past, like any other nation’s past, had its own problems, which our nostalgia prevents us from seeing.

There are mainly two problems with our backward-looking, nostalgic mode.

The first is the absence of a critical perspective on the past. 

Most of us, though by no means all, view the past romantically and see no faults in it, when in fact we should be studying it and assessing it carefully so that we understand what went right and what went wrong.

The second, a natural outcome of the first, is that we seem to look to the past as the model to follow. It is something to “go back to”.

This is highly problematic, as going back does not allow us to progress.

What is particularly worrying is that our youth (who are a product of this nostalgic, backward-looking culture and educational system) largely think along the same lines.

As a matter of fact, our younger people seem to be more nostalgic and retrospective than their parents and grandparents.

Interacting with them on our university campuses or on social media, one is struck by how adamant, how “brainwashed”, they are about the past.

It is ironic that one often finds it easier to argue with an older person than with a younger one about our past, especially the distant past.

This is not at all healthy.

Unless we come to terms with our past, seek it to study it and learn from it and then move forward, rather than revere it and foolishly glory it, we will not advance.


The sad fact is that, to a large extent, we are a culture stuck in its past.

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