Arab World Proves That All Exaggeration Is Circular

Exaggerate everything; progress not at all. "Exaggeration is a widespread epidemic in 'our country,'" writes Syrian director Haitham Hakki on his Facebook. I intentionally put "our country" in quotations, as I believe his reference goes beyond the national borders of Syria. I agree with Hakki and believe that exaggeration has infected the Arab world, including my home country, Lebanon, which is branded with all sorts of embellishments from the Land of the Alphabet to the "Paris" and "Switzerland" of the Middle East. The dismissal of these exaggerations is not meant to belittle my home country; my love for Lebanon runs deep. Yet this pride does not authorize me to endorse such exaggerations.

Hakki’s post, "The Tendency to Exaggeration," claims this inclination is a basic indicator of underdevelopment. The prevalence of such exaggerations in any country closes minds and impedes logical analysis, two factors essential to progress. Associated with this tendency is "boasting, flattery talk, and the use of superlative adjectives like best, greatest, greater," etc. Self-aggrandizement in the form of referring to a citizen as a  "genius, [insisting] he only comes once every century or centuries, [and] the world has never seen anything like him," among other exaggerations.  While Hakki does not invoke Fascism or Nazism into his discussion, I find these two ideologies and their likes quite relevant. The Nazis could not have planted the seeds of their supremacist ideology without exaggeration. Many historians believe, for example, the Nazis propagated the claim that the Holy Roman Empire was the date of the first Reich as an extreme form of exaggeration used to bolster the claim about the superiority of the German people.

During my research for a book chapter on Arab nationalism in the mid-1980s, I read an article by the Syrian Zaki al-Arsouzi (one of the lesser known founders of the Baath Party) who traces Arab nationalism to ancient times, to the Jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic era. Since we know that Europe was the birthplace of nationalist movements and the rise of the modern states, al-Arsouzi's claim is far from consistent with objective historical facts and analysis that dates modern nationalism to no earlier than the French Revolution. Thus his version of Arab nationalism is a classic example of an exaggerated claim that gives meaning and fuel to an ideology.

Another characteristic of an exaggeration is ranking one's county ahead of all others, despite historical facts.  Hakki depicts the comic scene of each country claiming it has the most advanced culture, or what he calls "the contests of whose culture is the oldest."  To make matters worse, the Arab publishing industry furthers embeds the region's narrative by publishing books that do not conform to objective reality or reliable historical facts, books that assert our "good ancestors" are the "greatest, the holiest and the most truthful."  All what we need to do is just apply their great ideas (which, of course, is impossible to apply in today's world) and we can in a flash beat America, China and Japan! Tragically, and as Hakki concludes his post, time has proven that we have only reached the level of the Talibans and the Wilayat al Faqih (the Supreme leader in Iran).

--Elie Chalala

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