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Arab-Islamic Communication and Democracy

Hassan Ajami
hassanajami25@yahoo.com
2015 / 11 / 16

Arab-Islamic Communication and Democracy

Hassan Ajami

The current Arab-Islamic communication patterns are not enabling us to accept and build democracies. This is so because our communication methods are not consistent with democracy.

Different Patterns of Communication

The Arab-Islamic communication pattern is a process of reestablishing the status quo. But democracy is characterized by change. Therefore, the Arab-Islamic communication pattern contradicts democracy. This is why most of the Arabs and Muslims are not able to accept and form democracies. And this explains the absence of democracy in the Arab-Islamic world. In the Arab-Islamic culture, when we communicate, we tend to reassert our certainties and the certainties of our society. This leads us to reestablish the status quo whenever we communicate. Yet, in the West, communication is a process of change. The communication theorist Marshall McLuhan explicitly expresses this Western conception of communication and analyzes communication in terms of change. He holds that there is no communication without causing change in the audience. Now, given that Western communication is a process of change while democracy is characterized by change, it follows that Western communication is consistent with democracy. This is why democracy is accepted and maintained in the West.

In addition, the Arab-Islamic communication pattern is a social interaction among groups, such as families and religious sects. But democracy consists of social interactions among independent individuals instead of interactions among social groups. This shows that the Arab-Islamic communication pattern, as a social interaction among social groups, contradicts democracy. And this is why democracy failed in the Arab-Islamic culture. Yet communication in the West tends to be a social interaction among independent and autonomous individuals, exactly as democracy is a set of social interactions among independent and free individuals. Thus, the Western communication pattern, as a social interaction among independent individuals, coheres with democracy. And this is why democracy was developed in the West, and it is still flourishing.

Hiding Information versus Transmitting Information

The Arab-Islamic communication method is also a process of hiding and/or minimizing information. For example, “al-iajaaz” is considered to be the highest communication pattern in the Arab-Islamic culture. And “al-iajaaz” is the ability to express oneself using the minimum amount of words, such that others cannot do the same. But when one uses the minimum amount of words, one is ultimately hiding and/or minimizing information-;- one needs to use maximum amount of words in order to elaborate on one’s information and maximize information. This is how “al-iajaaz”, as a communication pattern, is a process of hiding´-or-minimizing information. And most Arabs and Muslims attempt to imitate “al-iajaaz” as a communication style aiming at hiding´-or-minimizing information because they believe that it is the highest communication form. This is why most Arabs and Muslims use communication as a process of hiding and minimizing information.

Yet, in the West, communication is a process of transmitting and maximizing information. And democracy consists of mechanisms aiming at transmitting and maximizing information, given that democracy is characterized by transparency. This indicates that this Western communication pattern, as transmission and maximization of information, is coherent with democracy. And this explains why democracy is embraced and successful in the West. Claude Shannon defines communication in terms of transmission of information. According to him, communication is transmission of information, and information is surprise. He holds that the more we are surprised by a certain message, the more the message in question contains information. For instance, the message that the sun will rise tomorrow does not surprise us because we already know that the sun will rise tomorrow. And this is why the message that the sun will rise tomorrow has minimum information. But the message that the temperature tomorrow will be precisely forty degrees Celsius surprises us, given that we usually can t precisely predict the temperature tomorrow. And since it surprises us, it contains maximum information. In this sense, information is surprise. But, in the Arab-Islamic world, almost nothing surprises us because, according to our dominant system of beliefs, everything is predetermined by God from eternity. This is why we always fail in acquiring and forming information, exactly as we constantly fail in communication, given that communication and information are intertwined.

Democracies, Tyrannies and the Failure of Communication

Democracies are characterized by change because, for example, changing the president and the representatives of the people will guarantee that no one will manipulate power. This enables communication as change to perfectly fit with democracy. Also, democracy consists of a set of social interactions among independent and free individuals because democracy consists of certain mechanisms aiming at respecting and maximizing the freedom of each of its citizens. This leads communication as a social interaction among independent individuals to cohere with democracy. Moreover, democracy transmits and maximizes information, leading the way for communication as a process of transmission and maximization of information to be consistent with democracy. And democracy is characterized by transmitting and maximizing information because only through transmitting and maximizing information people could be free, given that people think and act in light of the information they possess. If people have minimum information, then they are confined by the-limit-ation of their information, and hence they aren t really free. This is why democracy transmits and maximizes information in order to guarantee the possession of freedom by each and every citizen.

Tyrannies are the opposites of democracies. Therefore, tyrannies hide and minimize information, exactly as the dominant Arab-Islamic communication style does, and contrary to what democracies do. As we have seen, the Arab-Islamic communication patterns contradict democracy. This successfully explains why tyrannies are dominant in the Arab-Islamic world. Since the Arab-Islamic communication patterns are not consistent with democracy, it is natural that democracies could not develop in the current Arab-Islamic culture, leading the way for the dominance of tyrannies. This also implies that the only successful way for establishing democracies in the Arab-Islamic world consists of changing´-or-modifying the Arab-Islamic communication patterns, such that they would not aim to maintain the status quo and minimize accurate information.

The philosophy of communication in the Arab-Islamic culture is radically different from that of the West. For instance, the Arab-Islamic philosophy of communication defines communication as a process of maintaining the status quo and aiming at hiding and minimizing information, while the Western philosophy of communication analyzes communication as a process of change aiming at transmitting and maximizing information. This is why communication between the Arab-Islamic world and the West usually fails, leading to constant conflicts and wars between the Arabs and Muslims on one hand and the West on the other hand. Since most of the Arabs and Muslims tend to use communication in order to maintain the status quo and hide information, while most of the Westerners use communication in order to cause change and transmit maximum information, it follows that the Arab-Islamic communication patterns contradict the Western communication patterns, paving the way for continuous misunderstanding and failure of communication between the Arab-Islamic world and the West. One possible solution to this problem is to be able to shift among different communication patterns in order to use similar methods of communication and hence ensure mutual understanding and peace between the Arab-Islamic world and the West.

All of this shows that our communication patterns determine whether we accept democracy´-or-not, whether democracy will succeed´-or-fail, and whether we are at war´-or-peace. In fact, democracy and peace are sets of communication patterns aiming at transmitting and maximizing true information. We are what we communicate and how we communicate.

References

1- McLuhan, Eric and McLuhan, Marshall: Theories of Communication. 2011. Peter Lang.

2- Shannon, Claude and Weaver, Warren: The Mathematical Theory of Communication. 1949. University of Illinois Press.




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