Written by: Bassam Awartani

To me, it appeared that those who criticised the use of a master's head, rather than that of a cleaning employee, in a statue symbolising the honour of municipal cleaning workers in Ramallah were trying to convey a message. This message seemed to object to this choice, possibly due to religious or other reasons. However, they may not have realised that their own country is adept at creating idols. People unknowingly worship moving idols, both within their nation and on social media, which can be more influential than the silent statue in question. The decision-makers' perspective was to honour, motivate, or show appreciation to a segment of society that faces social and cultural disadvantages, aiming to uplift those less fortunate on the social and cultural ladder.

This group, responsible for gathering citizens’ waste, including those promoting "morals and high values," is not solely in charge of keeping public spaces clean. It is a shared responsibility, and everyone should contribute to fostering a culture of public hygiene through their actions. Perhaps decision-makers should focus on cultivating this culture, which currently does not prioritise public cleanliness and respect for shared spaces. They can achieve this by implementing awareness and educational programmes and enforcing legal measures, beginning with early education in kindergartens, schools, universities and extending to public parks and beyond.

What's noteworthy is the prevalence of daring actions in public spaces, such as vandalising property or littering, even right next to garbage bins. Why is not this widespread behaviour considered disrespectful to sanitation workers? In this context, there is no distinction between a disgruntled citizen who rejects a symbol (the "idol") and criticises the idea of honouring those who maintain cleanliness and someone who dares to litter in public spaces, even in the presence of sanitation workers. This reflects a disconnect in thinking and a misunderstanding of the difference between personal and shared spaces. It indicates a flawed, emotionally driven culture that struggles with taking action, making positive changes and building a strong identity for its citizens.

This stance against any form of art is closely tied to recent incidents, including the destruction of the lion statues at Ramallah's Al-Manara roundabout and attempts to attack the Nelson Mandela statue in Al-Tira, which required police protection for months. Additionally, it is linked to the position of educational institutions, notably certain universities that have restricted artistic expression by banning plays and disrupting artistic events in 2019 and earlier, suppressing the freedom of artistic thought. This stance is also connected to the broader conflict against a corrupt and discriminatory culture found in various institutions (political, educational and civil). This culture opposes intellectual pursuits, knowledge and the social sciences.

These actions highlight the negative aspects of knowledge, both scientific and historical, including the history of art and beauty. They originate from a society that lacks belief in science and critical thinking, instead favouring superstitions to justify its intellectual laziness and incapacity. For instance, they may not realise the profound philosophy of Ibn Arabi, the pioneer of Sufi philosophy who authored over three hundred texts, some even claim four hundred. He delved into complex questions, such as the existence and representation of God, discussing the manifestation of divine attributes in everything, as detailed in his significant work "Fusoos."

What occurred is not a significant event in itself, but rather a reflection of a broader psycho-social crisis rooted in a history of oppression, whether in colonial or national forms. This crisis is further exacerbated by smear campaigns and exclusionary practices aimed at quashing any cultural movement for revolutionary change, particularly those challenging blind imitation. Both in public and private spheres, the concept of embracing differences and engaging in peaceful, informed discussions appears implausible given the prevailing institutionalised ignorance and systemic blindness. This incident should not be a cause for surprise, as surprises are a common occurrence in this country, much like instability, insecurity, fear, injustice and exclusion.

The history of colonialism has deeply influenced Palestinian society for a long time. It fostered a culture amongst the colonised people that values heroism, often practiced in noble and courageous ways. Many times, we have used the excuse of being under colonial rule to delay action and even justified the actions of those who claimed to be patriots but took advantage of the situation. They exploited the sacrifices made by those who fought for their freedom, silencing their voices and undermining their rightful defence of their land and its boundaries. Now, it seems we are not just under colonialism but deeply immersed in its influence. The real adversary within us is the idol representing ignorance, laziness, excessive selfishness, outdated customs and racism. This internal challenge is the most formidable one we face.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.