The Ecoversities’ gathering in Jordan (for the Arab region)

People from 9 Arab countries were represented in the gathering: Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Lebanon. The refugee phenomenon in the Arab region started in 1948 when Palestinians were driven out of our homes. I was one of them. I was 7 years old. It was the making of Britain. Since 1991, when Bush invaded Iraq, the refugee phenomenon kept increasing. Jordan has been one of the countries that received refugees from neighboring countries. The ecoversities gathering in Jordan embodied this phenomenon.

The main ‘medium’ in the gathering was people telling stories about their experiences in relation to learning, culture, building community, co-authoring meanings, and knowledge – in harmony with wisdom, wellbeing, and plurality. In telling stories, people are equal in worthiness in the sense that they cannot be compared along a vertical line. The absence of any authority within or from outside helped in creating an atmosphere of trust that made the gathering very lively and at the same time helped in weaving social intellectual cultural spiritual fabric among those who were present. People saw the possibility of such weaving as an opportunity where the ‘civilization horizon’ was lived and experienced rather than just an idea to discuss. In other words, we did not use words and ideas to talk about the meaning of ‘civilization horizon’ as much as we lived it within the richness and diversity which was manifested in actions and interactions. ‘Civilization horizon’ meant the presence of various cultures mutually enriching and nurturing one another. The aliveness of meanings was many-folds as a result of diverse ‘worlds’ in the group, including some that are not in the spotlight of mass media.

The main challenge is to unplug ourselves from dominant illusionary terms and perceptions and land us in a territory that is rooted in our reality – including our diverse cultures – as foundation.

Due mainly to the occupation of British and French after the first world war, the region was torn into 22 ‘nation-states’ with harsh borders which made the possibility of people interacting very difficult. Having people from different cultures and countries in the ecoversities reminded us of how things were a hundred years ago. Most felt and wanted to keep this weaving going on and deepening. One participant worked for five years with Nubeans who inhabited the region between Egypt and Sudan for thousands of years; another belongs to the Sabe’ah in Iraq; a third from Somalia; two from Sudan; one from Yemen. Living the ‘civilization horizon’ made us more connected to the ‘roots’ rather than  staying among the ‘branches’.

In addition, most meetings took place in the open air under trees, and included walks in the morning and also in the evening. Having children in the gathering added a beautiful dimension usually missing in gatherings; it took place in a farm with chicken and sheep all around. All of that made naturean integral part of our gathering.

We shouldn't spend much time on alternatives, but on vision-Munir Fasheh

The various images I usually mention in explaining the essence, spirit, and soul ofmujaawarahwere manifested in the gathering: as a ‘womb’ protecting people from what could harm them; as yeast in dough where its aliveness and vitality spread without intension or planning; and as a ‘social adobe’ in building community. The gathering made me think of mujaawarahsas ‘tents of wisdom’ that need no permission and budget, and can be lived even in prisons…

One aspect that was basic in our gathering was the richness in this civilization horizon, one of whose manifestations is the Arabic language: mujaawarahreplaced dialogue; muthanna(which has no synonym in any European language) replaced the binary logic; what a person yuhsenreplaced vertical evaluation as the source of one’s worth; what the person searches for in life replaced research as a basis; reflective thinking replaced critical thinking… The main challenge is to unplug ourselves from dominant illusionary terms and perceptions and land us in a territory that is rooted in our reality – including our diverse cultures – as foundation. This is the basis of dignity, not rights. In practical terms, we need to articulate a vision and not a project. We shouldn’t spend much time on alternatives, but on vision. Dominant ideologies serve illusions; our focus should be on a vision that unplugs us from such ideologies and, instead, articulate perceptions, convictions, and values that are in harmony with living with wisdom, well-being, diversity, and responsibility. The main ‘germ’ that is defeating us, from within, at the intellectual-perceptual level is an artificial language whose meanings stem from official institutions and licensed professionals that occupied and replaced living languages. Mother’s tongue is the opposite of mother tongue… Courage is basic in such an endeavor…

We articulated our experiences via the discourse of the people (rather than professional terms and academic categories). We talked about things that people know and live. The gathering helped articulate what people already know but was made invisible. One obsession for us was the relation and weaving among cultures. The basic assumption is that we have lost this ability between cultures for a century – even for much more. It is about time that we regain it. This is different from tolerance where we say ‘okay, your way is not the right way, but I am so generous that I will tolerate you’. To tolerate is to insult, by dismissing others by tolerating them. We spoke about hospitality and generosity (both different from tolerance). It is opening one’s arms and hearts to others; it is not accepting or tolerating the difference, but celebrating it. One aspect that was evident was the art of listening الإصغاء; it is a wonderful example of hospitality…

We lived what Illich refers to as ‘conviviality’, which he applies to tools, not to people. It is not ‘about the relations between people, but how people use tools. Convivial tools are the opposite of industrial tools. Industrial tools are leading us to the world of systems in which we become sub-systems of the systems, and then we can no longer use the tools for our intentions but tools use us for their intentions.’ May be (just like in relation to food in regaining wellness), we need to fast (at least once in a while) from using technology in order to regain our sanity. We spent time and energy in watering seeds that are already within us rather than importing new seeds that are not native to our cultural soil and not within our civilization horizon. Humanity which is humanitas in Latin mainly meant kindness as manifested in a bleeding heart, in addition of course to feeling happy and loving together.

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