• Mahmoud Said


Updated: Apr 27, 2021

On a sunny spring day in 1990, my friend and I made our way to a private tutor in 9th grade. Back home it’s common to require private tutoring in most subjects starting 9th grade, it’s preparatory for high school. I don’t recall which subject is was, but I remember the general area, the narrow roads, the red-bricked homes, the occasional car passing us by and honking aimlessly. My mind was occupied, and I spent the first 10 minutes of the walk debating whether I should share my thought with my friend or keep it to myself.

I ended up putting the following question to him: what if our faith was not the right faith? What if on judgment day, it turns out that we were wrong all along? My friend panicked and did not provide a clear answer, he said he didn’t know, but for insurance purposes, he asked me to renew my faith, in case my questions and way of thinking deemed me an apostate. I did.

On that day, a seed was planted in my mind, a seed of doubt. I never spoke about it again with anyone, and it stayed dormant for years. For years to follow, I rode a roller coaster of strength of faith, stretches of time where I assumed a certain attitude and behaved accordingly, depending on what is culturally fashionable at the time, purely superficial to my recollection.

I pretended to know right from wrong and succumbed to the desire to change conditions that didn’t jive with my beliefs of choice. I conversed and debated with others to maintain conformity within my small community. Confirmation bias was my tactic of choice, I loved to find evidence in support of my argument, regardless of how weak or futile, I ignored any evidence that didn’t suite my quest or negate it. It was pathetic, if I’m being honest and the furthest thing from a scientific research or debate. I was biased, and that approach delayed the inevitable, it delayed waking up and making sense.

Fast forward many moons to a dark and gloomy January 3rd, 2015, the so-called Arab Spring had revealed its ugly face and civil wars were commonplace in the middle east, the news was rich with horrific scenes from Arab-on-Arab brutality. There was that specific clip on YouTube, of a Jordanian Royal Pilot captured by Syrian ISIL forces, the clip started with a message from a masked ISIL man, warning those who dare attack his tribe or territory, citing versus from the holy book designed to justify what he was about to do. The camera panned to a metal cage in the middle of a barren area, inside the cage was a blindfolded man wearing an orange jump-suite and on his knees, hand-cuffed behind his back. The masked man walked towards the caged man carrying a container filled with gasoline, he proceeded to empty the gasoline all over the hand-cuffed man and all over the cage. Without hesitation, the man lite up a match and the following images were devastating. Watching someone burn to death is a life-changing image, I muted the sound; I couldn’t believe such evil could manifest in the 21st century.

This is it; this is the moment I almost completely lost my faith, realizing the horrifying effects of brainwashing. The masked man displayed the utmost conviction of his faith and its teachings, and it shook me to my core. I couldn’t find a justification, I couldn’t muster any energy to consider politics, war or acts of vengeance. It was the final devastating blow to any kind of doubt that faith can be evil itself.

What followed was an ongoing journey of questioning of all premeditated believes, cultural habits and social norms. Mankind’s curse is the length of time spent subjugated to brainwashing, at home, school and through the media. By the time of maturity, the person is already fitted and molded, all critical thinking skills and imagination is obliterated, a manuscript is imprinted in the brain and just like a virus, dogma and ideology guarantees its survival from one generation to the next.

We are all victims of the environment we grow up in, the antidote is travelling, virtual or actual. Spending years among a different environment on the web or in real life via immigration, is a very reliable method of testing beliefs and cultural inheritance. Diversity in thought, religion and culture is an excellent way to defend against dogma of any kind overtime.

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