In the past few weeks, Egyptians have suffered from the political unrest sweeping the country, often leaving violence and death in its wake. Opposing camps assign blame and level accusations to where the responsibility lies in passionate interviews and carefully constructed press releases, with each camp claiming to hold a monopoly on the truth – the whole truth and nothing but.
When I was younger, I naively thought that truth is indisputable, based on verifiable facts, unbiased and a simple representation of reality. But I learned. I met pathological liars that made me question my sanity when I took them at their word. I learned that people are capable of convincing themselves that their personal opinion is fact and their version of events is objective. I had to develop a sceptical attitude to avoid being used, disappointed and hurt. Because people lie.
Ironically that might be the biggest truth of them all: people lie. They falsify fact for money, to make themselves look better, to gain respect or sympathy, for no other reason than they can, and a myriad of other reasons that are often personal and difficult to understand. Whatever their motivation, people are prone to fabricate stories, and in these past few weeks we have been treated to a virtual feast of half-truths and bold-faced lies. All served up at dusk, keeping to the Ramadan tradition.
So far I have been spared the need to denounce my country of birth as many of my colleagues have had to do, and as soon as I confirm I am not a US citizen, the suspicion in the eyes of the one who aggressively asked me disappears, and all is well, apparently. It is nice people are friendly to me, of course, but if the reason for it is based on an accident of birth rather than who I am, I think it reflects poorly on those offering the kindness.
Now I do not claim to be a bastion of veracity; I have told my fair share of white lies to friends when remarking on new haircuts, clothes and partners. I have said I will call without ever intending to do so, have made up stories about my profession for the sheer fun of messing with an annoying person and have pretended to be interested in the life story of people I met on planes who insisted on sharing their life story.
I have made up scenarios in my columns and presented them as fact to highlight the insanity of what was happening in real life. Those were attempts at satire and, like the times when I avoided the hard truth to spare someone’s feelings, were neither malicious distortions of reality nor did I stand to gain anything. Compared to how spokespeople for different factions are lying through their collective teeth these days, I am a virtual paragon of precision of fact. Or so I thought.
Lies are everywhere and in these past few weeks they seem to have increased during a month where the quest for spirituality is supposed to be more prominent than at any other time of the year. The contradictions abound and when once they would be amusing they have now reached a level that is painful and sad.
Hypocrisy and holier-than-thou attitudes go firmly hand in hand when a crackly rendition of the Quran booms through my taxi while being accompanied by the curses the driver flings in the directions of fellow travellers. Solemn prayers are preceded and followed by violent confrontations to which participants bring sticks, stones and guns to ram their truth down the opposing side’s throats. Leaders point firm fingers to assign blame, using the exact same images and videos to prove their claims.
I am not as naive as I once was and I am aware that politics and lies are often inseparable. However, the extent of the distortions of the truth that has been happening is of an enormity that baffles me. Showing an image of a victim of war from another part of the world and claiming it as Egyptian is so easy to prove false that I do not get why they bother. I wonder why both sides falsely increase the number of their injured and dead. Does that mean there a minimum quota that must be reached before we care and anything less is acceptable?
I used to ask these questions in silence because I am very aware that few people are interested in the opinion of yet another foreigner. But after having tippy-toed on the bed of eggshells that had become my surroundings I realised I was guilty of lying too. By not speaking out against how the truth has become a changeable commodity I was guilty of lying by omission.
And so I stopped. Because when it comes to the truth, nobody should be silent.