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Lies my teacher told me

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Ziad Akl

Ziad Akl

The title is originally sociologist James Loewen’s. In 1995, Loewen published his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, closely and carefully chasing historical inaccuracies that the high school educational system is so full of.

Issues like slavery, the relationship with the natives and how national heroes are sort of custom tailored.  To make a long story short, Loewen’s book criticised how the state fabricated its own version of history and embedded it within public school curricula.

As I was skimming through that book the other day, the very same ideas came to me but on the scale of Egypt. In other words, how will this period of Egypt’s political struggles go down in history?

It is fairly tough to find out the truth in Egypt’s current political process, even if you are a member of that very process. That is why it’s plausible to doubt how accurate would this politically confusing, ridiculous yet sensitive phase be represented.

The polarisation present today is already extremely worrying. What the media is doing so far is just too much. And by media I actually mean both teams Al-Jazeera and CNN on one side and every other private or public channel in Egypt on another. The media does not give you truth anymore, neither does it show any objectivity in its work; rather the media gives you a ready-made image or a stereotype.

Al-Jazeera is trying to export one of two images: the angry Egyptian nation protesting against how democracy and legitimacy were raped by the army; or the victimised image of Islamic activists stripped of their democratic rights due to the tyranny of the army.

The Egyptian media on the other hand gives you a completely different image of pretty much the very same people and events. There is always that image or stereotype of the demonic Muslim Brotherhood politician who conspired with the whole world to fulfill his lust for power and on the other hand, there is the image of the misguided young men who are tempted by the Brotherhood’s empty promises.

On the other side of the coin; Al-Jazeera wants to promote an image of a violent, unpopular and anti-Islamist Egyptian army. Egyptian media only sees the army within this perfectly heroic framework where it does no wrong and even when it does it is always in defense of national security. This is how we stereotyped things now, less than 90 days later. In 10 years from now, only these ridiculous, inaccurate images will remain in Egypt’s school curricula.

If we don’t start paying attention to how the media is pulling us further from the truth, we risk getting dragged down a lane of fabricated extremes that are equally remote from reality. What the media sells us now and both the state and the regime politically support will suddenly turn into a historical fact that your children are taught in schools. This is always the way things have happened here in Egypt since the 1952 coup, regimes have all invested in engineering generational awareness.

Very soon, a generation will be left with a fabricated image of two ridiculous extremes. The lies that teachers will tell our kids are simply the ones we are choosing to passively tolerate today.

About the author

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

  • Nagla Saad

    First,Media all over the world will only present what makes profit,and not necessarily Facts.Second,every single country worldwide is engineered politically,one way or the other,and the people don’t really care who rules, as long as their well-being is not affected. Bottom line is to teach our kids the basic reality surrounding them,together with good education,and let them take their pick how to run the future of their country within its means,and within its resources.

  • Sally Wilton

    Egyptians have certainly suffered from being taught wildly wrong things in school. The history of the wars between Egypt and Israel for example are madly distorted to make it appear that Egypt was a winner, when a quick glance at wikepedia will state the opposite. Religious belief is taught as if it is fact making a whole population believe in fairy stories and nonsensical non scientific ideas that can only keep a population backward. Internet is the answer though it may be too late for the older folk

    • Magnetic

      I lived in the west for many years and have seen it first hand how many people are brainwashed in the Churches too! Nothing is more awful than seeing a young pastor ordering a lady who can no longer tolerate her husband for valid reasons to stay in the marriage or otherwise suffer the consequences of being kicked out of the church and gets denied all types of blessings. That cannot be the message of love by any measure. For the wars between Egypt and Israel, it was really never between both countries in the first place. The US and other Israeli allies kept backing Israel so it is also not true to assume that Israel was a winner, unless it was playing the game all alone. What I want to say here, these areas are never black and white. The gray color remains a predominant player in such topics whether in the Arab world or in the west. But qualitatively speaking however, you have a point that there is a bigger percentage of people in the Middle East who are taught wrong things that perhaps won’t be corrected until eternity …. because we hate reading.

      • Sally Wilton

        I don’t know how long ago you lived in the ‘west’ but round here no one goes to church. they are being demolished. so forget the idea that the church has influence or that anyone listens to a priest any more. No doubt you are one of these foreigners who rush to the one remaining church to try and find some solace, sorry but if you visit again it is likely to be a night club or restaurant. Re Israel and Egypt please check out the facts on Wikepedia or anywhere on Internet, don’t try to be so nationalistic and look at the facts, not what you have been told, which it is clear is wrong. It is black and white. Egypt surrendered 2 times, that is called losing. I know many fail to believe that their own country is somehow not perfect, even after living abroad and seeing the difference and having availability to internet.

        • Magnetic

          I am not sure how you look at things. If you visit the US of A, you will find churches everywhere and the society remains faith-based to a large extent. The southern section of the whole country “so called the bible belt” is full of hardcore religious people. In Europe and Canada, it is certainly different as religion has less influence on people but USA is still the most powerful nation on earth and what happens in USA is what counts the most. Saying that Egypt surrendered twice does not mean that Israel was the pure winner. Please refer again to my initial reply regarding the role of super powers in wars. And by the way, some of us do read a lot more that Wikipedia (which is commonly known to be the major source of info for the least gifted).

          • Sally Wilton
          • Sally Wilton

            Oh great you think the bible belt of the US is the gold standard of western civilisation, I wouldn’t go there personally, how desperate are religious folk to seek out other mad religious folk to justify their ludicrous thoughts !!! To call wikipedia superficial, without alternative proof backed by documentation is just hot air. If you know better then go ahead and correct Wikipedia with your superior historical facts. Come up with accredited details and evidence and stop showing off you are some sort of historian, without hard conclusive proof. to refute all the finest knowledge in the world.

  • Nagla Saad

    Lady,there are no winners or losers in wars..Fact. Surrendering when you are winning to retain existence is smart, especially when Egypt was facing US blackmail bombardment on its own, when the Egyptian Army was just a few miles from Tel Aviv! then threatened by the US to stop proceeding or else! Then forced to sign the camp David Agreement to get Sinai back. Internet and wickepedia are not the ultimate source of information..check it out. As for the Religious Organisations Worldwide,they exist on a tremendous powerful scale,socially & politically and very influential and extremely rich! Whether there are believers or church goers, or they are getting lesser by the day, no existing country will ever be perfect,just as Humans, till the end of time. Lies will keep on being fed to your people,my people all the people..and up to each and every one to find the real Truth.

    • Magnetic

      Very nicely put indeed!

  • Eric Zoetmulder

    Dear Ziad, what’s new ? The winners have always written history. And that’s a little tricky in a very young country like the USA which does not really have any history and is in a continuous need to support emotions of nationalism and patriotism.

    Then there is perspective. Few people know that my native Holland used to be a Spanish colony and that we fought a Vietnam style guerilla war from 1568 to 1648 to become an independent republic. In secondary school, that period accounts for 2 semesters history classes. Once, in Spain, i bought a local history book and found just 2 pages of gloss-over text on the “Insurrection in the Low countries”. QED.

    As for the media, anything that needs presenting in sound bites between adverts needs simplification. when presented in Europe or the USA, further simplification is unavoidable; folks there have just no idea what’s going on around here and , i believe no willingness to invest time or braincells in understanding.

    I recently disseminated http://www.karmamole.com/septic/not-exactly-two-sides-in-egypt/ around my friends outside Egypt anevan that proved hard work for many.

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