x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Explore the full history of the UAE as we move forward

As the UAE matures as a nation, schools should revisit curricula to cover the full history of the nation.

Last week's celebration at Zayed Sports City was nothing short of a milestone in the country's path forward. For the first time in such a setting, a true sense of collective pride was felt by thousands of UAE nationals on a day that will be remembered for years to come.

While traditionally families and small groups celebrated national day, Friday's event brought the whole nation together and is proof that the country and its people are united more than ever before. It was a blend of creative art and technology, ancient and futuristic storytelling, music and imagery, discipline and freedom.

Yet, standing there with my family and children, watching the narrator tell the story of the creation of the country, I realised that we, as a people, are being denied knowledge that is vital to the progress of our country moving forward; that is, our complete history.

Winston Churchill said: "History is written by the victors." For centuries, victors have used their dominance to document a version of historical events in their favour as propaganda, revising and rewriting the facts to support their political aims. Many brutal and bloody conflicts have been justified this way, to the point of history being rewritten.

All countries, at one point or another, have actively promoted their story in the spirit of nationalism with use of exaggeration and many times absolute misrepresentation.

Though it was the job of historians to make these "corrections" in history based on the guidance or orders of their rulers, the practice continues today in countries across the world in the form of selecting and filtering of information in school curricula.

In 2010, reports revealed that Texas school board members, a majority of whom were Christian conservatives, were accused of voting to rewrite parts of American history in a social studies curriculum. The new version promoted right-wing views on religion, economics and guns while ignoring teachings of the civil rights movement and the crimes of slavery.

To know your accomplishments and progression as a nation is to recognise your shortcomings and failures in the past. Countries such as Germany, Spain and the US are proactively teaching their children about the heinous crimes their ancestors committed during the Second World War, the Spanish Inquisition and the US slave trade.

Nothing in the history of the UAE compares to these transgressions, yet we still have much of our history missing from the school curricula, both relating to the private and government spheres. Instead, we must rely on the historical accounts of British adventurers who travelled to this part of the world, such as TE Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger.

Regardless of how honourable their intentions were, spending a lifetime in the deserts of the UAE would still not be sufficient enough time for them to capture not only the facts but also the essence, meaning and purpose of the country's history.

Much of the UAE's history was passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, poetry and other scattered accounts through tribal historians. It would be unrealistic to hope that all detailed historical accounts could be documented.

However, through the experience of many elders who possessed invaluable information about the history of the UAE, efforts have been made through the country's museums and historians to collect and document this history. Now is the time for this information to be articulated and introduced into the school curricula.

University academics have also expressed their concern about the widespread ignorance among higher-education students about the UAE's contemporary history. Surveys show that many students remain unaware about vital information regarding the development of the UAE, the country's political standing and the names of its most important political figures.

If we examine the history of the country since its independence in 1971, much can be learnt from those four successful decades: how the country was united; details of the struggles to turn the dream of the UAE into reality; the plans that led to the building of the UAE's great infrastructure; how oil was use to the benefit of society and the lives of UAE citizens; and how the late Sheikh Zayed established a foreign policy that is internationally respected.

The country has passed its 40th anniversary, overcoming countless obstacles along the way to create a nation that has educated its youth to the highest standards, within the UAE and abroad. The accomplishments of the last 40 years are ones that all nationals can be proud of. If there was ever a time where the complete history of the country should be shared and revealed to the youth, now would be that time, come what may.

The only way forward is to acknowledge the past for all its faults and glory. If there are unpleasant facts in the history of the country, they should be gladly shared, allowing all nationals to learn from lessons of the past. After all, it was the late Sheikh Zayed who wisely said: "A nation without a past is a nation without a present or a future."

 

Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati social commentator specialising in media and corporate communications