x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Respect for UAE's past is a sound foundation for its future

As we are bombarded with new information, new entertainment, new situations each day, it becomes easy in our modern lifestyle to lose touch with history. And yet past events have shaped the lives we now live.

It is perhaps the best-known and most quoted of the sayings of the late Sheikh Zayed, founding President of the UAE: "A nation without a past is a nation without a present or a future."

That insight helps to explain the bright light being shone on Qasr Al Hosn, also known as the white fort.

The oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi began as a watchtower, built in the 18th century to defend the only freshwater well on the island. It expanded over the decades to become a fortress, and later the home of Abu Dhabi's ruling family.

Taken for granted for decades, and hidden behind hoardings in recent years, the fort that holds so much history, so much cultural and political significance, has now reclaimed its rightful place in the public mind, through a dazzling stage production.

When I first heard about the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, I was intrigued to realise that I knew barely anything about the place. I had a faint recollection of having studied about it in school, but that was long ago.

So I logged on to the internet, and also spoke to a few people who were working behind the scenes of the festival, to learn more.

What I discovered wowed me. I began explaining my new knowledge to people I knew, who seemed surprised that there was so much interest in tickets for the show. I explained that this was not just any other stage show, but history being brought to life.

As we are bombarded with new information, new entertainment, new situations each day, it becomes easy in our modern lifestyle to lose touch with history. And yet past events have shaped the lives we now live.

What if the watchtower had never been built? Would Abu Dhabi and the UAE be what they are today? Of course there is no way for us to tell.

What we do know is that the decisions that have revived public awareness of Qasr Al Hosn are a determined effort to help Emiratis and expatriates alike to get in touch with the history of settlement here.

This was necessary. When I asked friends and acquaintances if they would attend, I found that many of them did not realise that we have so much history. Many think of our history beginning with the founding of the UAE in 1971.

What we need is more public education about the history of the region, both before and after 1971. Not many opportunities will be as spectacular and iconic as the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, but our history is more than one building.

In a fast-paced world and a small but growing nation, it is hard to keep up with what was. But as Sheikh Zayed knew, a people is defined by its past.

Learning about and savouring our heritage will help us understand the challenges of our present and allow us to look forward with reasoned confidence to our future.

 

Aida Al Busaidy is a social affairs columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show

On Twitter: @AidaAlB