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A Romanticized Past Is Nothing But An Illusion

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, June 23

We often reminisce about the past, looking back at our early years with a sense of nostalgia. Our children are habitually told that, in the past, things were “simpler” and “easier” or that people were “more pleasant.” As someone who lived in Saudi Arabia for some 60-odd years, I am now in the position to comment on how much we’ve changed as a nation. To our children and grandchildren I can confidently say that our level of wealth, stability and comfort is simply unparalleled. Life in the kingdom today is a paradise compared to what it was when I was a teenager and young adult. Our level of development—from roads to the education system—is one of the highest in the world. Our economy is booming. Our political system is more vibrant than ever. A young Saudi walking through the old streets of Riyadh would not recognize that this used to exemplify his country, looking like an isolated African village: namely, a clay town infested with pests, deprived of basic infrastructure and ridden with disease. In other words, the sense of nostalgia we feel has more to do with our own emotions rather than with facts on the ground. As we grow old, we begin to romanticize our youth. We look back on the past and fall into the trap—indeed, into an illusion—of thinking that things used to be better. Instead of wasting our energy on a period of time that is long gone, we would be better off appreciating what we have right now. In order to continue moving our nation forward we must live in the present and work to build a better future for our children. They, too, will one day look back at these years with romanticism and nostalgia. And they, too, will come to realize that their living standards are a big improvement over those of the past. –Muhammad al-Sheikh

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