Hidden History


May 19, 2012

Education is always associated with synonyms of light, making people’s vision clearer, unveiling secrets and solving puzzles, taking people from darkness to light. In Oman, in the area of history specifically, education is doing the exact opposite - serving as a political blindfold, inducing darkness instead of light, hiding facts.

Many years ago in the 1960s when my mother was still a child, Omani men came bearing news to my grandfather who has taken Qatar as his new home. Those men were my grandfather’s Al Jazeera. Even as a child, my mother’s thirst for politics and news from Oman was obvious, especially that she lived away from Oman. When she was not allowed to sit with my grandfather and his visitors, she used stand by the door to eavesdrop on their conversations.

They discussed politics, ‘forbidden’ politics if you may - news from Oman that everyone knew but chose to pretend they didn’t. Those conversations were top secret, not to be discussed in public, for everyone’s safety.

Today, at least 52 years later, it still feels as forbidden as ever. I grew up just like my mother, with a thirst for learning about Oman’s past - the Imamate of Oman, the Jebel Akhdar Revolt, the political role the British played in Oman. When my family discussed such issues, they used to always warn me about telling others and that, as a child, I’m not supposed to know those things. Other than that, the discussions usually ended with someone hushing the rest, because “walls have ears”.

Why is it still the same? Why are we still whispering just like our grandfathers and their grandfathers? Are we stuck in the past? Even worse, are we stuck in reverse?

Back in school, in an attempt to enrich my dull and politically-filtered history classes, I used to throw in different pieces of information about the history of Oman that weren’t in our text books, only to be hushed by the teacher. “Don’t get us in trouble Buthaina,” that’s what he used to say. It ringed in my ears for many years, setting red lines around what I’m supposed to know and what I’m not supposed to know about the history of my own country.

While our history textbooks are filled with nonsense to keep our minds busy, major turning points in the history of Oman are hidden and are left for people to find for themselves. For those who choose to do their own research, the hunt for books begins. While in the US, historical books are considered sacred and are put in national libraries for the public to read, in Oman they are smuggled in, just like drugs. Omanis who have made the effort to scan some books and upload them soon find that those webpages are blocked.

In the past, I chose not to believe that we are being so skillfully manipulated by those who handpick what young Omani students are exposed to. This ended when the Omani community on Twitter, including myself, drooled over information about Imam Ghalib that was posted by a man who met him in 1999.

People dying of thirst, taken to a river, that’s how people’s reaction on Twitter seemed. Seeing the excitement over those tweets that carried simple and basic information about the late Imam made me sad. It made me sad because we are convinced that the right to learn about such things has now become a privilege. It made me sadder to realise that, had it been in another country, such information would’ve been so readily available to the public.

Omanis want to learn about their past. However, the people responsible for making such information available think it’s best we remain ignorant.

Buthaina al Hinai, an undergraduate at the College of Commerce and Economics, Sultan Qaboos University, is passionate about human and social behaviour. Her interests revolve around photography, graphic design, sociology and psychology.