STOCK play ground
Image Credit: Pixabay

The continuous tearing up of the roads, a phenomenon that has stretched over four decades in the city of Jeddah has undoubtedly exposed the massive ineptitude and negligence within our public sector. The crackdown that followed in November 2017 as a result of growing public dissatisfaction resulted in the arrest of over 400 businessmen and public sector officials allegedly guilty of negligence and the usurping public funds for personal gain has somewhat stemmed the tide of corruption in the country.

But is the negligence confined only to public sector officials? Or are we, the general public, equally at fault when it comes to the preservation and execution of a civic sense of duty?

In a recent discussion with Ahmed, a marketing executive at a soft drink company the subject of the role of the people was brought up with respect to their sense of civic responsibilities. It is not the government alone that can maintain and execute civil sense. Ahmed said, “To paraphrase the famous words of JFK: ‘Ask not what your community will do for you, ask what you will do for your community.’”

We spoke a while ago about the importance of neighbourhood responsibility and the role of residents in their own community. Ahmed then expressed his frustration over his own personal experience.

“I was a lucky person when my family and I happened to move into a very nice and friendly neighbourhood in Jeddah. We were even more fortunate when most of our neighbours in the homes next to us were personal friends from before or became friends. We all shared a common thing, young children.

“So, we got together and decided that we modestly develop the strip of small land in front of our homes with our shared personal funds and effort. We built a sandpit, bought a few swings and monkey bars for the kids, and a big trampoline. We even planted a few trees, and shrubs which we watered on a daily basis. I even went to the extent of writing to the local municipality to ask permission to build speed bumps on the street as I saw a few cars zip by and I was extremely worried about accidents. I was able to get the go-ahead and at my own expense, the speed bumps were laid out. I also made signs to the motorists indicating “Children at play, please slow down”.

“All was well for a few years and the location became a popular location for the kids. Even friends from outside the neighbourhood sent their kids to play. We also added a very small basketball court with a single hoop. This was all done through a concerted neighbourhood effort with funds raised among ourselves and the necessary approval and authorisations from the Municipality of course.

“But after a while, I noticed that in the evening an older crowd of teenagers showed up and just hung out. While I saw no harm as a few of them started to play basketball till the very early hours of the morning, another type of crowd started showing up from outside the neighbourhood. Again, I saw no harm until I realised they just had no respect for the place; they destroyed the swings, burnt with their cigarette buts the trampoline, and made it unusable. They threw empty cans, candy paper wraps, and the like. When I made a comment or two, they just shrugged me off, and at times looked aggressive.

“Every weekend we made an attempt to clean up and fix the area, but the same occurred again and again. We eventually gave up as it was getting frustrating and expensive. The question here is why?

“Why do people have no respect for a place that they seem to like to hang out in? Would they do this if they were abroad? It shows no self-respect, self-pride, and respect for others. What a shame! Some parents tried to excuse such behaviour on the lockdown caused by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic. Rubbish! Kids and especially teenagers should learn at an early age that they have an obligation towards the community and the location they live in. It is after all in the teachings of Islam.”

Ahmed’s words reflect the feelings of many of us who despair at the lack of civic sense around us. Good practices are taught initially at the home. It is not society or the government that is to be tasked with teaching us respect. Those lessons have to be taught at a very early age and by parents and relatives around the young children.

And that respect should not simply be confined to the physical environment we live in. That respect should also be applied towards all living souls around us, be they Saudis or otherwise!

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena