The city has been with us since ages long past, but regard its
plight today! It is a nightmare and not a bringer of pleasure, as one
might think, or else it would have been designed thusly. The city was
not created for luxury, happiness or pleasure. In reality, the city is a
scavenging multitude in which people find themselves out of necessity.
People have not come to live in the city for the sake of enjoyment, but
to make a living. One engages in greed, toil, and is beset by want… it
is employment which forces one to live in the city.
The city is a graveyard of social connections and relations. Whoever
sets foot in it will be forced to swim over its waves from one street to
another, from one quarter to another, from one job to another, and from
one friend to another. Because of the nature of the city, one's purpose
in life there becomes self-interest and opportunism, and one's
behaviour becomes hypocritical.
The Quran says: And of the people of Median, some are stubborn in
hypocrisy. . Thus, everything comes to have its own specific price in
material terms, which is something required by city life. The more the
city progresses and develops, the more complicated it becomes.
Common friendliness and social ties become increasingly remote, to
the degree that people living in the same building do not know one
another, especially when the building grows so large that it becomes a
mere number. People are no longer referred to by their name or the tribe
to which they belong, but by a number. City people do not address one
another as fellow social beings or even human entities, but as 'You, who
live in apartment number x on floor number x… telephone number x,
license plate number on car is x' and so on.
Inhabitants of the same street do not know one another, since, after
all, they have not chosen to live with one another. They have merely
found themselves by chance living in the same street or lane, or
apartment building, with no kinship or other connection between them. On
the contrary, in the city the law of necessity separates relatives from
one another, fathers from their sons, mothers from their children, and
sometimes husbands from their wives. It gathers opposites as well as
outsiders, bringing rivals together while scattering relatives.
Life in the city is merely a worm-like, biological existence where
man lives and dies meaninglessly… with no clear vision or insight. In
either case, he is inside a tomb, whether he is living or dying. There
is no freedom or rest in the city, or peace of mind. Instead, there are
walls upon walls, whether indoors or outdoors, in apartment buildings,
in the street, or in places of work. You cannot sit the way you would
like, walk in the direction you want, or stop when you want.
If you should stop to shake hand with a friend or relative whom you
have run into by accident, a stream of pedestrians pushes you along,
away from him, or may hinder physical contact between you in some way.
The hand that you extend to greet him will have been pushed away by a
passerby, who is unaware of what he is doing or does not appreciate the
If you should desire to cross the street, this will not be easy
either. You may lose life or limb merely by doing so, if you do not take
the proper precautions. Look to your left and your right several times.
You may be surrounded in the middle of the street, so stay in your
place amid the city's dangerous waves of cars, trolleys, cleaning
trucks, etc., circling around you.
It is not likely that you would have the time to engage in social
conversation amid the urban crowds. If such a thing does happen, it
tends to be either insufferably boring or hypocritical. In the city
streets, men and cats are equal… among the traffic, roads, and
sidewalks. When you hear the brakes of a car, you suddenly stop and say
automatically, 'It's a person or an animal.' This is because this is
what happens when either is crossing the street in front of you. You
would brake in the same way to avoid hitting either one of them. Even a
traffic policeman will warn you, whether verbally or in writing, about
accidents that are caused by a man - or a cat - crossing the street in
This is the city. No one says 'after you', instead, they push. Push
with their shoulders and their hands, push money from your pocket, push
out any type of social consideration. It is 'push' in the city, and not
'after you'. Walls respect you more than people do; at least you may
gain some support from them. Walls can guide you to where you are going,
after signs and instructions have been put up, while it is very
difficult for a city dweller or stranger to give such information to
people who are in need of it.
If you ask someone in the city for directions, he will say, 'I'm
sorry, I don't have any time… Sorry I'm in a hurry… Excuse me, I'll miss
the train… the bus… the car…' He may add: 'The wall, have a look at the
The wall is the only thing stationary in the city, and people
certainly cannot stand as still as a wall. In the city there is smoke
and filth; there is humidity, even if it is in a desert. Your collar
becomes black, even if you are a white-collar worker. Your clothes would
become dirty and stained, even if you are not a painter or a repairman.
As a side-effect of living in the city, you are forced to accept the
filthy dust and smoke; you break out in a cold sweat, perspiring even if
you are not working.
You also find that in the city, you have picked up some superficial
words, expressions, and gestures that are a necessary means of
communication in the city, and a way to help yourself get by. You have
also picked up some ready-made responses to likely questions, which you
answer without paying attention too closely: no problem… no problem… an
act of God… that's the one… no, uncle… no, brother… so they said… that
was ages ago please, keep walking… let me through… stay away.
But whether it is you or someone else who asks you what you said just
a moment ago, you would not be able to give an answer. You would not
remember that you had used these expressions, because this is the nature
of the city. These expressions are used automatically, to show that
life in the city is ultimately meaningless, and devoid of content.
What is it that is 'no problem'? And who is your 'uncle', or your
'brother'? What is it that 'they said', and who are 'they'? At what
time? What was it that was 'ages ago'? Which way should you take in the
city? If you were surrounded by such questioning, you would drown in it,
unable to give an answer. It is city talk, a way of getting by and
passing the time. Truly, city life means just wasting time, until
another time comes to pass… a time for work, for sleep, for
The city is a fad, a shouting, bedazzlement, stupid imitation, damned
consumerism. Making demands while not giving anything in return, a
meaningless existence. What is worse is the inability to resist the life
in the city. City inhabitants are unable to resist fashions, even if
they do not like them. There is no ability to resist the movement toward
loss or voracious consumption.
Even if you are an intruder, a recent arrival in the city and not one
of its original inhabitants, who have become used to its ways, you will
in the end become its laughing-stock. If you wish to maintain what you
believe in, maintain your values and your non-urban behaviour, you will
become an outcast and find no one who understands you. When you change,
though, in order to become urban, you will become awkward and fatuous.
In the city, a son might accidentally kill his father, or a father
his son, while speeding along in a truck, car, or some such vehicle. It
is the speed of the city, the traffic, the selfishness. The son may
curse his father without knowing it while pushing him aside on the
sidewalk or blinding him with the headlights in the road. Moreover, it
often happens that people who should not come into contact with each
other on religious grounds do so because of the crowdedness of the city.
They meet, and then part, unconcerned by it all.
It is not, however, the fault of the city dwellers. People are the
same whether they are in the city or the village; they are practically
similar in all respects, in their values and morals. This is especially
so for those of the same people, or religion. Thus, it is the fault of
the nature of the city itself, since it forces people to automatically
and gradually accommodate themselves to live there.
With the passage of time, it becomes customary behaviour. People
build cities out of necessity, but cities then become unavoidable
nightmares to those who built them and live in them. Everything in the
city has a price, and every luxury becomes a necessity, and each price
has its own material or moral price. This is where the crisis of urban
The city is anti-agriculture; is built on arable land, and trees are
uprooted for its construction. It tempts peasants to leave the land and
become lazy beggars on its sidewalks. At the same time, the city devours
agricultural production and demands more and more of it, although this
agricultural production requires land and peasants.
The city is anti-production, because production requires effort and
patience, and the city is anti-seriousness and effort. By its nature, it
wants to take and not give, consume and not produce; it stretches out
in every direction, limitlessly. It becomes a parasite to everything
around it, spreading its poisonous tentacles, killing fresh air by
turning oxygen into carbon dioxide, which is then turned into carbon
Nature is disfigured, its clear mirror blurred. The city produces
gasses, smoke, and fumes, polluting everything. The stars and the moon
and even the sun become hidden. The city coos, shouts, roars and growls
until the noise becomes deafening, and causes headaches, tension.
It spreads out and devours arable land and the surrounding villages,
enveloping them under its dirty, stifling wings. Its teeth carve out
roads, buildings, and public utilities from the peaceful and secure
remote villages. Suburbs are formed; they start out at the edge of the
city, and then become indispensable parts of it. They are ground down by
the weight of the city, changing from cohesive, productive, peaceful
villages into gloomy, unhealthy cells, a part of an oppressive, sick
whole, which is busy but unproductive, tiring but jobless, and finally…
The city kills human and social feelings, creating in their stead
indifferent insensitivity; this is because city people have become used
to the repetition of behaviour and scenes that might grab one's
attention in the village, oasis, countryside, deserts.
In the city, you do not ask nor are asked about people moving quickly
or gathering, moving slowly or dispersing. You are used to seeing such
things. They do not attract your attention or make you curious enough to
ask. Things like a fight, someone crying or falling down the street, a
fire breaking out - as long as it is not close to your house - or
walking past tramps and the homeless lying on the sidewalk, standing
against walls, or tree trunks. They might address you and put out their
hands, hoping to get money from you, but this scene is so often repeated
in the city that one fails to take notice.
Scenes like this become the scenes that complete your vision of the
city, and do not attract your attention. And even though at first they
may have caused you to pause, or try to affect the situation you were
observing, life in the city does not permit this.
Someone who attempts to get involved in such things cannot live in
the city. Such things happen regularly, and if one pauses to attend such
things regularly, one will be constantly busy with them. Since city
dwellers are many, and are made up of many groups and social and
cultural levels, and because the ties and social relations that bind
them disintegrate due to the nature of city life - because of this, one
does not even know who his neighbour is.
People are busy, they move frequently, and no one chooses to live
near anyone else. Thus, people whose pains or joys you might have a
notion of sharing are in fact unconcerned with yours, so how can you be
concerned with theirs?
For this reason, the city has delegated responsibility for treating
these issues to urban associations and institutions. A fire is none of
your business, but is the responsibility of the fire department. This is
the justification for a city dweller to ignore fires blazing away here
and their - the fire department is responsible. I'm not a fireman… I'm
Beggars are the responsibility of social associations. If I give to
every beggar whom I run across in the street, I would spend everything I
have on them. So, the issue is not just the beggar in front of me, but
all of them; therefore, I will not pay them any attention. But, what if
he is truly in need? He might, however, just be lazy, or pretending. Do
not let appearances deceive you, because the city is made up of
deceptive appearances, and the inner truth remains hidden under the
A fight is the police's responsibility; I am not a policeman, and
will not intervene. Even when honour is at stake, city people act
indifferently - 'that is the responsibility of the religious authorities
or the vice squad, or a religious association.' If you stop at the
scene of a fire or a brawl, or at seeing a beggar or someone crying -
and these scenes are repeated every day, and in every part of the city -
could you ever reach your destination or make it back home? Do you have
the ability to treat such problems?
Thus, one gradually becomes indifferent to such scenes and convinced
that one is not responsible. In any city in the world it would become
silly to not behave indifferently. An employee would be fired if he were
to go out of his office to give aid to someone who has been run over in
the street - fired for leaving work and intervening in an area outside
his area of specialization (being that of the police and the emergency
None of those urban associations would thank you if you were to
volunteer to try to help them. They would become sensitive about what
you were doing and become jealous, because you would be competing with
them in the area from which they make a living.
This is the city: a mill that grinds down its inhabitants, a
nightmare to its builders. It forces you to change your appearance and
replace your values; you take on an urban personality, which has no
colour or taste to it. No smell, no meaning - a worm-like existence.
'Biology' forces you to inhale the breath of others, about whom you do
not care. You attempt to protect yourself from them, rather than them
protecting you or you protecting them.
The city forces you to hear the sounds of others, whom you are not
addressing. You are forced to inhale their very breaths; you hear the
sounds of engines, motors, and hammers going along at full blast, but at
a conscious level you are unconcerned by these sounds.
Children are worse off than adults. They move from darkness to
darkness; from three darknesses to the fourth, as in the Quran. In the
city, houses are not homes - they are holes and caves, made drafty by
the movement of air from city streets and alleyways. People there are
exactly like snails in their shells, protected against the waves and
currents of the sea.
The city itself is a sea, with currents and waves, flotsam and
jetsam… and snails. The snails are people and their poor children,
against which everything in the city presses. Their parents press them
further inside the shell, fearful of what awaits them in the current of
the city streets. It is no use to cross this street, since there are
other snails, caves, and petrified shells on the other side.
Where are you going, you young and innocent children? Those are
people's homes, and you do not know them. The ones who were there have
moved; these are new people. The street does not belong to you alone; it
is for traffic also. The street is not for playing in, and it oppresses
you as well.
Yesterday, a young boy was run over in that street, where he was
playing. Last year, a speeding vehicle hit a little girl crossing the
street, tearing her body apart. They gathered up the limbs in her
mother's dress. Another child was kidnapped by professional criminals.
After a few days, they released her in front of her home, after they had
stolen one of her kidneys! Another boy was put into a cardboard box by
the neighbourhood boys in a game, but was run over accidentally by a
Go back indoors, to the darkness, to the cold and drafty or hot and
dirty holes. God help the city, so full of filth. Do not think of trying
to play next to the street, where there is nothing but dirt and
rubbish. When all paths become closed to children, in frightful fashion,
with the threat of death by being run over, torn to pieces, kidnapped
and having a limb amputated or an organ removed, the least of the
dangers that wait outside are dirt and filth. This is easier to take
than confinement and boredom in dark houses. But the result is still
death, albeit in a different way.
The sea of the city is like any other sea, and has its whirlpools and
dangerous creatures, so how can a child live there? But they are there.
What is the solution? The solution is to oppress children, punish them,
and force them to remain holed up, isolated, and broken-down. Crush
their natural course of growth, deprive them of sunlight and fresh air.
This is life in the city: standing in line, get in and out of your car,
no one outside your door is your friend.
Even kindergarten means standing in line, filling out forms, going
through formalities. The school, the hospital, the market… they are all a
case of open, push, close, line up, hurry up. Children grow in
biological terms, but in social terms, they are receptacles for all of
these forms of repression and oppression, rebuke and reproof. They
become a model of the human being afflicted by complexes and
psychological problems, regression, depression. This is the reason for
decline of human values and social ties, indifference toward others and
lack of friendliness and cordiality, and jealousy.
The village and the countryside, however, are another world,
different in both their inner and outer aspects. In these places, there
is absolutely no need for pressure and oppressiveness. Natural growth
and living in the sunlight are encouraged, if not glorified. You do as
the birds and flowers do, flying and opening up to the world.
There are no streets, no piles of garbage, no unfamiliar faces.
People in the village and the countryside will always remain linked by
social bonds, connected in all moral and material matters. Children are
free to have fun and grow, they are children of the sun and moon, or
breezes and winds. There is no fear of going out into the world, where
there are no dangerous currents. No 'open' and 'close'. Everything is
There is no need for locks in an environment in which plants and
children grow; there are no restraints, and no mental disorders.
O wise, kind-hearted people… humanitarians: have mercy on children,
and do not deceive them by making them live in the city. Do not let your
children turn into mice, moving around from hole to hole, from sidewalk
to sidewalk. The inhabitants of the city are truly hypocritical when
they pretend to show their children love. At the same time, they create
cages to keep their children's lovely voices far away from them,
separate from their very parents.
The nature of urban life for parents forces them to devise ways of
keeping their little ones distant from them. This is so that they can
devote their time to withstanding the nightmare of city life; by
searching for, creating, and spending money on activities which neither
give nourishment or satisfy hunger: false occasions, artificial parties,
Children are an obstacle to parents' involvement in such things.
Parents take part as an effort to accommodate themselves successfully to
the hell of city life. Nursery schools, child care centres,
playgrounds, and even schools are ways of getting rid of children, these
innocent creatures, a modern way of burying them alive! 
The city is harsh and fatuous for its poor inhabitants, forced to
accept the ridiculous. They accept, swallowing and digesting these
things as if they are quite reasonable. The best evidence of this are
those silly interests which the city imposes upon its inhabitants. You
find thousands watching a cock fight - and what about the millions who
follow 22 people running around meaninglessly after a watermelon-sized
In another silly, urban-type traditional exercise, the same crowds of
people sit around a single person repeating almost inaudibly the same
lines, like a parrot, accompanied by a noisy instrument, whose sound
most of the audience cannot appreciate. One idiot or drunkard begins to
applaud, and is then followed by the entire uncomprehending audience, as
an expression of their appreciation of the exercise, which is in fact
not the case, since they did not understand it to begin with. A type of
affected, modern hypocrisy, which people are forced to engage in as city
Millions of people sometimes watch another type of fight, this one
between two mature people, in which they beat each other savagely; no
one thinks to intervene, and separate them so as to stop the brutal
battle, which is in fact within their power. But modern city life
prevents them from doing this, because a bloody, nonsensical battle such
as this is an end in itself; this barbarism is what is demanded by
living conditions in the city.
Other examples are the abuse of animals in exhausting races and
exploiting their blind instinct when setting them at each other in
fights; the torture of people as well, hurting them and using their pain
as a source of entertainment; betting on the result… these are all ways
of false entertainment in the city. Unjustifiable battles between two
wrestlers or fighters. After investigating these activities, one finds
that there is no antagonism between participants; it is merely something
that is required my modern urban life!
 Holy Quran, Sura 9, verse 101. Medina in Arabic refers to the city in the Hijaz, as well as meaning 'city'.
A reference to the ancient Arabian practice wa'd, of burying unwanted
female babies alive, frowned upon in Sura 81, verse 8 of the Holy Quran.
Novel from "Escape to Hell and Other Stories" by Muammar Qaddafi with foreword by Pierre Salinger.
© Text copyright 1998 Stanké, New York.