Tag Archives: Arab

Is this African Enough?

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Yep, this is Africa, too.

When I was in Egypt, we often joked that we were in Fake Africa.  When asked if I had ever been to Africa before Benin, I would say yes and explain Egypt, which elicited much doubt.  I was told, in one way or another, that Egypt didn’t count, or wasn’t really Africa because it was:

  • too rich
  • too Arab
  • not black enough
  • too developed
  • too wealthy
  • filled with too many people who were fully clothed
  • not hungry enough
  • not in civil strife
  • not “native” enough
  • too educated
A beautiful new university building
A beautiful new university building

If that’s not offensive to all parties, I’m not sure what would be.  Often our stereotypes, both positive and negative, get in the way of our ability to just appreciate a place for what it is.  When in the markets of Benin, many of the girls looked for “something really African,” such as wooden, hand-carved jewelry.  Wooden, hand-carved statues.  Or wooden, hand-carved anything.  Many were frustrated that we only saw cheap plastic and metal jewelry from China in plastic wrap.  But that’s what the women around us wore.  Not hand-carved elephants or oblong faces on a string of wooden beads.

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The beautiful game.

Instead of trapping Africa in the CNN version of it (hungry, desolate, war-torn and filled with safari animals and naked people) why don’t we just let Africa reveal itself to us?  Sometimes Africa is t-shirts, while other times it’s vivid-patterned cloth from China, and still others it’s an abaya.  We are the observers–not the creators–of Africa, and like any destination, we should try not to let our own imagination hold us back from the amazing world unfolding right in front of us.

Why do They Hate Us?

On long days when the state of the world seems dismal, and my ability to help it negligible, I find my self turning to the West Wing.  One of the most brilliant episodes is entitled Isaac and Ishmael, and is the September 11th episode.  It has no impact on the rest of the timeline, but is something Aaron Sorkin, one of my favorite writers of stage and screen, felt compelled to create. 

In the episode, one of the main questions  a young tour group poses to the staff is “Why do they hate us?”  I was reading an article that brought up a similar theme, and as someone who studies the Middle East I am often confronted with both thoughtful and hurtful responses to this question. 

So here’s mine:

Who is they?

Leif has been linking often to Jeff Jarvis, who suggests that every criticism should be seen as a reflection of the person giving the critique.  This is reinforced constantly by Miss Conduct, who advises readers to tread lightly, as often seemingly random criticisms stem from the speaker’s own insecurities or personal life situations.  But for us, in an America that has almost forgotten while simulataneously can never forget September 11, 2001, sometimes we need to turn a light on ourselves. 

I know everyone grows weary of the “just blame America” Camp, which I think is only so strong because of the equally tiring “Amurica is perfect” camp, but this isn’t about that.  This is about who we think our enemies are, and who they very much are not

We need a greater understanding of basic definitions, like Muslim and the Muslim world, Arab, the ever-tossed-around “Islamic”, Persian, the Middle East and even the infamous terrorist.  We also need to understand that sometimes, the “they” who hate us are homegrown.  Sometimes they’re white or educated or wealthy.  Sometimes the patriots who stop them are immigrants who barely speak English, but are compassionate people who care about America. 

This, to me, is one of my biggest personal causes:

finding They, understanding Them and showing everyone who They are NOT.