How many times you have watched a movie trailer that was just perfect to be disappointed later, after watching it, that it actually sucks (e.g. Vantage Point). Or how many times you read a book that you have been avoiding simply because the title was lame or because of its poor design cover to find out later, after reading it, that it becomes one of your favorite books. I am sure we can say the same about people. How many times we found that a certain person is not that bad after we actually got to talk and know him very well.
The fact is before judging a book or a fruit or even a couch we have to read, taste, touch, feel, use or even sit, if it is a couch, to build our thoughts and be able to judge. Unfortunately, not many individuals do the same when it comes to judging people. My friend’s friend is not necessarily my friend and my friend’s foe is not necessarily my foe. Adults should take their own decisions and make their own judgments. They need neither Fox News nor Aljazeera to tell them who is good and who is bad, who is their friend and who is their enemy. With the rocket speed spread of information era everyone by now knows that media outlets, like newspapers and news TV channels, are siding with whoever pays more. They are no longer venues to convey latest events and news. We no longer read news that is not already analyzed and opinionated.
Learning about Arabs’ culture from Fox News is like learning about American’s Capitalism from Cuba’s or North Korea’s government controlled TV. For Americans to think that Arabs are alike is like saying conservative Missourians think like liberal Californians or that Hawaiians’ culture is like Mississippi’s. And that Mormons, Amish, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic and Protestants are all the same. They all are Americans, aren’t they?
There is no land on this planet that had been exposed to more cultures than the Arab land. Babylonians, Canaanites, Byzantines, Romans, Greeks, Crusaders, English, French, Italians, Moguls you name it all dropped by. You can watch here a well done animated map of the Middle East entitled “Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history?” This long brutal history taught Arabs to never trust people coming to their land with guns claiming they will liberate them, simply because all previous liberators said the same thing. If Americans knew this fact they should have not felt shocked when Iraqis didn’t welcome them the way they expected to be welcomed, as liberators.
Because Arabs have been in contact with a huge diversion of civilizations throughout history their skin tones vary from African to Scandinavian. They have black, brown, blue and green eyes (see my brother’s and sister’s daughters below). Our dialects range from a very close to old Arabic language (Saudi Arabia) to Egyptian or Shamy Arabic to ‘is that Arabic?’ (Morocco). Even our culture is very diverse.
In general, Arabs have three main distinctive cultures; the Arabic Gulf, the Levant (or the countries of Al-Sham) and the North African, except for Egypt which is closer culturally to the Levant than to North African countries. Some Arab countries are more liberal or conservative than others. Lebanon and Tunisia are considered the most liberal among the Arab countries. Religion is not the main factor here since Tunisia has only 2% non-Muslims compared to 10% in Egypt and Syria. The majority of Christian Arabs live in the Levant and Egypt. Generally, the Arabic gulf people are more conservative than Al-Sham and North African countries.
That was a brief introduction to who the Arabs are, why they are not homogeneous and maybe to give you an idea how different they are.
During a conversation with an American student on campus the issue of polygamy was brought up. When I pointed out that some Christians like the Mormons practice it, I was interrupted and corrected at once that the “MORMONS ARE NOT CHRISTIANS”. I didn’t like his tone but then, later, I remembered how I would answer someone when he refers to the Nation of Islam’s followers as Muslims. Many times, we take things for granted just because we read about it somewhere.
In the first episode of Stephen Fry in America, Fry visits New England and meets with a Harvard university professor:
Fry: America … is entire land of contradiction almost anything you can say is true about it, the opposite is true as well. …
Professor: What I think makes it an interesting country and a country that has a fascinating present largely because it had to make up its past it doesn’t have this long unbroken romantic stretch to some primeval moment so you make things happen. …
Well the many things what you can say about this country is that we dislike complexity. So, we will make simple solutions to everything that we possibly can even when the complex answer is obviously the correct answer although or more intriguing answer we want a simple yes or no, flat out this or absolutely certain that.
That is why American schools exams are mostly multiple choice answers. They require no explanations or how the students derived his answer just as the professor above explained, yes or no answer. This way of testing is not necessarily the best (watch Fixing Education) but I am just referring to how Americans think.
Arabs usually don’t answer with yes or no or they don’t think either is an enough answer. Americans say “No is a complete sentence.” Because of this difference there is confusion among many Americans, who want to know and learn about this [mysterious] religion called Islam, when it comes to controversial issues. I have witnessed many conversations in which a non-Muslim asks a Muslim if it is true that polygamy is practiced by Muslims. Unfortunately, the Muslim’s answer is never ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Although, the question only requires a yes/no answer, unfortunately, many Muslims I have meet will say something like “yes, but….” or “there should be a valid reason [like this or that] to have a second wife”, etc. This way of answering is not the way Americans are used to. The answer is not “a simple yes or no, flat out this or absolutely certain that.”
In my opinion, I believe such answers give impression to the person who asked that this Muslim is trying to hide something in his religion that he is not proud of. I, my father, both my late grandfathers, my father’s five brothers, my mother’s four brothers, my too many male cousins to count, my friends and the husbands of all my aunts and also the too many female cousins’ husbands non married more than once. All those men I know combined can easily be counted in three digits. Polygamy is lawful under Allah’s command but it is not the norm practice among Muslims. Now, if you want to know why Allah made polygamy halal, lawful, or why He made it halal to men only and not women you have to find the answer somewhere else because I don’t know. I don’t have to know the answer for everything. I don’t know why Allah, for example, made eating pork unlawful but I just believe in Him and that His commands are obligatory. True believers should not care what others think of their religion. I know that Allah made polygamy lawful. Why? I don’t know. Although, I don’t think I will ever marry more than one wife at the same time I don’t look down on Muslim men who have more than one wife. Because if so, it means I look down on my prophet and his companions. Worse it means I disrespect my religion.
The beauty of living is that we all are different. Can you imagine a life were we all think and do everything the same way? Many individuals in non-Muslims societies who find polygamy upsetting for example find the practice of multiple sexual partners and fornication to be normal. And in some of these societies infidelity exist more than in Muslim societies. Muslims on the other hand find these practices to be sinful.
Our world is not homogeneous and neither should be our treatment of others. We should build our relationship with individuals based on how they treat us not based on what group they belong to. Always answer any question sincerely when it comes to something you truly believe in. Remember that ‘no’ and ‘yes’ are complete sentences and when in doubt no perfect answer better than ‘I don’t know.’
Now, the next question is does Americans almost radical fond of ‘political correctness’ make it hard for them to understand other cultures?