This is a rant I think many people can relate to; both Arabs and Americans.
There are many things which I love and admire about my own Arabian culture, it’s a never-ending list. The things I don’t like about our culture or I would rather see fixed is also an endless list. And I think the same can be said of every culture and every nation, they are full of the good, the bad and the ugly. Every point in history also sees its dominant culture depending on the prevalent civilization; be it Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Roman or Islamic. Today there is no doubt that America is the new Rome and the American culture is most definitely at an all time dominance since the 1920’s if not earlier.
New forms of media since the invention of the printing press such as radio, television, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and Internet have all combined forces to spread this culture all over the Earth, an event that at no point in time of Human history has ever occurred with such force and such speed.
So no matter where you live in all probability you have been affected by American culture; the good and the bad of it.
I won’t speak for all peoples but when it comes to the Middle East the scenes Americans get, or rather the impression that they get on the evening news, are mobs burning American flags, a vociferous declaration against everything America represents; the stripes and the stars, the good and the bad. What I believe many people fail to understand is that most people in the Arab world really love American culture. In fact everything from American wealth to the American dream is just about admired in the Arab world. The oppression most Arabs feel and try to battle every once in awhile, the oppression of regimes, this is a battle to achieve those American ideals, or at least implement their own version of them.
You turn on most Arab TV stations and it’s filled with American sitcoms and dramas, and even the Arab produced material is a knock off of American shows. The majority of young Arabs can probably sing at least one Michael Jackson song; or try to anyways.
Sometimes I turn on American television, the main source I suppose of American culture, and I am flooded with that good and bad. The bad ranges from some of the worst television shows to reports on the evening news of a college student getting gang raped. Quite like the Arab culture I can go days and days of loosing so much faith in a culture and then something good emerges from all the bad and restores it.
Lately I’ve been watching this TV show on ABC called American Inventor. It’s basically a reality show along the lines of American Idol except the contestants are actual inventors who range from little kids to seniors in their 70’s. The things they come up with are just out of this world. It’s the kind of show that can make you laugh and cry, often at the same time. You can laugh briefly at some of the stupidest inventions ever created but when these people, some of them at least, get the bad news you can actually see the moment their hearts break in half. This isn’t some 16 year old kid on American Idol being told by Simon Cowell that he or she has no future in singing, many of these people have literally invested their entire lives in a dream: the American dream. One man invented a ping pong type game that consists of no net, a round table and the use of hands. This same man has been holding on to this dream for 26 years. Quit his job, sold his Lexus for a Volkswagen, sold his house, his wife’s ring, gone through a divorce. He is in disbelief when told by all 4 judges his invention will never see the light of day, that despite his arm outstretched he will never grasp the American dream. And perhaps that’s it. The American dream is about reaching I suppose.
Maybe this is what William Butler Yeats meant when he said “The best, lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity”.
It can be as simple as a television show which restores your faith in American culture. And whether it’s the Internet and blogging or if it’s media and freedom of speech, investigative journalism, scientific discovery, historical struggles, inspiring pictures of mars, or if it’s the clothes you wear the music you listen to the movies you watch and the poets you quote: American culture has its good and its bad like every other culture, and Arabs can’t help but admire it, our children imitate it, converse in its very language. The burning of an American flag or any other flag is not representative of that culture or that dream, it represents policy, it represents constant intervention, constant oppression, constant influence, and now it represents occupation and war, or the legitimizing of these elements by the most powerful nation in history. And it’s one of the many things which seem to be keeping us down, keeping our own culture from prevailing, or at the very least surviving.
The problem seems to be that the west, specifically America, is completely unfamiliar with the Arab world. What the American news shows them is people chanting death to America, burning effigies of George W. Bush, what it doesn’t show them are the virtually millions of people who indulge in their culture, the good and the bad of it (because very rarely can you absorb the good while filtering out the bad: they come hand in hand). People who line up outside the American embassy in the heat, in the rain, in the cold, just to wait if they can get a visa or a green card. One thing I admire about us is that we do have the ability to separate what is America and what is American politics. While we immerse ourselves fully in the former we shun the latter. But nevertheless, we separate them. Americans on the other hand seem to lack this ability (in my opinion) and it surprises me considering it’s so multi cultural, so accepting of everyone and everything; the tired and the weary. Perhaps that in itself becomes a disadvantage because one is inclined to group people in to blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians: stereotypes become the norm. Recent polls show an increasing unfavorable view of Islam in America, but how many Americans really know anything about the religion itself? If I were to guess I would say very little if anything at all. The judgment is based on the group Islam belongs to: brown people from the Middle East.
The majority of the time Arabs say something negative about America itÃ¢??s usually in reference to politics. But the majority of the time something negative is said about the Arab world by Americans, rarely does it involve our politics or lack there of. It’s our culture, our traditions, our religion, our dress our way of life that is attacked. And it’s a shame because so much of those elements are now becoming Americanized, in a bid to be modern in an attempt to align with the dominance that is the American way of life. Our culture asks us to remember while America asks us to forget.
Perhaps Americans should take more time understanding the Arab culture, our religion our tradition, at least before it can be judged to be good or bad.
But that’s just one guy’s opinion.
I caught the final minutes of one episode of the american inventor. these judges are very cruel … I admire honesty, but they’re brutal in their way of expressing it…the poor kid was so heart broken, you can see it in his eyes, hear it in his words and feel it in his tears! If anything, lets look at the bright side, this show instills more determination for at least some to continue working hard at achieving their goal.
Perhaps Arabs should embark on an mission in attempt to educate Americans about the Arab culture, the religion and tradition in hope of
‘eradicating’ the negative stereotype that is prominent in American society. Stop emulating and start educating!
Iman, I agree with you, but is this the way that culture has ever been understood, through education? I am not entirely disagreeing with you, simply looking at all the aspects. As an example I’ve seen Islamic groups and associations within the U.S. and Canada on a non stop campaign to educate North Americans about the religion, to no real avail.
I am also inclined to factor in the inherent and prevailing “culture” in America when it comes to other races and other cultures. A fear of other people. This is a generalization of course but have you ever noticed how well an American is treated in the Arab world amongst society? Can the same be said the other way around. The culture of fear in America tends to prevent it’s society from venturing outside the realms of their own homes to understand anything beyond those borders.
I’m not saying we should not attempt to educate people about our culture…we have our own problem since that culture seems to be dissapearing now.
Perhaps promoting our culture is the better move, and the first step is to actually embrace it, especially the more well to do folks who have to power to promote.
thanks for the comment 🙂
Absoultey. I didn’t mean educating in the literal sense of lectures, seminars, exams and quizzes. ‘educating’ in order to promote, whether it’s through a 30 minute local radio show, a 30 minute TV feature, PA, billboards, an editorial in the paper, an insert, etc. there are endless ways of doing it…we have Arab Heritage Month, we have the Sister Cities organizations, we have Arab American Film Fests, Arab American Fests, Musuems, etc. those are all great ways of promoting the culture…
Iman, all that stuff is great no doubt…but what about promotion of our culture in our countries? Do you see where I’m going?
as an american who grew up in the suburbs of new jersey and joined a fraternity in college, yet leaned on the koran during extremely tough times in my *christian* life, i’m all about the pervasiveness of culture across borders, race, ethnicity and religion.
make us hum an arabic tune over a trip-hop beat, like kids in jordan singing mj.
alas, i’m probably in the minority over here.
Very interesting post, and you make some great points, particularly: “The majority of the time Arabs say something negative about America itÃ¢??s usually in reference to politics. But the majority of the time something negative is said about the Arab world by Americans, rarely does it involve our politics or lack there of. ItÃ¢??s our culture, our traditions, our religion, our dress our way of life that is attacked.”
In America, I don’t think it’s really possible to separate the culture from the political policies, since we vote politicians in and out of office. Ultimately, like it or not, US citizens are responsible for the leadership we get. If it’s not agreeable to the public, wait a few years, and we change it.
Now, in America, we tend to assume that other countries as well vote their government in and out (I know, I know. Despite all sanity. I remember a remark by Danny Glover, who said before the Iraqi war — “Well, if the Iraqi people don’t like Saddam, why don’t they just vote him out of office.” wince)
The rise of radical, militant Islam has not helped much in fostering cross cultural understanding. Some Americans in fact think that all Muslims are the same; but I don’t think most Americans think that. As a matter of fact, President Bush, just after 9/11 took care to point out that the hijackers were NOT like most Muslims, he had an Imam, a Rabbi and a priest speak at the 9.11 memorial service.
About America being the New Rome — well, the Romans could focus longer than four years at a time.
Caren, while domestic public policy varies every 4 years depending on who Americans pick foreign policy seems to change very very little. It is the same attitude towards Arab and Muslim countries and it remains unchanging.
I assure you, while the American people have only now begun to notice us, we have noticed American politics and its affect on us for far longer
and I assure you, our wait for change been much longer than just 4 years.
thanks for your comment
Your rants are great Nas, as always. I can definitely see where your going with this, especially your point about promoting our culture within our countries. Don’t get me wrong, I support the fact that our countries are modernizing in many ways. What I don’t like to see is when we become so obsessed with doing everything and anything that is American, or un-Jordanian (if that makes sense), to the point where some begin to constantly bash their own traditions. Of course, cultures evolve, that is the reality. But they also need to be preserved. I don’t feel like American culture is threatened the way Arab culture is, and that is like you mentioned, due to the fact that America is the dominant power in the world today. But there still needs to be a realization among Arabs that there are many things in our cultures that are slipping from us.
On the issue of educating the other, I think we can only do so much. Over the past few decades, American students have been obsessed with studying abroad, mostly in European and Latina American countries. Many come back gaining a completely different perspective of life and the rest of the world by getting a peek into the lives of people in Spain, for example. Over the past 20 years or so, these study abroad programs have been expanding to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. You can’t really give an American kid a movie about Arab culture and expect them to respect that culture or relate to it. They have to experience it, and I believe things such as study abroads are a great way for Americans to learn about other cultures at a relatively younger age. How many American students do you know that have been to the Middle East and come back hating it? Not many at all. Most come back to the States with an intention to explore more of the region. This is where it begins. My point is, much of the burden falls on Americans themselves and not Arabs who will have to roll out awareness campaigns. We should focus on maintaining our own culture from falling apart so that others will respect our own respect of our culture.
Actually from the rant you posted, I did not gather anything about Arabs promoting their own culture within their own countries. You basically concentrated on America’s stereotype of Arabs, the culture, the traditions and religion … compare and contrast style of how different the stereotypes of arab vs american and american vs arab are. You conclude with suggesting Americans should take time to understand the Arab culture, traditions and religion before it can be judged as bad or good yet you don’t offer soultions on how that can be done! my reply was just sort of an extension to what you presented and my opinion of possible ways to get rid of such negative stereotypes ..
One of the best posts I’ve read..
Do you think Aljazeera’s new English channel will help in showing Americans a different side of Arab culture?
Is there even hope for us to compete against American media?
Moi, interesting thoughts I must say. Thank you for commenting
Iman, my replies were in response to your extended thoughts, specifically with regards to the following:
I do not have any solutions, it is simply a rant or a collection of my thoughts, I wasn’t put in charge by a thinktank operation to come up with solutions. I do however appreciate you offering a solution, my comments were intended to open a debate about those solutions and their validity or effectiveness.
Omar, anything’s possible man, 10 years ago who would’ve thought AlJazeera would rank right up there at the top of media charts. The gulf certainly has the money to finance it, but spreading our culture or the awareness of it will never be an actual objective. If it is achieved through Aljazeera International or any other new form of media, it will be unintentional (in this man’s opinion).
I don’t know why you Arabs would want to follow the American cultures. Don’t you see the destruction it is doing to their lives and now, it is doing the same thing to most of the Arab and Islamic countries due to the western influences.
SEX, DRUGS n ROCK N ROLL is the American culture and as I can see it is in the Middle East now. Your culture is so rich and to follow the West of their culture, thatÃ¢??s ashamed.
I have recently moved from the West and hoping to gain more Islamic knowledge in here but with all my disappointment, I have observed so many negative things in Jordan.
Not only, have I been discriminated because I am Asian. But people seem to assume that IÃ¢??m a domestic helper or an Indonesian. Remember people, not all Asians are domestic helpers and maybe your domestic helpers are more educated than you are, just to earn a living. So please do not judge the book by its cover.
ItÃ¢??s really weird because this is not what I have expected from an Islamic country and I thought people would be more hospitable. IÃ¢??ve converted in Islam for many years and I have never encountered such a thing even living in the West all my life.
What really blows my mind in here:
Women wearing hijab with their tight jeans and tight shirt.
Women smoking argella in public.
Women walking in the street all perfumed and make-up galore especially in the night.
Men behaving like animals when they see women passing by.
The best thing being in here:
Hearing the adhan 5 times a day ( I love it).
You can eat whatever you want except now we canÃ¢??t chicken coz they have found the bird flu virus, Ã¯Â?Ã¢?Â¦I’m really going to miss the chicken shawarma.
Islamic clothing and lots of hijab.
Oh well, I guess thereÃ¢??s some advantages living hereÃ¢?Â¦.AlhamdulellahÃ¢?Â¦.I just have to learn to accept people the way they are.
Ajnabi, thank you for your comment.
Like I said there are many good things and bad things in American culture as there are in all cultures. Maybe we just need to learn to take the good.
It’s not a simple matter of descrimination, most Asians in Jordan are workers. Also never has religion trumped ethnicity, not in Jordan and not anywhere else. It’s not exactly a multi-cultural country to begin with.
There are also good and bad things of our own culture. You posted some of those bad things. If you out to different places you’ll find it at times better, or at least free of those things.
It’s funny that in the West, you find lots of arabs working as taxi drivers and cleaners, etc. And some barely speaks any english at all.But they(arabs) shouldn’t be ashamed of that.It’s a way of living.But when those arabs comes back to their homeland, it’s like they were living the American dream, huh being a cleaner or a taxi driver is not exactly wat i call a dream.But that’s ok, us(Muslims) in the west, we don’t look down on someone just bcoz he/she does not have a great job, whatever honest living he/she is doing, Alhamdulellah.But I find alot of arabs very racists both here and in the west. If your skin is not white enough, you’re not worth even talking to. Even in an islamic function, they sort of just hang out with one another and it’s only the arabs that are brought up in the West that are more open-minded.Oh yea, the Pakistanis do the same thing too, so i shouldn’t generalize just arabs.
I’ve met alot of arabs, either loving me so much bcoz I’m a convert (usually the practicing and religious ones) or the ones that would never accept me as a muslim bcoz I’m just a convert.I do not have to prove anything to anyone.Allah knows what’s in my heart and everyone’s heart.
I’m trying really hard to adjust my life in Jordan but at times i find it very difficult because i do not speak arabic that much.When i looked back at my life in the West, how hard it was for me wearing the hijab and being stared bcoz of my islamic clothing….hmmmmm maybe being in here is not so bad at all, Alhamdulellah for everything.I guess we can’t be totally happy at any place in this life.We are all visitors in this life and we should all strive for the life hereafter…Alhamdulellah!!!
Ajnabi, well no society is perfect right? despite ethnicity. People are just not perfect.
hopefully you’ll get used to life in Jordan inshallah. 🙂
(also, I guess youre really an ajnabyeh (feminine) and not an an ajnabi (masculine))
Thanks for correcting me, Nas!!!
Insha’Allah I will learn to love Jordan.I’m still very hopeful that all this negative things i have encountered so far will turn to something positive,Insha’Allah.
Ajnabyeh, inshallah you will
Hya every one i am a student in da USA in california.
JESSSs have u guys every helped me out.. i am doing a project about the american dream…. i found it sort of hard cause i aint american i am mexican and ive travellede quite allot around the world, ive been to mexico,scotland,spain,USA… etc. But the thing is every where ive been to most people see the USA as a big high school student, BIG/STRONG and quite dum (probbly on esteroids)… well i think thats SORT of true but any way. You guys have given me ideas for my project… see ya
ps: Sorry for my spelling i aint good at it in any language…