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.