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My first offer of marriage came from a taxi driver in Morocco a few years back. I had only said two or three words in English, when he took a look in his rear view mirror and asked mother,“how much for the girl?”. They then proceeded to barter but mother was not satisfied with his best price. Oh, it was so romantic, we were in Casablanca after all. This then happened again in an internet café in Egypt when Mahmoud, the owner, tried to impress me by singing along to a Celine Dion song in English, after he had overheard me calling it a “computer” instead of “combutar”.

1) Responsibility Our parents would much rather encourage us to pursue “safe” careers (accounting, engineering, medicine, etc) so that we are able to financially maintain families, thus fulfilling the expectations of our Arab culture. This is compounded by the fact that with this safety, comes “presteej”. We love telling our friends that our kids are doctors, don’t we?! I mean, what exactly does an artist do anyway? So does the emphasis of responsibility stop us from pursuing unpredictable arts/ideas based careers?

Why was I getting bumlicked purely because I was from the West? Was it the same reason Arab boys are obsessed with blue-eyed blonde-haired white girls with names like “Diana”? The same reason an Arab in Dubai is more likely to give a job to a dim-witted Westerner, rather than one of their own cleverest? The same reason Arabs like to throw in a few English words in conversation to show how educated they are? Maybe they’ve just been listening to lot of Celine Dion and learning from her.

2) East vs West social structures Countries in the East generally believe in the power of the people and communities versus the West’s belief in the power of the individual. So is thinking independently at odds with the cultural norms of our Arab culture?

Ironically, the thing that makes Western culture “so great” is the thing that is generally rejected by Arabs. Western culture is defined by the importance of independent thought; the progress of humans through new ideas. Yet when presented with a report on TV about the Icelandic education system pushing creativity in schools from a young age, father’s response, which would be typical of most Arabs, was “Eh dah, il kalaam il faadi dah?” (what is this nonsense?). Well, baba, the simple equation is this: ideas=money. Innovation=money. So who’s talking kalaam faadi (nonsense) now?

3) Power Yeah, everyone likes a bit of power, but Arabs especially love it. Is this bumlicking a consequence of the desire to create an alliance with that which is powerful? So when the global power shift happens in the next few years, will burger and chips become passé whilst Peking Duck becomes the new status meal? Are we fickle like the love Celine Dion sings about in “It’s all coming back to me now”? Whatever the reasons, maybe the time to change it is now. The Arab Spring has shown a pride and belief in “being Arab”. Maybe in the next few years we will realise we are capable of big things, take a few risks and be world leaders instead of followers. Mafeesh bumlick taani (and there will be bumlicking no more).

So what is it that’s stopping us from generating ideas and leading the world, instead of licking its bum? It’s certainly not because we’re not capable….or aren’t we? Is our Arab culture hardwired to hinder the generation of ideas? Could this be because of:

Ironically, the thing that makes Western culture “so great” is the thing that is generally rejected by Arabs.




Kalimat Magazine Fall 2011 - Issue 03  

Arab Thought and Culture, Issue 03, Fall 2011

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