Tuesday, 11 April 2017

I is for...Iwan...and...Image...



is for

Iwan, a Lebanese-Palestinian artiste – a youthful and expressive voice:



Image Issues!


If you have never been to an Arab country, I'd really like your Impressions here - what is the first word/image that comes to your mind when I say the word 'Arab'? 







Yeah, I thought so!









The Arabs have a serious image problem, boy do they get some bad press or what?! Backward, narrow-minded, holier-than-thou, fanatics, joyless, mindless, misogynistic, violent, over-entitled, too slick by half and gender segregated up to the gills. Anti-west, rage-crazed and out to kill off infidels left, right and centre to boot. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to sum this.  

“Oh, so you don’t have to wear a veil? You can go around in a sari?” 

“Arab women in the workplace?! They’re allowed to work?”

“Are girls allowed to get an education?”


Just some of the questions I have faced, and they were being asked long before 9/11 happened.  The answers, if they need any stating, are: I can wear what I like; women are a part of the workforce in most Arab countries; and Bahrain has the oldest education system in the Arabian peninsula, the first modern school was set up here in 1892, and the first girls’ school in 1930.


This is not to claim that the situation re women’s rights is all hunky-dory in MENA, of course not. But cripes! women are subject to gender discrimination regardless of their ethnicity, geography, religious affiliations, or politics, just a matter of degrees. Also not to dismiss that many Arab countries face major economic, political, sectarian and social problems at present.  There’s no denying that also. 


It’s patently unfortunate that a handful of conservative, orthodox countries - Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, have managed to distort the image of the whole.  The first two are not even Arab, and Saudi Arabia has a population of 27 million, that’s less than 10% of the total Arabs, people! A slim slice has hijacked the thread, just by being more shouty than the rest.  


In 20 years, the Arabs that I’ve met have been nothing like any media image, including the Saudis, I have to confess. Individually, most Arabs are unfailingly courteous, great fun to talk to, have a robust sense of humour and are helpful and warm towards foreigners. But that gets hardly any media space, naturally.


You don’t have to take my word for it. Read what Haifaa al Mansour, a young film-maker from Saudi Arabia itself, has to say:


We are rich in culture, fierce in our humour, burning in intelligence, full of love and hope, and driven by an indelible spirit that cannot be crushed by false narratives or misrepresentation…We are not victims, or extremists, or simpletons. (We are) a rich myriad of peoples, and all of us have important stories, ideas and perspectives. There is a special rhythm to our music and prose, and a tapestry of colours and textures that is uniquely our own.

- Haifaa al Mansour, Film-maker, in CNN.

(And I am nodding so hard to that 'special rhythm to our music and prose' that my head's practically falling off.  But let's stick to the point.) The deluge of misinformation is not really recent, been going on since forever. Read what Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist and activist writes of her experience of moving to Britain in the 1980’s after marrying her Brit husband.

Where I found myself out of step was when (this) discourse had anything to do with Egypt, the Arabs, or Islam…in almost every book, article, film, TV or radio programme that claimed to be about the part of the world that I came from I could never recognise myself or anyone I knew. I was constantly coming face to face with distortions of my reality.

Ahdaf Soueif, Mezzaterra.


Or what the Palestinian-American intellectual, Edward Said, pointed out in his ground-breaking work - Orientalism, published 1978:

 Arabs, for example, are thought of as camel-riding, terroristic, hook-nosed, venal lechers whose undeserved wealth is an affront to real civilization. 



Or take instead, this random BTL comment on this Economist article here. Which I kind of relate to word for word.

I once lived in Egypt and liked nearly every person I met. They were hospitable, courteous and pleasantly involved in their own lives in a constructive and very human manner. So far as I know, that is still true for 90+% of the Arab population.
-      A. Andros.



This whole misconception thing is just tiresome, and so very sad. So much Incorrect Information, swilling about at large, building distrust and dislike and hate.















Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2017 







52 comments:

  1. I confess to having some misconceptions. I'm not proud of it, but I'm willing to learn. I do think that blog world has certainly opened doors for me to learn from folks I would not otherwise meet.
    Excellent post!!

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    1. Nobody has perfect knowledge, especially of people halfway across the world. So long as we don't let the misconceptions harden into prejudice and keep an open mind. Agree that the blogworld takes us places that we otherwise wouldn't get to and meet people that we wouldn't in our daily lives. Thank you for being here.

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  2. Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments are indeed a problem in my country, and it hasn't been made any better by an under-informed president whose actions encourage such feelings. It's somewhat ironic that these stereotypes and dislikes are believed by Americans saying that it's the Muslims who practice religious intolerance!

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    1. The leader reflects the majority people in a democracy. Intolerance is on the rise in my country too, I guess nowhere is free from it.

      This morning I read the Bahraini government has rejected a proposal for a law to ban the import and sale of pork products here. The reason being 'it would violate the human rights of the non-Muslims living in Bahrain.' In India there has been a lot of what the press calls 'cow vigilantism' lately, and in many states the slaughter and sale of beef is illegal. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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  3. Hiss and spit.
    I haven't been fortunate enough to visit an Arab country but my first thoughts are of the incredible art (some mosques blow me away) and achievements in learning which are simply not acknowledged, going back centuries.
    Sadly the shouters almost always get heard. In every culture. And lack of culture.

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    1. Yes, agree. The world has mostly ignored the Arab contributions to art, architecture, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, navigation and many other sciences.
      I don't know why the press give so much airtime to the shouters, and why we, the people, listen so carefully. Not paying attention is the sure way to shut the shouters up.

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  4. If I'm remembering correctly I learned of the contributions made by the Arabs during history class and that the caesarean was one of those. Their contributions to the world were and are amazing.
    For some reason the world, or is that politicians? Need an enemy and politics, misinformation, and fear have all aided in this choice.
    We are all the worse off for it!

    Thanks for letting me off the hook, but I will be back to pick up all your posts. These are wonderful!

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    1. I grew up in West Africa at a time when all their school curricula were practically the same as the British one, the British having left the country only a decade or so earlier. The history syllabus was definitely Eurocentric, and did not acknowledge the Arab, or for that matter, any Eastern contributions. Arabs were mentioned as middlemen in the slave trade, which they were. But the other aspects of their history and culture weren't given. Nowhere were the ancient Indian or Arab mathematicians mentioned, the ancient Greeks were credited with the seeding of the Atomic theory without even a reference to the ancient Indian thinking on it.

      I don't think that has changed much - my child (who goes to a Brit curriculum school) doesn't learn about Aryabhatta or Bhaskararcharya, but he knows Descartes and Galileo and the European scientists.

      You are seriously lucky you have had a more balanced exposure!

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  5. An interesting article. Yes shouty people often hijack the narrative. In my own country an hysterical banshee has been stirring the pot for her own political ends, encouraging islamaphobia - anti hijab, anti halal, anti muslim. 20 years ago she was anti asian because hating the muslims wasn't on the social agenda. Now she ignores the asians and goes on about muslim. I am ashamed she gets so much airplay. Tolerance and understanding comes through education and discourse.

    Philipa (Ozzypip)
    Quilter and blogger
    Blogging her way through an A to Z quilt
    Ozzypip Quilts

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    1. Totally agree that tolerance and understanding comes with education and discourse. Shouty ones should not be given airtime, or as the Arabs would say - 'don't give them any face.' :)

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  6. There is good and bad in every race, always have been and I suppose always will. You mentioned 9/11 well when I went to New York some years ago I went to Ground Force where construction work was in progress, I felt very humbled at the experience but as I said there is good and bad everywhere.
    I do so like your post and thank for a most interesting read.
    Yvonne.

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    1. I can imagine that so well, it must have been a very moving experience. I hope one day I will be able to stand there myself.

      As you say, there are good and bad people amongst all races, Arabs included. The good outnumber the bad, thankfully. But very often they are not vocal about the good being done by them and that is when/how the shouty ones hijack the narrative.

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  7. There certainly are the misconceptions due to many reasons. But their culture definitely is very sober one.And I love their architecture.

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    1. Yes, their art and architecture quite superb.

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  8. You are absolutely right. We often take the whole by the few, and that's not fair.
    A Pakistani friend of mine didn't wear the vail for most of the years I've known her and whan she finally started to it was for her own decision.

    I think that today is a particularly hard time to be on either sides of the line. Western cultures and Muslim cultures are afraid to touch and mingle... for many reasons.
    I hope this will change soon.

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  9. Incorrect information and dodgy sources is the biggest problem we face right now

    Absolutely Amazing Alliteration

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    1. We place too much trust on social media and don't do any fact checking for ourselves, and that compounds the problem.

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  10. Replies
    1. Ah, a blogpost on image too :) will be over to check it out.

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  11. The first image for most people is a camel-rider...

    I think the misconception is to think that Arabs are this or that, as a whole. I don't think so. I don't think there is anything (bad or good) you can specifically attribute to the Arab people. Maybe I'm wrong; I've never been in most of the Arabic world.

    ----------
    Eva - Mail Adventures

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    1. Maybe I have been here too long :)

      The Arabs themselves feel they are subject to negative and mostly false stereotypes, very one sided portrayals of them in most foreign media. And from what little I read and see, I think I do agree with them.

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  12. Well said--your words, and words like them, need to be widely promulgated to counteract the negative impact of the threats and horrific acts of Arab terrorists that are reported almost daily.

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    1. That is also something the Arabs need to tackle jointly. The terrorist attacks are widely reported, as they should be. The condemnation of them by the Arabs, or the solidarity marches, are not covered in so much detail.

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  13. Arab culture is definitely more complex than people realize. Yes, there are human rights issues, but that's the case everywhere, isn't it?

    The problems get more amplified when it comes to Arab (or African or Indian) nations because there's a backward view toward them to begin with.

    I remember explaining to my friends in the US that people can wear whatever they want where I live. And I've heard the 'going to school on a camel' joke more times than I'd like to have.

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    1. Agree 100%. The Wahhabi interpretation has got widespread coverage and wiped out the idea that any other interpretation can exist even. And it doesn't help that East was labeled as either exotic and/or primitive.

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  14. Hi Nila - these are a brilliant set of posts - and later on - I'll settle down with a huge cup of tea and read them all through once again ... listening to your recommended music as I go.

    I thought the name Haifaa al-Mansour rang a bell - and we had "Wadjda" here as one of our film society films - it was superb ... absolutely loved it.

    If only we'd appreciate others' way of life ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/i-is-for-ice-age-art.html

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    1. I really liked what Haifaa had to say about her people - she sums it up pretty much - not victims, extremists or simpletons.

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  15. I have an Algerian friend of mine come to my classes each semester and talk to my students about being a Muslim woman. Many of my students (rural Ohio) are super surprised that she is allowed to be in America at all...

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

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    1. Yes, I can imagine that, women are perhaps the subjects of the worst stereotyping of all.

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  16. I do think of an orange desert and someone riding a camel. I blame Disney's Alladdin.

    In my southern neck of the woods, our drawl along with other things means were are all ignorant racists--probably not someone who got a Ph.D. in math and married someone with dark skin. ;)

    I is for Illuminati

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    1. Films do have a lot of responsibility for the stereotypes, so you are right to blame Alladdin :)

      Seriously though, it's not just Arabs who suffer prejudice and negative stereotypes, most of us do, it's just a matter of degrees. Successful women probably face the worst of it everywhere.

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  17. I have lived in an Arab country for almost 7.5 yrs. It gave me enough opportunity to get close to some Arabs and their families. Believe me, they also have same concerns as that of rest of the world. They have a different attire, but basically they are human beings just like u and me!
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    Anagha from Team Mocktailmommies
    Https://mocktailmommies.blogspot.com

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    1. Once you are in the Arablands, it becomes patently obvious how laughable the stereotyping is.

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  18. thanks for busting the myths , Nilanjana. Some of us are believers and quite literally so . ;)
    Moon
    https://aslifehappens60.wordpress.com

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    1. Yup some people are too credulous...believe everything they read on the net ;)

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  19. Stereotyping is so common.
    We need to share more info & bust untruths.

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  20. I'm enjoying your series very much, but this particular post is especially welcome. This issue needs to be addressed - again and again apparently. Your call to clarity is much appreciated.

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    1. Media reporting is rarely balanced, everybody has their own agendas. Thanks for your support.

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  21. People are people - on an individual basis, I'm sure most are perfectly pleasant wherever you go. It's just the media always tends to highlight and exaggerate the most negative aspects of anything. It's got a lot to answer for in that respect.

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    1. Agree. The relentless focus on negativity is responsible for the stereotyping and misconceptions.

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  22. I is for incredible. Thank you for this. I am so lucky to live in the Bay Area. We are so multicultural. But not everyone is as lucky as we. It is important for our eyes to be opened to the marvel all around us.

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    1. Being part of a multicultural community is a blessing indeed. Easier to enjoy diverisity and plurality when one is anchored in them. Thanks for your support.

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  23. i had no idea Iran was not even Arab... Good to know! :D

    joy @ The Joyous Living

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    1. Iran is an Islamic country, but not Arab. Even though the early Arabs conquered Persia, the vanquished retained their language. Iranians do not speak Arabic.

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  24. My first impression at the word Arab is 'proud', 'handsome' with the most plaintive music and a deep and layered culture. Im loving your posts although I don't get around to them every day but I'm looking forward to reading all when the madness of the A to Z Challenge dies down.


    Justify #Lexicon of Leaving

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    1. Agree on all counts re your image of Arabs, very handsome people! :) with amazing art and culture.

      No worries re reading. I'm behind schedule myself :) A-Z gets quite gruelling in the middle days...I guess that's why it's a challenge.

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  25. Thank you for setting the record straight! I get so tired of seeing all the bullshit propaganda and misinformation out there. It's been especially bad from the U.S. since Trump got elected. :( I am glad to be living in Canada, where attitudes are generally more enlightened. Travelling must be more difficult than ever for you now.

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    1. The misinformation and weird stereotypes have been present for a long time really. Mr Trump has been reinforcing them of course. As you say, especially bad since the election campaign call for Muslim ban.

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  26. I remember the days before the fall of the Shah of Iran and the change to an Islamic state. People who had lived in Iran always shared how nice and kind they were. The Muslims I know in the United States are very nice people. We have a problem with xenophobia now. I do think women have it better in the United States. However, we had a more qualified candidate for President who did not win because of our own misogyny.

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    1. I have grown up in a Muslim majority culture, I have had friends who are Muslim, and I have been an expat more than half my life, an outsider and a minority if you like with an insider view. None of the Muslims I know or see match the negative media image, they are not a monolithic block first of all, they are diverse peoples within the Muslim countries, as there are among the non-Muslim ones. Unfortunately misogyny and xenophobia are not confined to any one country - it's worldwide, somewhere more, somewhere less.

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Nonymous comments prized more than rubies :) Anonymous comments shall be deleted as soon as spotted. Just so you know.