False: Women must wear traditional garments. Men don’t have to.

One thing I realized that we didn’t focus on in our project was the fact that men and women wear similar garments. The men wear the long white ropes and head coverings. The reason I bring this up is because I was made aware of another misperception people have here in the US about the Middle East. It was over dinner and I was discussing with friends what I had learned about Islamic culture while visiting Dubai. My friend says to me that her issue and reason why she has a problem with the women wearing the traditional garments is because the men do not have to do the same. When I realized that this was her impression, I quickly stated that this wasn’t the case. I said that both genders wear similar garments, they just happen to be different colors and it really all depends upon the place and the person. I think this issue is at the core of the idea that all muslim women in the Middle East are oppressed by the men. It seems so obvious now that people might think that the men didn’t have to do the same. Now that I am aware of it, I will be able to make a strong argument against this false impression.

My First Bus Ride Impressions of Dubai

The bus showed up early and to Bernard’s surprise neither he nor the driver had any idea where we were supposed to go. Three mobile phones later, the Mica exchange girls and bearded Bernard were circling the block of the hotel until the Zayed teacher, Nancy arrived at our hotel to guide us through the rapidly urbanizing dust flying city. Tall impersonal modern buildings gave way to shorter adobe structures. Compared to the metallic shine of the skyscrapers these sand colored dwellings seemed to mesh so well with the landscape; almost as if the desert had opened up and popped them out of its brown dry earth. As we got into the residential areas the minarets from local mosques peered over the houses. Intricate mosaics of interwoven lines swirled up the carved towers. In the distance the tallest building in the world to be leered down upon the neighborhood. Its metallic form glowing in the sun. Nancy wondered if the girls would arrive on time or late to Maryam’s grandparent’s house. It was common here to arrive later than expected according to Nancy. Not all that surprising since most of Europe is the same. However we were the ones who arrived late to meet the receiving line of local Emirate abaya clothed women who would be our connection to this different culture. The girls were very welcoming and we were led into a huge room that was lined in couches, called a Majlis. The ceiling had huge crystal chandeliers that lit up carved wooden stars made up from two rotated squares. (continued by hand in my journal)

Bad Jokes and Verbal Garbage

My first week back in America has put my new found understanding of the Middle Eastern world to work. Once I got over my jetlag, I noticed a few large bright red flares of misperception calling my attention. The news and television has seeped back into my life with constant 24/7 blessed internet that comes without extreme temperatures. With this flood I was reminded how often the media continues to spread its toast with fear inspired jam. I guess I was naively hopeful that America might have righted itself out of the muck while I was away. A silly idea it might have been, but it led to my surprise at how quickly the project and experience would come into my daily life. Two things in the media drew my attention. 

First, I saw this Daily Show clip, a show I generally love. Jon Stewart was making a joke about this month’s New Yorker featuring Barack and Michelle Obama depicted as all of the rumors and fear related ideas surrounding their identity and his campaign. Jon Stewart’s joke was Obama shouldn’t be offended or even bothered by a political cartoon – only Muslim terrorists do that.

If I hadn’t had the experience I just had, I might have agreed. However my group had this discussion about that controversial Dutch political cartoon depicting Allah the joke infers. At the time I knew the Muslim world was upset. The news had mentioned the uproar. However I hadn’t seen anything about the massive boycotts on Dutch products that occurred in Dubai. In our talk I learned about how all the local newspapers listed the barcode numbers for types of Dutch cheeses and how the community supported each other in this peaceful protest. Other than the news I had no gauge or way to comprehend how exactly the Muslim world felt. Now just by knowing people who were effected, offended; people who I share friendship, I find myself offended at the insensitivity that originated in the first cartoon and now in the joke. The joke shows a lack of respect for another culture. It shows no recognition to a group of people who were deeply offended. It lumps all the offended into one category: Muslim terrorists. In a backwards way, the joke continues this idea that being a Muslim must mean one is also a terrorist. 

The other thing that drew my eye was this quick Ben Smith blog piece at Politico. The post:

On a campaign conference call with Florida reporters, McCain surrogate, and fellow prisoner of war, Bud Day, seems to have cast McCain’s foreign policy in stark, religious terms:

“The Muslims have said either we kneel or they’re going to kill us. … I don’t intend to kneel and I don’t advocate to anybody that we kneel, and John doesn’t advocate to anybody that we kneel.”

I think that Smith is correct to call attention to this sort of talk. Since he didn’t really take a position other than hint with the word “stark”, I checked out the comments. Some were defending McCain, excusing Bud Day for various reasons like his age. ( which makes me wonder how McCain will hold up in a few years ) Other comments were similar to the way I feel. Even with these, I felt the need to comment, to throw away this verbal garbage and post a link to our video. My comment:

Generalizing Muslims into one category is like saying all Americans share the same beliefs. Not all Muslims are terrorists. It doesn’t matter how old Bud Day is or even who he is- the point is, he is not the only person in America who has this belief. This belief reflects not just a 9/11 fear but a clear lack of understanding of the middle eastern world. Here’s a campaign that is trying to change some of these perceptions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMtxbhopkts

Video at Digg

http://digg.com/people/I_AM_FREE_CAMPAIGN

Google Video

Here is the video on google: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7159915136869427734&hl=en

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