Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You do not civilize a nation by bombing it, just as you do not befriend a man by shooting him.

This is what I stated to an individual who claimed that we have poured substantial American resources into Iraq and Afghanistan(which we have) in order to "civilize" these peoples. I know that I am sensitive in this area but I believe that it is my responsibility as a Westerner and an Arab to set the record straight.  The statement made by this young man is very myopic and ethnocentric on so many levels.  He makes the assumption that American society is superior and that we know what is best for the Arab world and must go to whatever measures necessary to fix it.  We do not stop at the Arab world but continue on to argue that we know what is best for the world and use a combination of intimidation, coercion and persuasion to do what is in our opinion best for our world.

When an individual views another culture as inferior, savage and helpless, one does not seek to identify existing strengths, form healthy partnerships or respect local customs, religions and philosophies.  Our utter disregard for Iraqi participation in the initial stages of reorganizing Iraq and the following decapitation of Iraqi society has ravaged and worsened the situation in Iraq.

As I read the words of this young man, I thought of Edward Said's Orientalism and his wonderful insights on the topic.  He argues that like this individual, the Western mindset was founded on the idea that European and American societal values and heritage are far superior to those of the East.  When other societies had better inventions than they had, they adopted them and sought to better understand those societies so that they could conquer them for their own benefit.  Edward Said's argument really resonates with me because adequately depicts how both Arabs and Westerners feel about our very convoluted and oftentimes unhealthy relationship.
A friend and I discussed that Westerners come to Jordan [and other countries] thinking that we are unintelligent and have not developed as they have because we are ignorant and incapable.  They bring these "new" concepts and programs that we already have and we are not receptive.  We are not receptive because we feel that they do not view us as intelligent and at the same time, we do not view them as knowledgeable about our communities, culture or society and are concerned that the proposed programs in their current states are not compatible with underlying agendas.  As a result, there is little progress.  We have Jordanians with the know-how and we have individuals with the capabilities necessary to make Jordan great.  The issue is these individuals with these capabilities do not have the wasta necessary to secure these prominent positions and their skills go to the wayside when they are employed in lower skilled positions.

Bottom line: both sides speak past each other because neither side feels that it can trust the other and the relationship is a reiteration of an ever imbalanced relationship.  This must be solved by acknowledging and respecting the value and strengths of Jordan's people and building upon these strengths.  There is no need for us to start from scratch because there is so much goodness that is worth keeping.

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