Arabs and Muslims have all sorts of fingers pointing at them at all times. I’m also guilty for criticising Arabs for a lot of reasons. Today I am switching sides. This might be unpredictable but for me Arabs are more tolerant than Westerners.
I’ve been living in London for two years now and I’m half German therefore I traveled back and forth between Europe and the GCC since I was born. I’ve seen a lot of Arabs travel to western countries and westerners’ travel to Arab countries. Most Arab women wear the “Abaya” (the black cloak) in their own countries, but when they travel abroad most (not all) take it off to fit in with the western norm. They still wear the “hijab” (headscarf) for religious reasons but still most people give an effort to try to fit in. Most (not all) westerners who visit Arab countries don’t really care about the dress code. They still wear their short skirts, hot pants and low cut tank tops to bring out their girls, even though this is very disrespectful to Arabs. I hear a lot of westerners criticize the way Arabs dress in their countries from politicians, public figures and citizens. France banned the “hijab” in schools and other countries are trying to set similar laws. On the other hand, Arabs don’t really criticize westerner’s clothes in their countries but they do complain about the disrespect. Saudi Arabia is a different case, but I think they can demand westerners to cover up since France banned the “hijab” in schools. To me it’s only fair. But because Saudi is an Arab country they are called radical. In no way am I supporting Saudi here, I don’t like their laws either but I’m just saying. A Bahraini friend of mine who studies in the UK needed to renew her student visa, at the visa office she was asked to take off the “hijab” for the visa photo. I know that in the UK it is allowed for women that wear the “hijab” to keep it on for the visa photo but still my friend was asked to take it off.
As for Arab men, the beard is usually the problem. I know a lot of guys that shave their beards when they travel so they don’t get dirty looks at airport security. Personally, I don’t like beards but I think growing a beard is like spiky gel styled hair, it’s a matter of taste. Nevertheless a lot of Arab guys I know shave so westerners don’t fear for their lives. I call that tolerance.
In Bahrain and most of the Arab countries English is compulsory in “all” schools, from grade one till grade twelve. In western countries this is not the case. Students can choose language courses which are not usually compulsory nor are they required to learn the language from grade one till twelve. I do realize that English is a world language but still. I see Arabs and all other nationalities make an effort to understand “you” meaning the strongest western countries ie. The United States, Great Britain and other “westernized” countries such as Australia and Canada. I don’t really see an effort the other way round. I didn’t hear of a school in a western country that teaches Arabic, I’m pretty sure there is but since I didn’t hear anything about it, its one of the odds. What’s more, when Arabs immigrate to Western countries they normally go to public schools where they learn the language and integrate more or less in society. When westerners immigrate to Arab countries they send their children to their own schools. We have schools in Bahrain that are built by westerners for westerners where Arabic is not taught. There are some schools that teach Arabic but it is a joke. From the way I see it, Arabs give an effort to understand westerners but westerners don’t give an effort to understand Arabs. As for me, if I ever immigrated to a country the first thing I will focus on is to learn the language, that’s common sense to me but apparently not to everybody. Westerns in Bahrain expect Arab cashiers in supermarkets or waiters in restaurants to speak English to communicate with them. How ridiculous is that! You are in an Arab country you are the one who is meant to give an effort. For god’s sake buy a language handbook. I went to France last year; it took me a half an hour to explain my order to the waiter. I did not expect him to speak Arabic nor English. I expected him to speak French because he is French. I used sign language and a handbook but that’s how it is when you travel.
A lot of international music is played on Arabic TV and radio channels; I haven’t heard Arabic music on Western channels. If you shop in malls in Arab countries you are forced to listen to international music weather you like it or not. Fortunately for me I do but it’s not the case for everybody. And believe me, there are lot of Arabs who listen to the music even though they don’t really understand what is being said, which is the very reason why Arabic music is not being played on Western channels. Then again, a lot of Arabs do understand, and most of the music lyrics are disrespectful in the Arab culture or prohibited by Islamic teachings. S&M by Rihanna and Tonight (I’m loving you) by Enrique Iglesias to name a few.
As everywhere around the world, going to the movies is something the Arabs love to do. The most watched movies are Hollywood or British movies even though there are Arab productions. The English speaking movies are subtitled and the sex scenes are cut out. Four years ago, they used to cut the kissing scenes too but not anymore. Even though these scenes are a strict taboo according to Islamic teachings, Arabs are increasingly more tolerant and accepting. I never saw Arab movies in theaters in Europe, I’m not saying there isn’t but I didn’t see any.
As for visiting countries, for westerners it is very easy to get a visa for Arab countries. For example, in Bahrain westerners don’t need to apply in their home countries for a visa. They just book a flight and upon their arrival at the airport they get a visa before entry right away. When Arabs travel abroad they need to apply for a visa a few months earlier. They need all sorts of documents to prove god knows what. Arabs are just more welcoming.
Not all but in a lot of Arab countries pork and alcohol is sold in supermarkets, which is a pain for a lot of Arabs since it is prohibited in Islam but still they must tolerate it. Halal food in western countries is available but then again it doesn’t violate any religious belief or country law.
In general, I know that Arabs can be pretty close-minded but it usually affects themselves more than others. Westerners claim they are more tolerant, open-minded and educated about the world. I don’t think so but I don’t really deny it either. It just bothers me that they criticize Arabs so harshly when they can improve themselves too. You can argue that Arabs are more open-minded when it comes to welcoming westerners, food, music, etc. because of globalization but this globalization which affects all of us is pretty one sided to me. The trends, food, music, behaviour, clothing, etc. that is taking over the world is very western.
In the end, I want to thank my friend Mariam who encouraged and motivated me to start writing again.