Archive for the ‘War on Terror’ Category

The REAL Reason Arab Men and Boys Are Still Treated as Pashas by Women

December 5, 2012

Man Washing Dishes

“Kitchen! Kitchen!”  Most North African boys still make fun of each other by saying this, which means, “Sissy!” (For my foreign readers, this means, “You’re acting like a girl!”)

North African mothers still raise their daughters to do all the housework, and boys are not expected to help at all.  (The only exception is in some families where there are no girls, and the boys have learned to help.)

The first generation of educated, North African women are out in the labor force.  But are the attitudes of men changing?  Not yet.  Working women are still expected to work full time AND do ALL of the child care AND take care of ALL the housework.  In general, men are expected to work, and spend all of the rest of their time relaxing.  They still expect to come home and find “everything done and waiting for them.”  (A very few modern husbands do help out doing dishes or cooking, or with general housework.  But they don’t tell their friends!  Some even make sure the curtains are closed so no neighbors see them helping out, either.)

closed curtains

As one young dual-citizen North African-American girl told me, “In North American culture, MEN take care of WOMEN.  In Arab culture, WOMEN are expected to take care of MEN.”   This accounts for the shocking experience of American women who marry Arab men, only to find they are expected to take care of the man as if they were his MOTHER!  Many intercultural couples have hit the divorce courts over this exact issue, as many of these men are unable to adapt, even when living in America.

Will this change, in Arab countries, within a generation, as the second generation of women hits the workforce in 25 years?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why not.  This is my own theory, but when I discussed it with several local North African women, they all agreed with me.

Islamic inheritance laws give double to boys as they do to girls.  The reason for this is that men are supposed to be financially responsible for women under their care, in THEORY.  If a man is decent, he will do it.  (But just as everywhere, many men are irresponsible, or not decent.)  In practice, many women are never able to claim their inheritance rights, particularly in places like mountain villages.  (Crawford, 2008)

The essential point is this.  Every woman knows that she is under a man’s thumb, or will be in the future.  Girls are under their father’s control.  Wives are still under their husband’s control in most Arab countries (such as needing the husband’s permission to get or renew a passport, even for a foreign wife, such as in Egypt).  When women become widows, they are not free, but instead under the control of their sons, and at the mercy of their sons!  Love aside, THIS is the TRUE reason why mothers spoil their sons so extremely.  That son is eventually going to have power over them, and be responsible for supporting them in old age, so of course they need that to be a very strong emotional relationship.  But it accounts for why they young boys are treated as pashas (the amount varying by specific country, but in all countries when in comparison with the West, where boys and girls are treated equally).

When I asked several North African women, that what if inheritance (and divorce) laws were changed and made totally equal between men and women, do they think women would continue to treat men and boys as pashas?  Each of the women I asked answered me by saying, “What you say is true, of course they would not.”

However, since those inheritance laws are laid out in the Koran, I don’t see any changes on the horizon!

–Lynne Diligent

“Know Your Enemy”

October 19, 2012

“Those Peace Corps workers are spies in our country!”

As an American living in the Middle East for twenty years, I am amazed each time I hear this.  Whenever I ask, “Why would you think that?”  I never receive a clear, satisfactory, or understandable answer–but now,  I finally have.

A North African friend explained to me that the saying, “Know your enemy!” is extremely popular throughout Arab culture in the Middle East. He said that most ordinary citizens in the street view the American government as an enemy, (regardless of whether their own governments are allies with the United States).  This is both because of America’s seeming “unconditional” support for Israel, and because the United States has been involved in wars in the Middle East, or in seeming support of previous dictators in the region.

Therefore, when  Peace Corps volunteers come to the Middle East, people wonder, “Why would anyone leave their own rich countries, in order to come and live in a very poor lifestyle, among us, saying they want to help us?”

Many Middle Easterners, especially those who are poor and living in rural areas,  just don’t understand the idea of volunteer work. (1)  (They are judging foreigners by their own standards, since they would not go to help others who were not part of their own family/religious group, or from whom they did not “want” something in return–such as information, or a natural resource.)  They just don’t trust anyone; in general, Middle Eastern societies are low in trust of others.  Their recent experience of colonialism increases their distrust.

When I point out, “What possible interest would the American government have in the life of your little mountain village?”  I usually get vague and confusing answers that make no sense to me (being a Westerner).  But now I have received an understandable answer.  My local friend told me, ” They think America is studying every aspect of how they live and think in order to better know their enemy.”

What a sad case of two ships passing in the night, in terms of cultural misunderstanding!

Just to set the record straight, Peace Corps workers are NOT spies, never have been, and never will be.  While they have apparently been ASKED on a couple of occasions (Bolivia and Cuba), read the link to see that they refused, and that this is NOT government policy.  However, when I pointed this out to my friend, she asked me, “OK, these volunteers refused to spy, but how on earth would we be sure EVERY Peace Corps volunteer would refuse to spy?”  At least now, I understand where they are coming from.

–Lynne Diligent

(1)  06-EuroMedJeunesse-Etude_MOROCCO.pdf  (p. 7, 8, 17, 23)

My North African Postman’s Confusing Behavior

April 6, 2012

Typical North African house with wall in a prosperous neighborhood

For the past several months, instead of putting the mail in our mailbox, our postman has often been just handing it to workers who are at our house doing some remodeling.  One day, I caught the postman personally, and asked him to please not do that, but to put in in our box.  This seemed to take care of the problem for a while.

Two days ago, I was upstairs in my home, when one of the workers came upstairs with some mail to hand to me.  I asked him what he was doing with it and was upset that he came upstairs to find me.  He said the postman handed it directly to him, and he wanted to be sure I got it.  The postman had already left, so I didn’t have a chance to speak to him.  I was upset and just really wanted to know WHY he the postman did this again!

After discussing possible senarios as to why the postman reverted to his former behavior, I commented to the worker that I had asked the postman to put it in the box before, and just could not understand why he was doing this again.  The worker pointed out that the postman comes on a motorcycle.  In order to put it in the box (which in my country is not out by the street, but is a slot through the wall), the postman has to park his motorcycle and bring the mail to the mail slot.  Since the worker happened to be standing by the street at the moment he came, it was just laziness in not wanting to park his motorcycle and take a few steps to the mail slot.  Mystery solved!

I asked the worker next time to not accept the mail from the postman, or if he insists, just to put it into the mail slot himself, rather than walking through my home and searching for me.

Readers, how would you react?

–Lynne Diligent

What We Can Learn About Africa and the Middle East Today from the Colonialization Experience of Canadian Aboriginals

December 12, 2011

Taiaiake Alfred, the world’s foremost expert on the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples, speaks about the ongoing anger felt by people who have been victims of colonization.  Listening to Taiaiake speak on the today’s ongoing colonialist experience of Aboriginals (formerly called Inuits) in Canada,  I found his points relevant to what is happening today in the Middle East and Africa.

As a Westerner arriving in the Middle East  some years ago, I was shocked to find Middle Easterners and North Africans describing the Iraq Wars in two ways–as Americans leading a new Christian Crusade against Muslims, and Americans as neo-colonialists out to “steal” Iraq’s oil.  “Why else would a country do these things?” I was told, when I tried to argue with people.

North African and Middle Eastern people are still focused on the Crusades as a recent memory (in the way that Westerners focus on the two World Wars as a recent memory) because  of their very recent memory of colonization.  Recent colonialist experience colors the judgement of a people about everything in life.  This altered mentality creates a way of thinking where they feel that no one ever acts altruistically, that no one (nor any country) ever does something unless they will be able to “benefit” from it personally.

The reason it’s difficult for Americans to understand this colonialist mentality is because our own colonialist experience happened so long ago, and anyone with living memory of it died more than 100 years ago.  I would posit that for a society to rid oneself of the colonialist experience and mentality takes at least 150 years.  If we could go back and look at American society , post-1776, I think we would see lingering attitudes from the Colonialist experience up all the way until World War I.  Those born in 1770, some of whom presumably lived until about 1860, would have told their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their memories of the colonialist experience.  Those grandchildren born in 1830-1850 would have lived until the early 1900s.   I would say that sometime between 1900 and WWI, those old attitudes would have been overcome by other events, and forgotten.

So, how does this extrapolate to Africa and the Middle East today?  In my experience, people in the Middle East and Africa seem to have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial power.

by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter

A love-hate relationship often exists between the colonizers and the colonized.  (Painting by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter 1830s to 1860s)

In fact, parts of North Africa were united under nationalist governments for the first time in the 1950s. Prior to this time, these areas existed under feudal warlords.

Viewing the independence dates of African countries in the map below, and adding 150 years, shows us that it will take until at least 2100-2130 before Africa is able to begin to shake off its colonialist heritage and the lingering negative effects of the colonialization experience.

Decolonization Dates / Indedpendence Dates of African Countries

Decolonization Dates / Independence Dates of African Countries

A recent colonialist experience creates an anger among a people over their own native culture having been repressed, that no amount of material “goodwill” can ever assuage.  In the Middle East and Africa (without mentioning specific examples) there are instances of lands and people being absorbed into a national culture of which those people consider to be a foreign power; these national governments have spent a great deal of money on improving the infrastructure of the absorbed areas–highways, schools, telecommunications,  transportation, and modernization–without obtaining any loyalty from the part of the local populations.

New Highways Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

Why not?  Because these materialist “offerings” do nothing  to address the real problem of “forced” assimilation.  Native peoples remain alienated.

New Empty Towns Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

No doubt this process of forced assimilation and alienation has taken place all over the world, throughout history.  But it is not an easy process to recover from, and the effects linger in each locality for up to 200 years afterward.  During the North African Spring we have heard much talk of the different tribal areas in Libya, and the problems of forced assimilation during the Gaddafi regime which are now bubbling to the surface. In the past decade we heard of Kurdish problems in Iraq and Turkey.  Sometimes we hear of problems with groups in the Sahara.  Elsewhere, China has built new infrastructure in Tibet.

New Road Built by the Chinese in Tibet

According to Taiaiake Alfred, colonized peoples–such as the Aboriginals (formerly called Inuit) and other native peoples of North America–especially believe in treaties, because treaties show respect between two peoples, or two nations.  National governments of various societies, on the other hand, believe in integration and assimilation based on social justice principles. The main agenda of national governments is to make formerly colonized peoples into fully-functioning members of society through providing language, education, and job opportunities; however, they show a lack of respect to native peoples by trying to assimilate them.  Education is used everywhere as an assimilation tool.  “Native peoples living independently is also a threat to national governments because if they live independently, they control more land.  This makes less land available for mining claims, for other citizens,” Taiaiake says.

Modern Inuits in Canada Dealing with Effects of Colonialization

Native leaders who try to work within the national system to obtain more benefits such as land claims and self-government for native peoples are usually viewed as illegitimate leaders by the grassroots population.

Colonized peoples don’t want to be part of an integrative relationship.  Their vision is different.  their problems are not money problems, or problems of jurisdiction.  They are angry about losing their culture and their different way of life.  This creates a permanent state of alienation.  No matter how many material goods are given, these make no difference, because those material goods never address the source of the problem, the psychological anger.

Furthermore, as these new material things become the norm, the material standard rises ever further.  This process prevents getting to the root of the problem–this psychological anger–the pain in the community which comes from losing one’s culture.  This causes a permanent state of alienation coming from not having their culture, their values, reflected in the value system of the overall society.   This is why there are so many social and psychological problems in the communities which are not being addressed.

In Canada, people wonder why, when the government injects 7. million dollars to relocate a complete band of 700 Inuits to a new location, giving them new housing and other material goods, why the same problems of alcoholism, suicide, depression, and despair emerge again.

Morgan Fawcett, an Aboriginal (Inuit) victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, has dedicated his life to making sure women think before they drink

“It didn’t work because it’s putting the car before the horse,” says Taiaiake.  “These people aren’t ready to participate in this government because it’s not a form of government which is reflective of their culture, and their values.  It is essentially an imposed form of government.   More importantly, the problem of deculturalization of these people has not been fixed.”

Taiaiake says, “When Africa was decolonized, you have societies left that reflect all the worst aspects of the colonizers in the way power is used, in the way that corruption has infused the society.”

Canada’s indigenous people suffer from a post-colonialist mentality, according to Taiaiake.  “Native peoples have been illegally dispossessed of their land and treaties have not been honored.  We have to address those things before we can have reconciliation.”

“There is always a connection between the means and the ends,” Taiaiake says.  “If you want to have a peaceful co-existence with your neighbor, you can’t use violence.”

The true reclaiming of what it means to be an indigenous person is spiritual.  This means one must return to the essence of being a true warrior, in the sense of “they carry the burden (of their heritage).”  It is about having strength and integrity inside yourself to be an authentic person, carrying yourself with a sense of justice and rightness.

“Colonialized peoples need to recreate themselves as people who are spiritually-grounded and strong, in order to withstand all those forces of assimilation and recreate the something new out of the best values of the indigenous culture.  The most impressive thing that Ghandi did was to take a stand against both  imperialism and traditionalism, and insist that people needed to create something new out of both appropriate to today.  This is really the solution.”

Meanwhile, what can be done about growing problems among youth?  There are increasing levels of drug use, violence, and family violence.  Smoking is increasing, gun and gang culture are emerging in Canada.  What about indigenous people in the urban centers?

“We need to create relationships between those people and the home communities.  However, many of those home communities themselves are problematic.”

More indigenous people in Canada are going to university and becoming doctors and lawyers.  Taiaiaka’s view is that each day of his life, no matter what job or education level an indigenous person receives, he can make the choice to support either the vision of indigenous people, or the vision of the colonizer.  Taiaiaka hopes to inspire the next generation of indigenous leaders to regenerate the culture in a political and legal manner, to force Canada into a reconciliation with reality.  He envisions a social and political agenda in Canada like the Black Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The goal is to recover the stolen sense of what it means to be an indigenous person living the authentic life of our ancestors.

For all recently decolonized peoples, the way forward is to find a middle road which is neither the vision of the colonizer, nor a reactionary vision against the colonizer.  Decolonized peoples must take what is useful from the colonizer and combine it with a spiritual vision from their own culture to find a new way forward in the modern world–to be part of the modern world, while not “of” the colonizers’ world.

With regard to national cultures which are trying to assimilate native cultures through the use of education and materialistic recompense, I feel this strategy is far preferable to the ethnic cleansing which is happening in so many parts of the world (which is what happens when assimilation efforts fail).  While I can understand the pain of native peoples,  I think adapting to the dominant culture is probably the best middle course of action for all.

–Lynne Diligent

Can the Arab Spring Be Equated to the American and French Revolutions?

August 22, 2011

This picture was taken at the 2010 "Arab African Summit" in Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown. The four leaders in front: Tunisia's Ben Ali (deposed), Yemen's Saleh(soon-to-be deposed?), Libya's Gaddafi (deposed) and Egypt's Mubarak (deposed).

The American and French Revolutions happened two centuries ago.  Living in the region of the Arab Spring, I feel I am living through a similar groundswell movement, which is just happening in another part of the world.

Just as living through the American Revolution, for Americans, must have been a time of great uncertainty about the future, many have hope, and others have fear.   Most people want democracy and an end to corruption.  Those who fear democracy fear it because they feel a strong man is needed at the top to control this corruption.

Having lived in the region for 20 years, I feel they are wrong, that a strong man can control corruption.  Corruption does not come from the top, down.  It comes up from the bottom, only getting larger and larger as power and opportunites increase near the top.  In societies that rely on external forms of control (as North African and Middle Eastern societies do) instead of internal conscience (as northwestern European and American societies do), fewer people feel a responsibility to act with high standards.  It’s easier to rationalize, “Everyone else is doing it, so I better get mine, too.”

One of the biggest problems in Middle Eastern and North African societies is endemic repression and corruption.  The people hope to stamp it out by cutting off the head of the problem.  But I say this problem comes up from the bottom. This is why so many countries have had the experience of having one dictator after another, each promising to stamp out the corruption in the administration before.  This just doesn’t work.  For REAL change to happen, every person must be motivated to change their own personal behavior and attitudes and behave with the highest ideals in order for this problem to disappear.

Not everyone in North Africa and the Middle East behaves badly.  I do know plenty of honorable, decent people.  I believe it’s a matter of how a child is raised in his own family.  As a teacher of young children for over two decades, I have seen that the values of honesty and integrity are somewhat set by the age of seven or eight, and well-set by the age of ten.  If teachers at school discuss honesty and integrity with students they can have some influence, but that influence is nill if the family promotes the opposite values at home.  I see religious education happening in the school curriculum, but that mostly centers on correct religious practice, as opposed to attitudes and beliefs.  Training in integrity and honesty really comes from the home and one’s family.

Another problem with promoting honesty is the problem of entitlement.  So many people steal or are corrupt just because they feel entitled.  The person of a higher class feels entitled to take because he feels he is better than others.  The poor who steal do it because they feel entitled to steal from those who are better off (dishonest maids or office employees, for example).

The middle-class bureaucrat or public servant who takes daily bribes justifies it by feeling he is entitled because of his “low salary.”  These societies are rigid, with little class mobility, which reinforces this mindset–almost like having a chip on one’s shoulder–a “me-against-them” mindset.

These attitudes need to change from the bottom-up in order for corruption to truly be stamped out.  The younger generation (under 30) is the first generation in most of the region to have a very high percentage of their generation be educated and literate to some degree (maybe 80 percent), so I have high hopes that by the time this generation hits their 40s, (in 20 years) that the Arab Spring will indeed have created functioning democracies with reduced corruption.

–Lynne Diligent

Why Foreigners Sometimes Think that Americans View the World as Geography Cartoons Depict

July 18, 2011

What Americans are first taught about the world as children. This looks like a 1970-2005 point-of-view.

These maps represent what Americans are first taught about the world as children.

For a majority of Americans (speaking as an American now overseas) these maps are maps about feelings, rather than about knowledge.

It’s true that there are some Americans who never progress beyond this viewpoint, but the majority of American adults are not quite this uneducated.  Among those who are, it comes from the “We’re number one!” mentality that pervades what children are taught about America (or at least were until recently).

This view of the world looks more like how Americans felt in the 1950s and 1960s.

No matter how knowledgeable we become, it’s true that we can look at maps like this and understand the reasons they are drawn that way immediately–from our first knowledge as children.  That’s what makes them cartoons, that some of those feelings stay with us forever,  in spite of our knowledge.

Anyone who lived through the Reagan years certainly remembers the country feeling just like this!

–Lynne Diligent

Middle Eastern Children Explain a CULTURAL Reason Why Moderate Muslims are Not Denouncing Extremists

May 11, 2011

Why don't moderate Muslims speak up against terrorism?

Living in the Middle East, I often get asked the question, “If all Muslims are not extremists, then why aren’t the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims not publicly denouncing the extremists (or their behavior, and/or their interpretation of Islam)?”

A chance comment to me by a Middle Eastern student made a very important reason clear to me, which I have never seen discussed anywhere.  The reason is CULTURAL.

Middle Eastern and North African societies  are cultures where people are divided into in-groups and out-groups.  This is a completely opposite type of thinking from what we have in the United States and some other western countries.

I had an interesting conversation about this with some 11-12-year-old students I know.  We were discussing some bullying problems that have been going on in their North African classroom, when one student asked me, “Mrs. Diligent, why do our American teachers at our school think we should help people (other students) who aren’t our friends, when our parents teach us not to?”  Having lived in the Middle East for 18 years, I understood immediately what they were talking about, as well as the confusion and frustration of their American teachers.

North Africa and the Middle East

When I first moved to the Middle East with my Middle Eastern husband, one evening I was out walking with my husband through a tight area of the old city, and a line of parked cars were outside of a restaurant.  Someone had parked their car and left the lights on.  A man was standing there, who appeared to me to possibly be the parking lot attendant.  As we were passing right next to him, I asked something like, “Excuse me, this car has its lights left on, do you know where the owner is?”

My husband immediately got upset with me and asked, “Why are you asking about this?  It’s not your business!”

I replied that perhaps the person would come out of the restaurant to find their battery dead, and that if the owner could not be found, perhaps we should just open the car door and switch off the lights for the person (we were in a very small city, with an atmosphere of a very big town).

Again, my husband said something like, “It’s NOT your BUSINESS!  We don’t get involved in other people’s business like that!”  (or similar words, recalling the conversation 18 years later).   My husband then actually apologized to the the parking lot attendant for my having “disturbed” him, and told me to be quiet as we walked away.

My husband is NOT a jerk, by the way…so you can imagine my shock and surprise at this incident.  This is just how the American teachers are feeling about the way some of the students are treating others at school.  It is also just how many Americans are feeling when Muslim terrorists commit atrocities and the so-called “moderate” Muslims are not speaking up by publicly denouncing their behavior!   Thus, many Americans are WRONGLY concluding that the “moderate” Muslims actually are secret extremists, and condone those people’s behavior.

So, what is the explanation here?  The explanation is that most of these Muslims were raised in “in-group” cultures.

In an “in-group” culture, children are taught to normally offer help ONLY to other members of their in-group (your family or very special friends).  (So, woe to a person in the Middle East–foreigner or country national–who doesn’t have a large family in-group to “help” them every time they have a problem!)

Some students told me that if someone witnessed a person being harrassed by others in the street, the correct response would be to ignore them and not get involved.  Children are told, “That’s their business, it’s none of our business.  Stay out of it!”  (The logic is that in “in-group” societies, one is neither obligated nor expected to help others.  Why?  Because those people have their own in-groups to help them.)

So, if students witness another student being bullied on the playground or in line, their usual reaction is to ignore what is going on, rather than to offer help, unless one of the participants is their own friend–in which case they enter the conflict on the side of their FRIEND, rather than necessarily on the side of the person who is being bullied.)  This is the behavior which many American teachers have tried to fight, usually unsuccessfully, because the whole culture is like this.

This same idea contributes directly to international intercultural misunderstandings.   The subject often comes up when discussing Israel and Palestine, and America’s support of Israel.

I find many people in the Middle East absolutely convinced that the United States is a Jewish country.  When I ask what percentage of America they think is Jewish, I usually get an answer of between 50-80%.  When I inform them that the actual percentage is around 2% (actually the 2010 figures say it is only 1.4%, while the Muslim percentage in 2010 was about 1%) I get absolute disbelief.  Sometimes after discussing it for about fifteen minutes, I make a little headway in making them doubt their former opinion.  But in ALL cases, the response is, “If they aren’t Jewish, why would they help Israel so much?”  They usually reply that he only reason they can see for providing such aid to others would be the selfish reason of helping one’s own blood relatives;  thus the assumption that most people in America are Jewish!

Is America Jewish?

Now we turn to the question of why moderate Muslims are not standing up and publicly denouncing terrorists.  Most of these people are either living in countries that are in-group societies, or have moved to the United States from such countries, and were brought up with such values.  Therefore, when someone does something really bad, they might declare privately to people who are friends, “That’s terrible!  That person calls himself a Muslim, but he most definitely not acting like a Muslim, or in accordance with Muslim values!” (This is what is meant when moderate Muslims comment, “That person is not a Muslim.”)

When people are brought up to STAY OUT of any conflicts, and not even to help their neighbors or classmates who have problems, and are even DISCOURAGED from doing so, is it any wonder that as adults they continue to behave in accordance with those values?  It does not mean that they agree with that behavior or condone it in any way.  It is more like they want to keep their head down and avoid trouble.

One reason for this is that reprisals can be very severe in their own cultures for either speaking up or getting involved (in some cases such as a person might just disappear and never be heard from again).  So yes, they are afraid of reprisals, but this is not the whole story.  It’s the idea that , “You are only responsible to people in your own in-group.”  That in-group (unlike in the West) does NOT include either strangers, or the whole society.

Lastly, this doesn’t mean that no one ever helps others.  They do.  However, this help is rare compared to the number of people in the West who offer such help to others.   In the West, we don’t have in-groups, and every individual is considered to be equally responsible to all others in the society–such as to enforce no-smoking sections; to speak up if people butt ahead in line; to help someone who is having a problem in the street; or to speak up publicly against behavior which is to be condemned by society.

–Lynne Diligent


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