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Mirror or Myth?

As we have had opportunity to live in several different countries of the Arab World we have been able to make friendships, some of which have lasted over the years. Certainly the internet aids in this process, and allows us to discuss matters though we physically exist hundreds of miles apart. Today I would like to give you a chance to join in this conversation.

Below is the text of a friend from Mauritania who now becomes our first guest blogger. I asked him permission to use this selection from an email to present here publicly, as it expresses an important message. Here is the way that many in the Arab World see us. Is it a mirror or a myth?

This blog is about Egypt, and though I have not yet heard this perspective here during our first few months, it would not surprise me if it exists, as I have heard it everywhere we have lived, though of course not from everyone. In this case, my friend will not hold to what follows, but he puts on a convincing performance.

“Today it is not me who is talking; I am taking you from your territory to look at things from another perspective, the perspective of the conservative Muslims. With their foundations I totally disagree, but in my quest for balance and understanding of the way others may see things differently, I am plagued with this sickness, entertaining ideas from the perspective of the person I am talking with, to see the amount of merit it has.

The discussion about the West and the Muslim world is raging all the time here, with very conflicting views. People here in general tend to see the West as an example of creativity, freedom, and wealth, but at the same time they hate it — mainly for its policies and government decisions, such as taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict and supporting Arab dictators.

People here in this conservative Muslim country tend to look to things from the following perspective. I would like you to read it through, and to let me know your feedback. I don’t necessarily want you to defend the West as I consider myself a Westerner in many aspects.

The West is an Empire, and it is an evil empire, it has failed morally, as it looks only to its interests. Historically, it used the wealth and sweat of other nations to build its hypocritical and consumption-oriented civilization; it has usurped and stolen the wealth of other nations to build its cities and agglomerations. The civilization the West is a Greek civilization where only the master has rights, and where the slaves exist only for the pleasure of the master. In application the master here is the West, and slaves are other non-developed nations. Nations were made extinct in this process, such as the native Indians in the US and Australia. The West has used the sweat of the nations — America was built by African Americans and Latinos, Australia was built by Indonesians and Chinese, and the UK used the Indians. When all the building was done, they started preaching “human rights”, and they use it to prevent other nations from taking the same path they took. Look at Dubai: Human Rights Watch is saying Dubai skyscrapers builders don’t respect the human rights of the employees, but Human Rights Watch was not there when New York, Paris, or Sydney skyscrapers were built in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. It is not fair to not give a chance to those nations, demanding they meet the western standards of human rights during the building process. Now that the West has its stomach full, it wants the hungry others to play by new rules that it didn’t respect when it was hungry – slavery, war, colonization.

The West uses violence against other nations, and other nations use violence against the West. The only difference is that the West uses organized violence in contrast with the sporadic, unorganized violence used by other nations. For example, the US staged a war without any valid reason on Iraq, killed thousands of people, and destroyed the life of a nation, but when an oppressed and uneducated young Muslim tries to make an isolated act, it is called terror, and is labeled by the media as Islamic — what is the difference between the two? There is no difference except that one of the acts is committed by men in uniform, with their leaders in nice ties and clean offices, whereas the other is committed by isolated men with no uniform, whose leaders are ignorant clerics with big funny beards.

The bottom line is that it is about a competition in style of life, between barbarian oriental traditionalist societies with religion in the background, and barbarian western societies with democracy and conceptions of Greek freedom in the background.”

Do you have a response? My friend would be eager to read your comments. Please post freely.

One reply on “Mirror or Myth?”

Your friend’s views are understandable, given America’s unwavering support for Israel, its backing of brutal dictators in the Middle East, and its present-day wars for oil.

Good heavens, Western imperialism is so historically close that we can practically reach back and touch it with our fingers. It is certainly well within the lifetime of many present day individuals.

As for human rights violations….I also largely agree with your friend. However, it is illogical to justify the mistreatment of any individual on the basis that another civilization has also mistreated them in another age.

I am of the opinion that the Arab world, while not exactly a beacon of freedom and human rights at this point in history, is not so far behind the Western-imposed (and accurate) curve of human rights.

Many Americans assume that nothing can be done to promote peace in the middle east because “they have been killing each other for hundreds of years.”

Americans would do well to remember their last hundred or so years, in which they enslaved and mistreated minorities, withheld rights from women, and fought a bloody civil war.

Sound familiar?

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