I wasn’t planning on blogging today, but a couple of things have got me thinking.
First of all, I’ve just been watching Channel 4 News and saw a piece about Sharia Law being outlawed in Oklahoma. And yes, I’ve linked to the Daily Mail’s versions of events there to help make my point!
I am starting to see America as more of a threat to our rights and the future of peace on Earth than anything the East has to throw at us – it’s portrayed in the media like a nation of Daily Mail readers! I am the last person to believe media hype, and I do have relatives in the USA and understand that there is a sizeable proportion of the population who are thankfully tolerant, level-headed and open-minded, but there is a growing threat from the conservative right which worries me more than anything else going on in the world today.
The attitudes which are reported by the media are doing so much damage to relations between East and West, and when coupled with America’s clumsy and selective interference in international affairs, I think the USA is contributing to drive young Muslims towards the more extremist sectors of Islam, and for Muslim countries to wrap themselves in an ever-more conservative veil to protect themselves from encroachments on their values and identity.
You can’t ever hope to reach any kind of harmony with another culture until you understand why they might fear you (even if you also fear them). I am pretty sure the explorers of many centuries ago figured this out eventually, so why are we still trapped in this cycle of fear now, hundreds of years later?
I am sure that some of my more, ahem, Daily-Mail-reading relatives might have a bit of apprehension about coming to see me in the Middle East and may find the sight of all those abayas and thobes intimidating at first, but have they ever thought about how it feels to be an Arab having to visit America on business? Stories of people being whisked off to Guantanamo Bay, intimate searches at airports and the sort of prejudice peddled by the reports on this Oklahoma issue must frighten the living daylights out of potential visitors to the US from the Middle East.
Furthermore, I can’t see that there’s even a huge gulf between Islam and Christianity. There are different ways of interpreting the prophecies of both religions, but the common ground is one of protecting values – values which don’t actually differ that much between religions.
Sure, there are extremist interpretations of Shari’a Law which most Muslims wouldn’t subscribe to, just as there are extreme sects of Christianity, the practices of which don’t sit comfortably with most Christians.
As someone who is about to move to a country which has Shari’a (and civil) Law, am I worried? Nope. I would be pretty worried if I got caught doing something bad (as you should be if you break the law IMHO), but I’m planning on being well-behaved, so that won’t be an issue. I am no expert, but from what I have read about Islamic faith and the law, I can see some merits to the system (although obviously extreme interpretations involving corporal punishment, and the way it can be interpreted against women and families is worrying). But, from what I understand, it is very much a community-led system where wrongdoings and issues are hammered out in consultation with religious leaders and with religious guidance from the Quran. Big Society at its best, if you will….
Neither the Channel 4 report, or that Daily Mail article, actually bothered to summarise what Shari’a Law actually means in practice, and I wish they had, because it would have been interesting to hear more about it.
What the Channel 4 report did give space to was the way the whole situation was brought about through sheer political deviance. There was no way that the tiny Muslim population of Oklahoma was even considering “infllicting” Shari’a Law on the rest of the citizens of Oklahoma at any point in the future. What was at stake was votes – votes for the Republican party, who gave citizens the opportunity to vote to outlaw Shari’a Law in the State as a hook to get them down to the polling booths. It also created an artificial gulf between Republicans and Democrats through scaremongering and fear. As a result, 8 Democrats lost their seats. Clever, huh?
And now, this clever little self-serving political trick has hit the news across the World, and inflicted yet more damage to relations between Islam and Christianity, East and West. The flames of fear which are fanned by both sides serve only a select few who seek to profit from ignorance – for the rest of us, we can only sit and watch as the fire is spreading and doing untold damage. The question is, who is going to reach out across the flames? We seem to be retreating ever further into our camps. Obama was the big hope, but that seems to have been a false hope now.
How “they” see “us”.
Another piece which has got me thinking this evening……..
I was browsing Qatar Living, which is probably the only internet resource for expats living in Qatar, and as such is a terrifyingly confusing melting pot of cultures (much like Doha in fact!). Most threads in the forum degenerate into incomprehensible bun-fights at some point, as cultures clash over misunderstandings brought about through the internet’s limitation as a communication tool.
There is a fascinating car-crash of a thread on there, where a girl who claims to be Qatari posts some concerns she has about arranged marriages (which are common practice in Qatar).
She is absolutely torn to pieces by fellow Qatari nationals, and as a Westerner (especially a self-deprecating British one!) I was quite taken aback at first at the vigour with which they defended their nation and their traditions. As a Brit, I’m pretty quick to put our culture down and to rebel against tradition at any opportunity. It’s part of my culture’s traditions 🙂
The reason this thread is so interesting is that the more you plough through it all, the more you realise that part of the reason they are so defensive of their own culture is because they see the Western culture as such a threat. When you look at the cold, hard stats relating to the success of our ‘love’ marriages in the West, then arranged marriages start to make more sense. In the West, we’re faced with so much (too much?) choice and opportunity these days that we rarely stop to work on what we have – we’re always looking ahead to the next exciting thing to come along. That applies to jobs, cars, clothes, relationships….
It’s only a recent development, perhaps over two generations. At the same time, our happiness levels have plunged and we’re all hooked on anti-depressants and counselling. And a lot of it has to do with the idea of the American dream, which most people over 50 have been sold from a very young age, even here in Britain. The American culture is heavily based on the pursuit of ‘better’, yet as a nation they are probably even more hooked on counselling and anti-depressants than us Brits.
Go on any British forum such as Mumsnet, read the relationships board, and see how willing people are to ditch their marriage at the first sign that something bad might happen/something better might come along/the sex has died down/the other partner isn’t pulling their weight.
I’m not naive enough to think that everything’s perfect in arranged marriages, but maybe if people entered into marriage with a bit more of a balance between head and heart, we’d all be a bit better off in the long run?
There must be a balance between my ‘ditch it and move on’ generation, and that of my Gran’s generation (where people in unhappy or abusive marriages were often socially or financially trapped with no means of moving on).
(Actually Qatar purportedly has the highest divorce rate in the region, and I wonder if that reflects the heavy Western influence on modern Qatari culture, or maybe it proves that arranged marriages aren’t a precursor to a successful marriage….or you could see it as a positive reflection of the freedom that Qatari people have to move on with their life if things don’t work out).
It’s all food for thought.