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Forums  >  Politics  >  an american's view of the middle east
Author Post
at 07:08, 12 Aug 2005
Posts: 3
an american's view of the middle east
Maybe the topic of this entry is a little misleading, because really what I'd like to say is that I want to learn more. I have a few friends who come from the middle east, but they themselves have often been americanized. "Yes" made me realize how infrequently I hear the point of view of someone from that part of the world.

I think that, as a nation, we should try now more than ever to understand the middle eastern countries, especially as we seem to be coming more and more in conflict with some of them. Cultural ignorance can be the cause of discord even between two people in love, as "Yes" shows. It may be even more important to connect with and understand the Muslim population in western countries. The scene where Abkarian warms his hands at the nativity made me wonder what it's like to be a Muslim in a still Christian-dominated society.

Can anyone offer me insights or relate experiences like this? Has anyone, as a foreigner coming to the west, had difficulty being accepted or accepting the culture? What are some of the issues that cause the most strife? What is there about western society that is most different from that of the middle east?

sally potter
at 10:41, 23 Aug 2005
Posts: 193
View of the middle east

I have been pondering this question, or rather these questions. Perhaps someone will reply who is from the Middle-East.

But I do think that those of us from the west can understand a lot by asking our friends and listening to the answers. And if we do not yet have friends who come from other cultures, then asking ourselves why this is the case and, more importantly, making the effort to reach out and find them.

There are also so many excellent books, essays and novels, which provide insight into what it might feel like to be ‘Muslim in a Christian-dominated society’ as you have said. Of course that is not the only difference to be understood around us. And on some level each of us feels that we don’t really ‘fit in’, that we are not understood, that we are not the standard model. So with an empathetic leap of the imagination it becomes possible to feel how it might be for someone whose differences are more profound.

There is another factor to be considered, which is the question of knowledge and information. In general, people from cultures outside the US and Europe know a great deal more about the US and Europe than vice-versa. We have some study to do here, to combat our relative ignorance. We need to do this on our own initiative and for our own edification and we cannot expect to be ‘helped’ in this process by anyone else. As “He’ says in the car-park scene in YES :

I know your stories, know your songs by heart
But do you know mine? No, every time
I make the effort and I learn to rhyme
In your English.

Thank you for writing and for raising something so important.

at 04:45, 28 Aug 2005
Posts: 0
View of the middle east / reply from someone who is from Lebanon
Dear Z, Dear Sally,

Sally your answer is very clear and you are totally right, especially when you say that we know more about the western world than they about us...

But I would also sadly add that :
Lebanon is a very small country and even there people know so little about each other! we have 17 different religious groups and I doubt that many of us would be quite informed about each religion, culture or tradition.

For example, we have a large community of Armenian people in Beirut:
How much do we know about Armenians and about their genocide?

Since 4 years I live abroad and it is also amazing the questions I hear often:
do you have a desert in Lebanon? are all the women veiled in Lebanon? do you eat pork in Lebanon? Who was fighting against whom during the war?
Is true that 45% of the Lebanese people are Christians?

Of course I am always happy to talk about it, and to tell my European friends more about my Lebanon. And even though, when it comes to politics and historical facts it is quite complicated for them to understand and to follow.

and sometimes I hear: "Beirut? War? I do not want to hear anything about it..."
I realised as well that most of the people are not in the mood to make an effort, to learn more about other cultures.
Why? Is it time issues? Too buy? Laziness? Not enough space in the brain? Too complicated? Too depressing? Or is their own countries are closed and self-satisfied with what they have and live with?

We, Lebanese lived 30 years of war and nobody in the whole word "truly" cared for us...
I hear today from most of my friends that all what they knew is that there was war in Lebanon... and when it was shown on TV, they just zapped!
As a child sitting in a mini, dark shelter during the war, I believed that the pope will come soon and tell all these crazy men to stop... He never came!
And the politicians just talked, talked and talked. And they are still talking.

What makes me sad is that we had to have an horrific act like the "11th of September" to push people to be more interested in the Arabic world and realise that there are people as well there...There are even some artists there... and since that date did you see the number of exhibition, magazines, books, conferences, seminars about the Arabic world? And even people are willing to learn Arabic, as well....

Somehow what is happening today is positive, people are more caring, trying to understand the others and accept their culture...
I do hope that all these terrorist attacks would stop because they only generate hate, anger and innocent victims... How long does it need to all these "crazy men" to realise what they are doing to eachother???

Z, answering briefly some of your questions:
we are all human after all, we are all the same and aiming for the same with just a different culture that makes us unique.
I didn't have difficulties being accepted. I will tell you why:
because when I came from Lebanon to my new European country I didn't start living here by complaining about the people, their culture and weather... I accepted them first, I tried to adapt and to learn their language, I looked for the positive sides of their cities and brought my culture with me and shared it with them... I opened my heart and smiled to them... I can't tell you how much "Love" I got back today!
I have a second home.
One thing, I keep on doing although, is to compare between here and there:
In beirut we have that, in beirut we do that... I think everyone who is far from his homeland would do that!
This is what makes us unique in our second home...

A little last funny note:
Sally you might have heard about it in Beirut, Lebanese people don't consider themselves as Arabs. When asked, they would answer "We are Lebanese" or they would as well answwer "We are Phoenicians"...

Sally I am looking forward to see your film:)

at 15:10, 6 Sep 2005
Posts: 1
Sally Potter is currently on holiday but she will respond in due course. Thank you for your message.
sally potter
at 05:57, 12 Oct 2005
Posts: 193
Learning is a joyful process
Thank you for this long and generously informative message. A small note: perhaps for those of us who have a lot to learn it would be useful to remember that this should not be a cause of shame. To learn about anything, any place, and culture or history, is a joyful process. If we pretend to know more than we do, and are afraid to ask questions for fear of looking stupid, it will never happen.
at 03:54, 29 Oct 2005
Posts: 3
re phonecians
Dear Z

As far as my experience in Lebanon went was that Christian Lebanese (maronites) said they were not Arab but I don't recall any Lebanese Muslim saying that.
Is this the case?
If this is generally the case, then "Arabs" to Lebanese means Muslims , no?

On another note, in Iran, many of the people I met there insisted they were Persian, not Arab. This was not said along religious divides though , more along historical identity ones where they saw themselves as descendants of a once great empire.
at 14:46, 4 Dec 2005
Posts: 2
z, you want to know more
You ought to check As'ad Abu Khalil blog. He is a university professor in California, USA.

I am an Arab,Muslim and can't bring myself to say: American(there I said it.) I relate more to my Arabhood and not my religion of birth, Islam. I do speak and write in my mother tongue, the language of the Quran, Arabic. Sometimes, I manage to write in English with butchering it.
at 16:52, 4 Dec 2005
Posts: 3
professor's site
dear smhelen, thank you for the site! I've been reading the most recent posts, and I was especially interested in what the professor said about Bush referring to "murderous radical Islamic ideology." The fact is, we in America (at least in my part of America) get very few insights into Arab culture. It disturbs me that the few views that non-Muslim Americans get usually come from politicians, who are infamously prone to twisting facts. I know that there are scary extremists of all religions, but I think we need more channels of communication between citizens of the West and the Middle East--otherwise all we have is propoganda on either side.

again thanks--i'll keep looking at the blog.
sally potter
at 09:43, 24 Mar 2006
Posts: 193
i agree with you, Z. It is when the talking - and even more important. the listening - stops that the violence starts. As long as we keep communicating with each other and are curious and respectful about each other's differences, there can be no wish to harm another human. It just doesnt make sense. Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 'truth and reconciliation' forums have proved the power of talking and listening to overcome and even heal the legacy of terrible and brutal hostilities in South Africa and now in Northern Ireland as well.
sally potter
at 16:30, 20 Jul 2006
Posts: 193
dear friends, including those of you I have never met but who have written in this thread and elsewhere, I can only begin to guess at your suffering right now. I know I speak for many others as I offer you my deepest concern and solidarity.
at 10:49, 21 Jul 2006
Posts: 2
Thank you, Sally
I saw SIMON ABKARIAN in Los Angeles and told him about the demonstration taking place against this brutality. It was such a pleasure to run into him. He is directing a play in Los Angeles at the Actors Gang theatre group (fathered by Tim Robbins) I also saw Tim Robbins but did not speak to him. We need to wear red shirts in solidarity with the Lebanese.

God bless. God save Lebanon, and God protect Palestine and God help Iraq.
at 05:44, 26 Jul 2006
Posts: 2
Message to Lebanese Friends
Thank you Sally for the Message to Lebanese Friends.
When choices are made that cause such suffering, I often want to scream in rage, and shout, No, not in my name.
When we express solidarity, quietly, peacefully,like lighting a candle in prayer, I want to say,
Yes, in my name too.
at 14:25, 26 Jul 2006
Posts: 3
Victims of violence
I want to add my voice in sympathy for the citizens of Lebanon who are suffering. I know little of the politics that have been ripping apart the region, but it's plain that it's the innocent who are hit the hardest.

at 15:50, 31 Jul 2006
Posts: 0
As a Beiruti by birth and affinity, but also as a US citizen who must live with the shame of this wretched, pathetic and banally evid administtation and its trail of carnage in the Middle East and indeed everywhere on this planet, I thought I'd share one of the most insightful, well informed and rigorous assessments of what is going on now, ever since this blitzkrieg against the Land of Khalil Gibran, of the Cedars and of the twice obliterated Cana -- where water wwas turned into wine -- was launched by the weak prime minister of Israel.

It is by Tanya Reinhart, a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. It is from her article published in this week, entitled "Israel's New Middle East"

She writes from Tel Aviv:

"Beirut is burning, hundreds of Lebanese die, hundreds of thousands lose all they ever owned and become refugees, and all the world is doing is rescuing the "foreign passport" residents of what was just two weeks ago "the Paris of the Middle East"....

I think her entire account is worth reading, but as an American, and aware that there are other Americans who contribute to the on-going conversation about "Yes" and finding those special places where people can meet and thrive and love and create....I want to just quote her final lines:

...For the U.S., the Middle East is a "strategic playing field", where the game is establishing full U.S. domination. The U.S. already controls Iraq and Afghanistan, and considers Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and a few other states as friendly cooperating regimes. But even with this massive foothold, full U.S. domination is still far from established. Iran has only been strengthened by the Iraq war and refuses to accept the decrees of the master. Throughout the Arab world, including in the "friendly regimes", there is boiling anger at the U.S., at the heart of which is not only the occupation of Iraq, but the brutal oppression of the Palestinians, and the U.S. backing of Israel's policies. The new axis of the four enemie! s of the Bush administration (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) are bodies viewed by the Arab world as resisting U.S. or Israel's rule, and standing for Arab liberation. From Bush's perspective, he only has two years to consolidate his vision of complete U.S. control of the Middle East, and to do that, all seeds of resistance should be crushed in a devastating blow that will make it clear to every single Arab that obeying the master is the only way to stay alive. If Israel is willing to do the job, and crush not only the Palestinians, but also Lebanon and Hezbollah, then the U.S., torn from the inside by growing resentment over Bush's wars, and perhaps unable to send new soldiers to be killed for this cause right now, will give Israel all the backing it can. As Rice announced in her visit in Jerusalem on July 25, what is at stakes is "a new Middle East". "We will prevail" - she promised Olmert.

But Israel is not sacrificing its soldiers and citizens only to please t! he Bush administration. The "new Middle East" has been a dream of the Israeli ruling military circles since at least 1982, when Sharon led the country to the first Lebanon war with precisely this declared goal. Hezbollah's leaders have argued for years that its real long-term role is to protect Lebanon, whose army is too weak to do this. They have said that Israel has never given up its aspirations for Lebanon and that the only reason it pulled out of Southern Lebanon in 2000 is because Hezbollah's resistance has made maintaining the occupation too costly. Lebanon's people know what every Israeli old enough to remember knows - that in the vision of Ben Gurion, Israel's founding leader, Israel's border should be "natural", that is - the Jordan river in the East, and the Litani river of Lebanon in the north. In 1967, Israel gained control over the Jordan river, in the occupied Palestinian land, but all its attempts to establish the Litani border have failed so far.
As I argued in Israel/Palestine, already when the Isra! eli army left Southern Lebanon in 2000, the plans to return were ready.[12] But in Israel's military vision, in the next round, the land should be first "cleaned" of its residents, as Israel did when it occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967, and as it is doing now in southern Lebanon. To enable Israel's eventual realization of Ben Gurion's vision, it is necessary to establish a "friendly regime" in Lebanon, one that will collaborate in crushing any resistance. To do this, it is necessary first to destroy the country, as in the U.S. model of Iraq. These were precisely Sharon's declared aims in the first Lebanon war. Israel and the U.S. believe that now conditions have ripened enough that these aims can finally be realized.


So, I might conclude that it comes down to real estate, and the resources associated with it. It is, at the end of the day, still about oil...Finally, I highly recommend persons interested in how the people of Lebanon are set to overcome both the United States and Israel plans for their country and the world visit the website of electonic lebanon. it has just been set up and it is full of very appropriate content for this Yes conversation...It is obviously no coincidence that the unique cities of Havana and Beirut figure so prominently in the film, is it?

Thanks for your patience, eveyone, in this long post. I won't do it again, I promise!
at 16:05, 31 Jul 2006
Posts: 2
my post on lebanon, the long one
sorry folks, I forgot tosign off on that.

I am "michaelthescot".

my name sake was the translator of arabic/greek philosphy in the spanish court of toledo in the 15th century, --

another example of one of those special places where diversity breeds creativity and humanity...

anyway... Lebanon will prevail...
at 06:12, 7 Aug 2006
Posts: 1
Middle Eastern and americans
I am an american marrried 21 yrs to a muslim man, I am christian, neither of us practice our religion but we both believe in God, and have our other beliefs.It was never hard being married to him nor him with me, but since the war day by day I find mysef having to defend him, he is a wonderful man and because of our influence (america) in the region of the war most people believe only what they hear and see sometimes it is not the truth, only the truth to them..This movie was Wonderful Sally Potter we loved the movie, we related to so much of it. I will be sure to share this movie with friends who can understand it, we are not all so open minded as americans to see the whole Picture, WoW what a Movie I will watch it over again..THANk you for this movie I only hope others can understand as we know.
Angela S. Ali
at 05:30, 3 Sep 2006
Posts: 3
Beirut 60
I danced in Beirut in the 60`s. I learned the Twist in a nightclub on a mountain, I fell inout of love, I left my heart in Beirut... It was the Paris of the Desert.. I weep.. selfishly I weep......xs
sally potter
at 04:48, 19 Oct 2006
Posts: 193
With this particular thread I have become a reader. The messages, whether long or short, are gripping and moving and dont really seem to need a reply from me. I look forward to reading more.
at 19:56, 3 Dec 2006
Posts: 1
Eye on the West...
I am an Arab woman who lived a few years in London and Boston. It was a beautiful and quite an enriching experience. And one has to ask what do we thrive for exploring the unknown or exploring the West..

Let's be a little more self-critical as Middle Easterns... Yes we do know a lot about the Western Culture...but how much do we know of cultures on the "East of us"... The truth is there is a sense of inferiority that we feel and feed upon... and we believe that the more we know about the west...and the more we absorb the western culture... we would shed a little bit of this inferiority... On the other hand, those who feel superior probably politically... have no real interest in absorbing the culture of political inferior nations.. Only now..when we have become a source of problem to the West that there is an interest to understand us and where we come from...

I wish that one day... this hunger for knowing different cultures is triggered by more than sense of fear or inferiority...

Sally... I loved the film...and yours is one of the few movies that gives an indepth attention to how really a stranger might feel in the west... But I wish there was more attention given to some details of arabic culture... The dancing in the movie feels more Greek than Arab.. and the same goes for the music that was played in the party in Beirut...

Nonetheless a beautiful piece of Art and Expression
sally potter
at 08:27, 6 Dec 2006
Posts: 193
You are right
You are right to be puzzled. The music and the dance are both Armenian, in fact. This ambiguity of identity has been discussed at length in posts elsewhere on this messageboard and i have learnt a lot from the discussion. My original intention....that we never can quite pin down our hero's identity (coming from such a culturally complex city as Beirut) and therefore none of the stereotypes and preconceptions of him as a man from the Middle East will ever quite fit, has also led to confusion and disappointment in some quarters. With hindsight, or if I was doing the film over again i think i would have been more specific in my choices and have chosen, even if unstated, a clearer set of references, whether intentionally Arabic or more clearly Armenian. Either way, his character would have made similar choices, I think, and found himself defending an entire part of the world that was so little understood by those around him.

I agree with you that a desire for knowledge about other cultures based on fear is not the ideal motivation. But knowledge is still better than ignorance.
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