Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land

The cultural differences between Middle Eastern and American society go far beyond religion. It is quite obvious that Islamic beliefs and Christian fundamentals are major factors in our current global conflict. However, I would argue that there is much more involved in why we are struggling to find peace with the Arab world.

The Arabic language is full of rhetoric and repetition. Americans are direct, to the point. We say what we mean and we generally mean what we say. We use a good bit of slang and jargon, but the point is usually made once during communication. Arabic literature and speech, and speech and literature are filled with excessive, repetitive, redundant statements and over explained ideas. Extremes in emotional expression and length of dialog are common in the languages of the Middle East.

The concept of productivity and the importance of time management are completely alien to the Iraqi citizen. The Arabic phrase, In Shallah (As God wills it) is the common answer to most requests involving a deadline. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Maybe,” or, “If I feel like it.”

Ask any American serviceman who has been deployed to Kuwait or Iraq and they can probably provide you with a story or two of bizarre cultural behavior. The list is long, but I mention these few examples because I only recently realized them through my experience working with Iraqi's.

A recommended reading list from U. S. Central Command includes the book, “The Arab Mind,” by Raphael Patai. In it, he gives a literary example of how the Middle Eastern culture views their fellow man.

“I and my brother against my cousins, I and my cousins against the world.”

Can we create a treaty or security agreements between such polar opposite nations? Should we have to compromise against a country we defeated? What do you think when you see Army Commanders kissing a Koran as an apology for a soldier who was just trying to BZO his weapon?

Is our strategy in Iraq creating a safer America or are we just making a futile effort to change a culture that has been around longer than any other civilization in the world?

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