Kuwait Archives - 03 September 2004

Kuwait Journal

It seems to me that whilst we in Britain would readily denounce the habits of people from the rest of the world who come to our country for their insularity, we are not happy to practise that doctrine that we preach.

I’ve come to accept in my short time in Kuwait that I have been in the country and surrounded by ex-pats I’ve come to realise some unenviable home truths about the British that have become transparent as a result of my new vantage point outside of the country.

It’s been a long while since Britain ruled the world but we see in the behaviour of Brits abroad an arrogance that is no longer fitting with the way the new world order stands. Admittedly the west is militarily superior in virtually every respect due to that initial headstart way back when, and that has propelled the people of Britain to believe in their own invincibility.

Our development in the “western” sciences and arts has put us in the enviable position that it is our way of thinking that everyone in the world wants to learn, hence my advantageous position over here, ahead of legions of poorly paid but probably harder working Indians.

As a result the British and the Americans over here come over with an inflated sense of self-importance that at home we would not inflict on our fellow human beings. Many are rude and arrogant because things are so free and easy to obtain that we assign to everything a lower “value” in real terms.

Many ex-pats seem to come over with the attitude that they are going to behave exactly as they do at home but with less responsibility because they are not at home and do not have to answer to anyone that they would regard as their “superior”

As a result the attitude that some English people exhibit while abroad, all over the world, is quite deplorable. Though we expect rudeness from our “inferiors” we fall into the habit of “giving as good as we get” then simply being rude to pre-empt what’s coming. This unfortunate state of affairs leads us to the sad state that the locals never really stand much of a chance to show their hospitality before we ascribe to them simple sweepingly generalised labels.

Sadly this leaves me with wide open mind to explore what really should be well-charted territory alone while the ex-pats look on perplexed. Why would I, a native of Britain with a good British passport, have a desire to interact with the locals of Kuwait?

It was made painfully clear to me tonight that the ex-pats here are not interested in really finding out about how things are here, any deeper than it applies to themselves. This weekend I visited the local masjid (that’s the proper name for a mosque not the derogatory term ‘mosque’ which was used to deride the places by opponents in an earlier age, but has subsequently been adopted) to ask them to teach me about Islam.

The imam invited me in and showed me around then invited me back to attend a prayer meeting. Tonight was the night of the headmistress’s party at her house for new staff and I was there. Before the night was over, I mentioned that I had to leave to go to mosque to learn about Islam.

The whole place stopped and looked at me a little bewildered. Why would I want to go to masjid and learn about Islam when I’m in an Islamic country? What would possibly possess me to want to mix with these strange locals in my own time such that I would want to go clubbing with them if the opportunity presented itself?!

Yeah but that’s what I want to do. I’m not seeking to imitate the locals but to learn about them. As I’ve said before if I wanted to live like an Englishman I would stay in England.

[I must confess in editing this post in retrospect that I was ashamed of the other ex-pats. I really was ashamed that they were so narrow-minded and that they really didn’t give a shit about the religion or about finding out about the country where they lived. They were just there to leech off the place.]

Deeper than that sentiment though is the feeling that it is the responsibility of every man on earth to seek to understand and empathise with his neighbour, a responsibility that has been sadly neglected by most of the world as has been highlighted post-September 11.

We only have to look at recent events really to see that it is this lack of understanding and tolerance for our neighbours, which has led to the discord of our global society today. Following the events of September 11, the world was crying out for people in the west who understood the ways of the Arab world but it seemed that no-one had taken the time and responsibility before that time to bother to look.

The deficit in understanding was lethal and remains so to this day, and we have now reached a point where, on top of the ignorance and intolerance we also have suspicion thrown into the equation when considering relations with the people of the middle east.

It is a sad state of affairs really that we have allowed global relations to slip to this low. It seems that the world has largely lost hope, though it was with hope that I came out here looking for. Hope that in the heart of the Middle East I would find people with the breadth of mind to take on the challenge of understanding so foreign and strange a culture, so far removed from our own.

We are perplexed about the culture of Islam, that much is transparent in what I perceive to be the over the top reactions of our press in the west to the affairs of state of the people of the Middle East. It is with fear and ill comprehension that news is reported in the media and that fear breeds further resentment and more fear in a cycle of ignorance. When, I wonder will we step to the side and view our neighbours with eyes untainted by hatred and see that really we are all as one beneath the skin, regardless of our beliefs. Underneath it all we are but humans struggling to get through our lives by whatever beliefs or doctrines that serves us best. If instead we looked at the similarities and not the differences between us it would not take us long to realise that really we do believe in the same thing and that is peace among men.

What the ex-pats abroad, in their frustration and egocentric rantings, do not seem to take on board is that the locals seem as perplexed about us as we are by them. In our slight dissatisfaction we scream and yell at them and they think we are rude. But the responsibility I believe lies ultimately with us. Within our easy little existence, discomfort is almost redundant and we easily lose our tempers over minor issues while expecting much greater levels of tolerance from others for our rude behaviour.

Meanwhile the people of the Middle East look to the west with admiration for our achievements and what do we do but throw it back in their faces by being so rude and arrogant.

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