In Western Society, one grows up in a world that is utterly alien and foreign to the Middle East. We develop our “knowledge” of foreign cultures through education at school and by the media. Whether it is on local news, or by watching a film about the Middle East, we build our perceptions on these images. The image of Bedouin wanderers, in their flowing robes, and a devotion to material items gives one the wrong impression of a more complex civilization. I grew up watching films like “Lawrence of Arabia,” and although I am not a fan of the “Sex and the City 2” film, I did see it. In these two films, one receives a misunderstanding of Middle Eastern culture. Women in various places on the Arabian Peninsula enjoy the same liberties and the same freedoms that women in the West do. Nor are all the men crazed extremist wanting to destroy buildings, planes, or people. However, in our minds, even though we are human beings, we still have great differences to overcome besides stereotypes.
Besides the stereotypes that have been growing in our minds about the Middle East, we also must consider their culture. The consensus of Middle Eastern culture by the West, is that it is still in the 19th century. However, that is not the case. With Mustafa Kemal and the role he played in the beginnings of the Turkish Republic, we can see that other Middle Eastern nations are also attempting to modernize their countries so that they may participate with Western society. At various times after World War I, various nations like Iran also modernized, even though it was through totalitarian means. However, as much as Middle Eastern countries try to modernize under democratic thought, I don’t think that it will work.
Politics in the Middle East are extremely complex and not as simple as many think. The various political structures in the Middle East can be broken down to a simple axiom that their culture ingrained into them for centuries, “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers.” Throw in the ideals offered by Islam, over a thousand years of wars, including tribal wars, wars against the Turks, and wars against invading Crusaders, all building a defensive political mindset. Middle East politics is complex precisely because of the religious factor. When there are two divisions of faith, and divisions at tribal levels, it becomes difficult to arrive at a consensus at the national level. I think that if Middle Eastern countries could “get with the program” then all would be good in the world, however, that is not going to be the case. Although Islam, as taught by Mohammed was not a hateful religion toward other faiths such as Christianity, and Judaism, after 1000 years, hate still drives all sides. However, I still wish to remain hopeful that there is some common ground that we as human beings can come to and work together.