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Nedda Alammar

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Give the Arabs What They Want

Posted: 06/24/11 02:36 PM ET

Last week I read an article of pure praise for the protestors of the Arab Spring and I found myself wanting to throw a TV through a window. At first, I couldn't understand why I had such a violent reaction. Praising protestors is a good thing. I am a fan of protestors. I protested against the War on Iraq and thoroughly enjoyed my donuts and free transportation. But with every word of this article and the others I've read just like it, I can't help but cringe. Phrases like "you protestors can be like us and our democracy, good for you!" make me picture the Middle East as this barren desert with men driving around in jeeps carrying Kalashnikovs screaming Ayayayayay!

That's almost like saying all of America is like Arkansas, which it most certainly -- and thankfully -- is not.

The worst phrases in such articles are the ones that sound like a compliment but are really kind of insulting; like when someone tells you that you look really good, but just please don't gain any more weight. "I am not afraid of your people, no I am not; even though we think you hate us here in the West and will attack us again in no time."

But aside from my own personal bias, these articles do make me wonder. Is an American life really what the Arab world wants? Has it all been about jealousy, all this time?

Jealousy is often enough of a reason for something terrible happening. Someone screws you over at work. Someone steals your boyfriend. But I'd like to think that the relationship between the Arab World and the US is a bit more complex. I don't want to unravel its complexity, but I have to say, I just don't think it is about jealousy. Can attacks of violence really be over cable TV packages, iPhones, and 24 hr. Internet? When I was in Jordan last summer, I was watching BBC and CNN -- and I wasn't bunking with King Hussein and Queen Rania. And when I called up my local Verizon Fios to add Al Jazeera, they were like, Al Ja what?

I often wonder if the people who write these articles praising the protestors for wanting to catch up to the West have been to places in the Middle East other than the desert, or Libya thinking that they were in the Middle East. There are plenty of gorgeous cities; Amman, Beirut, Damascus, and before the war mess I'm sure Baghdad would've been included. Cities where you can get a hotel room, shop around, see some ruins, smoke shisha, have a yogurt drink and call it a night. Not to mention the technology alone is overwhelming. When I visited, I had to toss my cell phone even though I wasn't using it -- I was embarrassed to own it. Not even my basic is basic there.

As an American woman traveling in the Middle East, I found a lot to be jealous of. First of all, educated women are not the devil. In the Middle East, degrees speak like pedigree, as opposed to here where pedigree speaks like pedigree. And although I was considered a catch with all of my fanciness, I didn't have to worry about creepy guys murdering me. In the Middle East, men can't do so much as look at woman passing by -- let alone talk to her. It is considered disrespectful and worthy of a beat down by witnesses. Here in the states, I wish I could go outside in a tank top without some nasty single-toothed guy drooling at me saying 'hey, how ya doin doll' and all the other men just standing around picking their butts.

In the Middle East, getting married is like getting a boob job. You can get it, if you want it. And the men don't need a Millionaire Matchmaker to tell them what to do; they already know to make the first move and pay for everything. Here, I've cancelled dates because the guy didn't know he was supposed to pick me up.

And as for the abaya, I must say it's what underneath the abaya that counts. And it's all Prada, Gucci and Chanel.

So it is difficult for me to think that the entire Arab World is just jealous of America, since all of the Prada tells me otherwise. Although perhaps they are jealous of our ability to date openly before marriage -- that could be something, but that's a different conversation entirely.

So what is it? What do the Arabs really want?

I often ask my father such questions--he is the intellectual in our family. Although my mother says he is more of a lazy bastard than an Arab Muslim, I think a non-religious, non-cultural, slightly disinterested response is exactly what I needed to hear.

"Peace, quiet, and money,"
he said.
"That's what they want."
And that's when I realized, I kind of want that too.

 

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