Ask the Arab Guy

A lot of the world’s attention is focused on the Middle East right now, and has been for a long time. With everything that’s happening in Iraq and Palestine, it sometimes seems like people aren’t talking about anything else. However, with the focus on winning “hearts and minds” and with the concern over the opinions of the Arab world, a lot of people are suddenly speculating about what Arabs want, what Arabs feel, how Arabs see the US and their reactions to everything that has been happening.

So even though I might be leaving myself open for some grief here, (and possibly some accusations of being a one-trick pony) I’ve decided to start this thread so that people can maybe get a little insight into some of the above.

First off, a little background. I’m a 28-year old Arab male living in the UK, and a British citizen. While I wasn’t born here, I’m been living in the UK since I was three, and have therefore been raised and educated here pretty much all my life. I have family in Libya, Egypt, Dubai, and the UAE, and I’ve spent a little time in Egypt. While my loyalty to the UK is strong, I don’t consider myself “English”, and would identify myself primarily as an Arab and a Muslim.

Now I don’t presume to speak for all Arabs everywhere, and I’m certainly not an expert on political or religious matters, but I do consider myself to be a good example of your average “Mohammed Q Public.” :o)

So if there’s something you’re curious about, be it religious, political, cultural, etc, feel free to ask me and I’ll give it my best shot. Heck, we can even chat about baseball if you like, as long as you send me tickets to a Red Sox game. Finally, I wasn’t too sure whether MPSIMS was the best place to put this, so if any mods feel it would be more appropriate to IMHO or GD, please feel free to move it.

Are you as embarrassed and disgusted by Islamic extremists as we are of Bible-thumping fundies? :smiley:

Thanks for starting this, Bibliovore, and good luck.

I’ll go with the big fat burning GD question.

Why have the Arabs been against Israel for longer than Israel has been in existence? And after 56 years, why do they still refuse to recognize Israel?

To balance that, I’ll add a light question.

Please tell us about your favorite Arab foods, and how you rate them in comparison to Western cooking. I’ve found Moroccan cuisine to be much lighter and tastier than typical American fare. (Now I’ve got a baklava craving…)

Excellent idea for a thread Bib. Good on you.

I have no questions at the moment, but I wanted to subscribe to this thread so I can keep track of it.

You bet I am. I’d describe myself as a moderate Muslim, and some of the hateful rubbish spouted by extremist groups really makes me cringe. They’re doing incalculable damage to the perception of Islam and Muslims, and are fuelling a huge backlash against even those Muslims who want nothing to do with them.

Unfortunately, it’s the nuts and frothing bigots who get the most attention and sell the most papers, so people rarely hear about the everyday Muslims who just want to live their lives in peace. uit causes us no end of frustration, because no matter how often we denounce these groups and try to distance ourselves from them, we’re constantly being accused of either tacitly supporting them, or not doing enough to stop them

I, too, appreciate the opportunity to ask a question, Bibliovore.

I have heard fragments of conversations in which the cultural roots of some of the people in the Middle East was discussed. For instance, something was said about Arabs, Persians, Copts, etc., and how these groups of people may share their primary faith, but differ significantly in their culture and prefer not to be identified as a person from a different group.

I don’t know anyone of any of these groups well enough to ask the question, but I have been very curious. Could you speak to this if you are aware of information that would be useful for an outside like me to know?

Thanks so much.

Good question, although I’m not sure what you mean about Arabs being against Israel before it even existed. A lot of the resentment is due to the perception that Palestine was carved up by the British and handed to the Jews without bothering to consult with the people who already lived there. The Palestinians see it as their land, land that they have lived on for generations, and to suddenly have huge chunks of it given away is obvious cause for anger.

Skip to the modern day, and what Arabs see is a strong and powerful Israel, pumped up with American military hardware, and belligerently grabbing as much land as they can via the creation of settlements and other “facts on the ground”. Arabs see Israel blatantly flouting international law for decades, and doing so with impunity because they are protected by the American veto in the UN and NATO.

In short, many Arabs feel that Israel had no right to be there. However, many of them now accept that Israel is there and isn’t likely to go away, so they are looking to the “two-state solution” to provide the answers. Please note that I’m not saying whether any of the above opinions are right or wrong, I’m just saying that that is the common perception.

As for food, Lebanese is nice and light, as they use a lot of chicken, cucumber and yoghurt in their recipies. Libyan cuisine, on the other hand, is quite heavy and substantial. There is a strong Italian influence, so they use a lot of pasta, but they also use plenty of chick peas, lamb, onions and tomato sauces. My all-time favourite has to be my mother’s Libyan pasta, although I’m quite partial to cous-cous as well.

Do you feel there is a lot of discrimination within your community against Arab Christians, even in the UK? And how do Arab Muslims in a Western country react to Christian prosetylization in their community?

Thanks, Curly! I was feeling kind of bored anyway, so I thought I’d make myself useful for a change. :o)

OK…this needs to be addressed, because my mouth just started watering. :smiley:

Recipes, if you please.

I’m going to try to ask a question without going into a rant here…

I wasn’t aware until recently that there’s a lot of enthic groups in the Middle East. Kurds, Farsi, the list goes on. How many do you know of off the top of your head, and what distinguishes them from other Arabs?

Motion seconded!

And hey, you said you were bored, so I’m just trying to do my part…you’ve grown up biculturally, which is always a doozy. To what extent do you think your views on gender roles have been influenced by the culture you’ve grown up in, vs. the one your family is from? What challenges have you faced in that regard?

Excellent idea for a thread, Bib. I hope this clears up some ignorance and stereotyping.

My questions: have you ever been the subject of racial abuse? If so, has it got worse recently?

Argh, where was this thread two weeks ago?? I had a page of questions for you then! :stuck_out_tongue:

For my comparative religions class, I had to attend a religious service at either a synagogue or a mosque. Since I’m Jewish, I had to go to the mosque. I was very, very nervous about this. I was going alone, and for all I knew, they were getting ready to stone the Jew-lady.

The women (I had no contact with the men) were incredibly nice. The lady that I had spoken with briefly on the phone beforehand showed me around, explained what was going on, and even let me keep the headscarf she loaned me.

After speaking with her and the other women there, and my subsequent research for the paper I had to write, my view of women in Arab countries has completely changed. As one woman said so eloquently: “The veil! Why is everyone so caught up with the veil! We have no problem with the veil, we want to vote!”

Anyway, my point here is that because of people like yourself, my view of the Muslim world has completely changed. I no longer see it as a hostile religion, perverted beyond recognition. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to folks like myself.

I agree. I’d love to see Bibliomom’s recipie for Lybian pasta.

I’ve thought for a few years that if the Israelis and Arabs would just get over their issues, both sides would enjoy a wonderful cuisine exchange.

And, er, fourthed! Hey, I can do the Indian, I’d love to be able to cook Arab food!

Thanks for starting this thread bib. Like curly chick I don’t have any specific questions at this time but would like to keep up with this thread.

I’m anxious to see some of the recipes too. :slight_smile:

Oops. That should be Bib.

Not a problem. As far as ethnicity is concerned, we tend to lump ourselves into one broad ethnic group and think of ourselves as “Arabs”. However, Persians do not consider themselves to be Arabic, and neither do Copts. No one is really likely to take offense if you get it wrong, though, because you can’t really tell just by looking. Calling some from the Middle East an “Arab” is really your safest bet

I have personally never seen or heard any discriminatoin against Arab Christians here in the UK, and one of my best friends at high school was a Lebanese Christian. Having said that, I think you’re more likely to encounter lingering resentment and even bigotry in Lebanon as a result of the civil war.

From what I saw during my time in Egypt, Coptic Christians are a well-integrated and widely accepted part of society. You’d find Christian bookshops in the shopping malls, and taxi drivers with crucifixes hanging from the rear-view mirrors. You’ll always get some assholes making stupid cracks about the trinity, etc, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate any systemic or institutional discrimination against Christians. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying I haven’t sen it.

As for the second part of your question, Christian prosetylization is almost unheard of amongst Muslim communities living in the UK. You might get the odd Jehovah’s Witness knocking on your door, but otherwise it just doesn’t happen. It’s far more common to see missionary work in actual Muslim countries than in the West.