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  • Review: What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East


    by guest
    10th December, 2009 at 7:25 pm    

    This is a guest post by Nesrine Malik.

    Let us establish something first. There is something wrong with the Middle East. There are indeed, several things wrong, and Brian Whitaker’s book, ‘What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East’ manages, with great insight and a perfectly pitched tone, to collate the most illuminating set of factors that contribute to this state. The title seems to have annoyed some Arabs, who predictably do not appreciate ‘outsiders’ airing their dirty laundry, and also irked non-Arabs who predictably do not think it is their place to tell Arabs what it wrong with them.

    But before I go any further, I must declare an interest. The author conducted several interviews with writers, bloggers, academics and journalists etc from the Middle East and I made a short contribution to a section on racism in the Arab World. This technique, in my view, makes the book a much more riveting work for all the personal anecdotes and front of line accounts exemplifying the various maladies from which Middle Eastern societies suffer. They are more than just ‘amusing incidents’ as Shloto Byrnes observes in the New Statesman. Instead of the usual top down approach to isolating the region’s ills, Brian Whitaker digs deeper to uncover the endemic causes of inequality and political stagnation. The book cuts to the chase by avoiding government and official sources of regurgitated propaganda and focusing on issues such as education, corruption, patriarchy and how religion informs politics and identity.

    As an Arab, I find that while there is anger at the status quo in the Middle East, there is a frustrating resignation to it, blaming as Whitaker put it, ‘the Other’, whether it is
    colonialism, historical legacies or conspiratorial Western hegemony. By daring to apportion blame onto values and traditions which help perpetuate unhealthy patterns, Whitaker strikes at the heart of the problem. Words like ‘asabiya’ (the predominance of blood ties) kinship and nepotism had me nodding unwittingly. Khaled Diab‘s quote, ‘Egypt has a million Mubaraks‘, perhaps best encapsulates the power of these dynamics. In the introduction Whitaker says, ‘governments are products of the societies they govern and in Arab countries it is often society, as much as the government itself, that stands in the way of progress.’

    The book isolates important issues as identified by the subjects interviewed in the book and no chapter is bereft of these narratives. The writer’s voice is unobtrusive, gently weaving these personal accounts with official statistics and reports while decoding subtle cultural concepts. This positions the book well to achieve what it sets out to, hopefully stimulating debate about change amongst Arabs themselves and also informing Western policy towards the Middle East, one that has frustratingly done little to understand or support grassroots.

    The chapter ‘Vitamin W’ for example, examines a serious problem, that of wasta, ie. nepotism and the pervasive nature of personal relationships where they have no place. Rarely have I conducted an official errand in any part of the Middle East without thinking first if I knew someone I could call upon first for a shortcut, even when the errand was straightforward. In fact, upon my last visit to Sudan I found that securing my exit visa independently without using my usual ‘wasta’ was a much quicker affair, much less time was squandered drinking tea with my contact in her office and making small talk. ‘Wasta’ is such an accepted and institutionalised part of everyday life that it does not occur to most like myself who employ it in a desire to circumvent arcane bureaucracy, that it is part and parcel of the corruption that stymies development.

    In addition, there is an insightful examination of how values inform the shape of governance. In my favourite chapter, ‘The Gilded Cage’, the writer makes the case that the ‘Arab family is a microcosm of the Arab state’ , paternalistic, fixated on honour and reputation, suspicious of individualism but also difficult to escape from due to the shelter it provides, a gilded cage, ‘protection and prison, security and bondage’. Submission to this self-replicating beast in my opinion is the origin of oppression, one that frowns on all forms of non-compliance and spawns ‘thinking inside the box’. This is the title of the book’s first chapter which states that ‘education in Arab countries is where the paternalism of traditional family structure, the authoritarianism of the state and the dogmatism of religion all meet, discouraging critical thought and analysis, stifling creativity and instilling submissiveness.’

    Even though the book is not kind to Arabs, it is not oblivious to the role Western regimes play in supporting and extending the rule of corrupt governments in the Arab World. Thankfully however, the writer does not dwell on this long. That the backwardness and subjugation of the Arab World is underwritten by a Western conspiracy keen on keeping the Arab genie in the bottle is the most frequent, facile and potentially dangerous excuse, for it absolves us of responsibility and deprives us of hope.

    I agree with the author that most Arabs prefer that change come about slowly, in my case in fear of backlash to revolutionary changes but I am not as optimistic as he is when he says that the question is not whether change will occur but how long it will take, having witnessed an actual regression in some areas in my own lifetime. But these are all snapshots in time, and I don’t think there’s a better place to start than confronting the very real and serious wrongs with the Middle East today.


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    1. pickles

      Blog post:: Review: What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East http://bit.ly/6kfkOG


    2. Dominique Rodier

      RT @NesrineMalik: My review of Brian Whitaker's 'What's Really Wrong With the Middle East' http://bit.ly/5eZzid


    3. Talkoholic

      RT @dominiquerdr: RT @NesrineMalik: My review of Brian Whitaker's 'What's Really Wrong With the Middle East' http://bit.ly/5eZzid


    4. Brian Whitaker

      Nesrine Malik reviews What's Really Wrong with the Middle East. http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/6815


    5. Talkoholic

      Reading: Pickled Politics » Review: What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East: http://bit.ly/5xzgIn via @addthis


    6. C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Closing the week 50

      [...] East Pickled Politics » Review: What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East Let us establish something first. There is something wrong with the Middle East. There are indeed, [...]




    1. Reza — on 10th December, 2009 at 12:22 pm  

      What an excellent analysis of Middle Eastern culture and the problems it causes in their societies.

      Everything described also applies to Iran.

      Racism, nepotism, corruption and blaming all your ills on the 'other'.

      In Iran the 'other' is invariably Britain, America, the CIA, MI5, Mossad, Zionists, those powerful and Sneaky Jews and the BBC (yes, the BBC!). Indeed anything other than themselves.

      I'm surprised to find this post here.

      Naturally however, all of these cultural traits disappear entirely when people from the Middle East emigrate to the West and only the positive aspects remain enriching our bland societies with rich cultural diversity enrichment.

    2. MaidMarian — on 10th December, 2009 at 12:45 pm  

      I don't know Reza - I think that your boring one dimensional argument and that bloody great chip on your shoulder are a great example of multiculturalism in action.

      In terms of blaming the 'other' but not yourself to the point of self-parody, it is clearly not a cultural trait lost on you.

      Even if many other things are.

    3. MaidMarian — on 10th December, 2009 at 12:50 pm  

      Nesrine - This might sound like an odd thing to say, but I really don't give a toss about the middle east any more. I wish I could think of another way of putting that that was a bit less combative, but I can't.

      When I was a student I cared, did my reading. Even up to a few years ago I got wound up as I watched the news. But now, I just think that all the coverage and talk is a self-reinforcing thing and that the area has a wildly disproportionate influence.

      There are many, many parts of the world that would benefit from a fraction of the coverage that I/P gets. Whatever anyone does, the people in the middle east will just start kicking away at each other. Let them. I honestly stopped caring.

      You talk about a frustrating resignation - sums it up well.

    4. Don — on 10th December, 2009 at 12:59 pm  

      Sounds interesting. And Byrnes's vacuously snotty review is a point in it's favour.

    5. Don — on 10th December, 2009 at 4:17 pm  

      its, damn it

    6. Bill Corr — on 10th December, 2009 at 11:02 pm  

      Am I the only person actually really IN the Middle East contributing here?

      Nesrine Malik tells the 100% truth but it is mildly surprising to read that someone is, yet again, stating the blindingly obvious.

      * People marry their first cousins or second cousins here, as do Pakistanis in Bradford.

      * Classroom cheating and lying are the norm not the exception. This attitude permeates the whole of society. Forged certificates and credentials are so commonplace as not to merit remark. We will NOT mention Egyptians or Iraqis or Palestinians-Jordanians in this context.

      * Vitamin 'W' - Wasta or 'Piston' in the vulgar French - is usually FAR more important than talent for anything of any consequence.

      However, for some things - like choosing a heart sugeon if a family member needs surgery - all the prejudices are unimportant.

      A disclosure: Those with longish memories will remember the supposedly-harrowing tale of how two - innocent - British nurses were accused of the murder of an Aussie nurse. Anyone remember? Well, that's where I am, KFMMC in Dhahran.

      I have no idea about libel laws so I will NOT say that the two bitches were as guilty as sin twenty times over but I'll simply state that the oldtimes here are unanimously of that opinion and believe that if the pair had been brown-skinned Third Worlders they'd have been executed.

      As it was, BAe Systems [so it is alleged and widely believed, but it may NOT be Gospel Truth] felt all this bad stuff in the UK papers was REALLY bad for the UK-KSA relationship and duly ponied up a generous sum of 'blood money' to the kin of the murdered Aussie woman.

    7. Bill Corr — on 10th December, 2009 at 11:15 pm  

      Whitaker's responsonse to the NS review was interesting.

      Wasta isn't necessarily evil; it really means a network of complex observations and responsibilities, as in Africa.

      The late Tom Mboya in Kenya was on the CIA payroll. The CIA evidently felt that Mboya, a pro-Western Catholic, was a good force for stability [compared to some totally irresponsible Kenyan politicians] and were, doubtless, aware that Mboya was helping out well over 100 relatives - sometimes being tapped for a loan, sometimes being asked to pay for a new school uniform … that sort of thing.

    8. damon — on 11th December, 2009 at 12:23 am  

      If you travel about in Arab countries as a western foreigner,m as I have in several, you can't help feeling like a total alien much of the time. And I don't just mean getting hastled to come in and look at tourist stuff (which is a bit of a hastle if you're not interested in bying tourist trinkits), but the conversations you end up having with people.
      So many conversations. Everyday people want to engage you in conversation, often the initial reason is to get your custom for something, but then personal questions about yourself, and I used to engage freely and often enjoy these conversations.
      (And it's usually with young men - never women). ''What is your job in England? How much is your salarry? Have you a wife? No. Girlfriend? are you christian? Why is George Bush and Tony Blair killing the muslims? How can I go to England?''

      And everytime it's almost the same. In Morocco, Tunisia, or Eqypt. Some of these conversations end well, and some not so well, as you feel that the guy and his friends think you are a bit of an idiot. ''In England, women can wear the miniskirts and have many boyfriends?'' I don't mean to be unkind, but as much as I liked being in those countries for weeks at a time, it was a bit of a relief to get away too.

      I felt that even if you lived there in the same place for years, you could only ever be ''the foreigner'' (and as a non muslim, not really a proper person). The French consul in a Moroccan town told me that was his experience after living there a long time and I could well believe it.

      That's the negative, but there was a lot of positive too that I liked abou the arab culture. One was the ease and formal respect and equality men had for each other. So there was no problem seven of them squeezing in to a battered old Peugeot share-taxi for a 100 km ride to another town. They all felt instantly at ease with each other. (The odd foriegner in with them was a curiosity, but they could be very polite). A woman in the car made things a bit more complicated, and seating arangements had to be carefully worked out as it was very sqashed). Same on buses in Jordan. It could be as squashed as you like, and the male foriegner was no different in that regard. Noone minded all the bodies all being jammed together standing up, as it was all good clean stuff. Everytime women got on their had to be a game of musical chairs, so that women sat next to other women, or at least a very old man etc.
      I thought that this seperation of the sexes ''helped'' this equality between men.

    9. Reza — on 11th December, 2009 at 1:05 am  

      Bill Corr

      It’s always interesting to hear the views of Westerners who actually live in the Middle East. I find that invariably, the naïve belief in moral and cultural equivalence disappears very quickly when people actually are able to experience Arab and Iranian Culture first hand.

      Damon

      Thanks for that, it made me chuckle. I recognise it well.

      And I agree, it’s not all bad. I’ve experienced levels of hospitality from strangers in Iran and on my travels in the Middle East that are simply staggering.

      In eastern Turkey, my partner and I arrived at a bus station late at night to discover that the only hotel in the village was full. One of the men playing backgammon and drinking tea at the bus station gave the impression that he knew a hotel and persuaded us to get into his car. He actually took us to his home where his wife and daughters fed us and put us up, very comfortably, for the night. The following day, I offered the guy some money (expecting him to ask for more) but he refused to take it, despite repeated offers.

      He insisted that we stay another night and that evening he asked us to pick up a chair each and follow him and his family who were all holding chairs. Confused, we did as he asked, and noticed dozens of people outside, walking in the same direction, all carrying a chair. We converged on a piece of open ground where a house had began being built, and I saw the villagers putting down their chairs, theatre style around a stage with a PA system and DJ on it..

      It was a wedding reception, and we spent the evening learning Kurdish dancing with strangers who instantly became our friends. And despite the fact that the men and women were sitting apart, our hosts were so sensitive that they allowed my partner and I to sit together with them, among the men.

      It was magical.

      (Throughout Eastern Turkey, my partner wore a hejab, long trousers and long sleeves, and I believe that this, together with my attempts to speak Turkish contributed to the wonderful treatment we received.)

      Sadly, our experiences in the Bazaars, on tours and our dealings with officialdom did not follow this pattern. Everything was a battle and almost everyone tried to rip us off.

      I’m interested if you’ve come across this contradiction in behaviour?

    10. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 1:43 am  

      Interesting book, though apart from the deliberately provocative title ( which we need to sell books with - imagine a book titled What's Wrong with the USA or China) I don't see what the fuss is?

      Everything the author talks about could be applied to a lesser/greater degree in other parts of the world . It's probably accurate, and will be familiar to anyone who has lived abroad and travelled around the globe - no?

      Actually this author has written a much more interesting book on homosexuality in the Middle East which I thought would be an original contribution to the region. Has anyone actually read it? Reviewed it?

      On travel in the Middle East which others have talked about - in my view it's the friendliest place i ever visited - and is also a view shared by other roaming travelling friends. Much like other Islamic places - including where i write form now, devoutly Islamic island off Banda Aceh called Pulau Wei, and yes, there is probably a whole lot of things bubbling away under the surface of this island which my fly-by presence doesn't understand, but first impressions aren't always wrong.

    11. cjcjc — on 11th December, 2009 at 2:00 am  

      So - nice to tourists but kill gays.
      OK.

    12. Vikrant — on 11th December, 2009 at 2:37 am  

      Anyone remember? Well, that's where I am, KFMMC in Dhahran.

      I remember it all too well, even though I was just an 8 year old boy who lived in Jubail back then.

    13. Bill Corr — on 11th December, 2009 at 2:38 am  

      cjcjc hasn't moved in the right circles.
      Muslim societies are magnets to British and American queers; Joe Orton and Cecil Beaton and so on just loved Morocco…

      Look, participation in homosexual activity is one of three things:
      1 - An amusing variant, as in cool bisexuality
      2 - A matter of conviction; one is 'unswervingly gay'
      3 - The only show in town, which is deal in prisons, sailing ships and most of the Middle East

      Homos in the MidEast develop very sensitive antenna …

      In all my years in and out of here since 1975 I've been propositioned maybe six times, which a [Brit] gay former friend of mine said he would consider a disappointing showing for an hour's stroll on the Corniche.

    14. cjcjc — on 11th December, 2009 at 2:46 am  

      No problem then.

      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/mid…

    15. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 3:08 am  

      Bill Corr

      Thanks - and yes, I have wondered how gay and lesbian groups flourish in places where respect for human rights generally are quite weak . Funny you should mention homosexuality in Morocco, a place I haven't been, but is of coarse you're right , just watched Brideshead Revised and Morocco is where the brother ends up living. I recall that Indonesia, too , has a huge gay scene, all underground, trendy, dynamic ( slightly stereotypical, though true). In Syria, too, i was struck by openly flamboyant gay professionals working in the tourism sector - and again was quite confused, so must read Brian Whitaker's book.

    16. Ravi Naik — on 11th December, 2009 at 3:22 am  

      Look, participation in homosexual activity is one of three things:
      1 - An amusing variant, as in cool bisexuality
      2 - A matter of conviction; one is 'unswervingly gay'
      3 - The only show in town, which is deal in prisons, sailing ships and most of the Middle East

      There is a fourth one, which is that light skin and hair are seen as female traits in those regions, which might explain why even heterosexual guys might hit on white men.

    17. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 3:36 am  

      “There is a fourth one, which is that light skin and hair are seen as female traits in those regions, which might explain why even heterosexual guys - in a sexually repressed society - might hit on white men.”

      Interesting, can you expand?

      Are you saying that white men in the Middle East aren't regarded as masculine or something? That is a , er.. , a slightly different view of the raging Western man in eastern imagery….

    18. cjcjc — on 11th December, 2009 at 3:40 am  

      Ooooo all so exciting and underground, erm just like Britain in the 50's….though we didn't go in for the torture and hanging bit.

    19. Ravi Naik — on 11th December, 2009 at 4:07 am  

      Interesting, can you expand? Are you saying that white men in the Middle East aren't regarded as masculine or something?

      It is based on anecdotal evidence, A good friend of mine when travelling to Egypt asked one of the locals why was he hitting on him after he said he was not gay, and the local responded that he had beautiful blonde hair and skin like the women he saw on a magazine. When reading Bill Corr's post I remembered this incident.

    20. Reza — on 11th December, 2009 at 4:09 am  

      Ravi

      “There is a fourth one, which is that light skin and hair are seen as female traits in those regions, which might explain why even heterosexual guys - in a sexually repressed society - might hit on white men.”

      Are you suggesting that non-white-Europeans are capable of 'racism'?

      Another reason, I believe, is that there is a view that Westerners are 'debauched' and ‘up for anything’.

      Certainly there is a view that Western women are ‘whores’.

      You’ll regularly encounter this attitude in the Middle East, and among people from those cultures in the UK.

    21. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 4:21 am  

      Thanks , Ravi, but jokes about western/eastern imagery aside, I found your comment interesting, because of coarse, for many people, beauty and what's considered attractive is linked usually to what's valued and esteemed in society , so i am guessing because the western gentleman was considered rich ( no doubt ) it was easy to acknowledge the man's attractiveness , reinforced with the images of beautiful blondes in the movies.

    22. Ravi Naik — on 11th December, 2009 at 4:24 am  

      Are you suggesting that non-white-Europeans are capable of 'racism'?

      You are really clueless, aren't you? I mean, I have accused you several times of being a racist and a bigot, so what do you think? (You seem to forget that you are an Iranian immigrant too often)

      Certainly there is a view that Western women are ‘whores’. You’ll regularly encounter this attitude in the Middle East, and among people from those cultures in the UK.

      Indeed, this is a misconception in societies where sex outside marriage is a taboo. But Britain and Europe had a similar mindset not so long ago, and even today, white Christian conservatives feel that women who have many sexual partners are whores.

    23. Ravi Naik — on 11th December, 2009 at 4:29 am  

      western gentleman was considered rich ( no doubt ) it was easy to acknowledge the man's attractiveness , reinforced with the images of beautiful blondes in the movies…

      And as Reza pointed out, the idea that Westerners are more sexually open.

    24. Reza — on 11th December, 2009 at 5:38 am  

      Ravi

      “You are really clueless, aren't you? I mean, I have accused you several times of being a racist and a bigot, so what do you think?”

      Fair point. My apologies. It was a cheap shot and putting words into your mouth in an attempt to make a point.

      “Indeed, this is a misconception in societies where sex outside marriage is a taboo.”

      Spot on.

      However, the (predictable) point I’ve tried to make in this debate is that throughout the world, different societies have differing cultures and values. Yes, there are always fundamental similarities. But all cultures are clearly not the same, as Nesrine Malik’s article demonstrates perfectly.

      The main problem I have with the ideology of multiculturalism is the assumption that mixing any cultures in any proportions will always result in harmony, mutual respect and even ‘celebration’.

      This is absurd.

      Understanding Middle Eastern culture as I do, I’ve felt very unsettled at times, observing the behaviour of Western tourists in countries like Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. Western women might see nothing wrong with flirting with or embarking on a holiday romance with a local guy. What they don’t understand however, is that they are not in the West. The man involved will in all likelihood not see it as ‘a bit of a laugh’ in the way a Western man would.

      They will often see it as an opportunity to have sex with a ‘whore’. And as such they will reinforce their low opinion of Western women to themselves and their peers.

      Similarly, the way some Western tourists dress in conservative areas in the Middle East demonstrates an ignorance and arrogant contempt of the mores of that society.

      Growing up in Britain, I’ve regularly associated with other Iranian men, both visiting students and settled immigrants. I can’t fail to notice that many who have arrived more recently or at an older age than me, or have grown up here in more conservative Iranian families, have a shocking lack of respect towards British women.

      They don’t have a problem with dating them or shagging them. They’ll do this with enthusiasm. They’ll even have a long term relationship or marry a British girl. But they never seem to get away from their perception of those women as somehow being ‘whores’.

      I’ve seen this conflict really mess guys up and damage their relationships, particularly when they’ve fallen in love with the woman concerned.

      We have to recognise that cultures are often very different.

      And we have to do more to ensure that everyone understands that the way they behave or think in their culture will not automatically be acceptable to another culture.

      For me, the ideology multiculturalism prevents this approach. It denies that cultures can be inherently different.

      It doesn’t encourage people to behave in a way that respects a ‘host’ culture.

      And subsequently, it engenders disrespect, intolerance and suspicion.

    25. damon — on 11th December, 2009 at 7:00 am  

      Halima

      Everything the author talks about could be applied to a lesser/greater degree in other parts of the world . It's probably accurate, and will be familiar to anyone who has lived abroad and travelled around the globe - no?

      Yes a bit, but somethings are more specific to the arab world as there is this sense of theselves as one people and feel keenly about other arabs.
      Noone in Morocco seems to give a stuff about Darfur, but all seem to feel keenly about Palestine. And since 9-11 particularly, as they are often forbidden from discussing politics in their own countries they take great interest in Iraq, and while I used to love just spending time in local everyday cafes, (and it was nice for older men to give you a nod and a greeting as you sat down), sometimes it felt a bit uncomfortable when the news came on the TV and Al Jazeera was showing scenes of distruction in Iraq. Or when Israel killed the wheelchair bound Hamas sheikh in 2004, it made uncomfortable watching from the cafe in Morocco where I was.

      But some of the nicest kind guestures I have found are simple welcomes from Palestinians in the West Bank when getting into a share taxi. A bit scary too (even pre 2nd intifada, because someone could ''accuse'' you of being an American or something.) I felt that there was a push/pull feeling for the west and Europe from young arab men. They were fascinated by it, but repelled by it to in many ways.

      Xena: Warrior Princess seemed to be a big hit in the region with young guys for some reason. And European young women travelling about independently with their packpacks must have come across as quite exotic and strange.
      I remember one strapping young American woman in T shirt, jeans and boots, a big backpack, and her blond hair in a long plait (in Egypt) asking ''what's wrong with these guys?'' They ogled her everywhere she went and tried to touch her she complained.
      She wasn't talking to me directly so I didn't say anything, but she reminded me of Xena.

      Halima, I was thiking of crossing over from KL where I am, to Sumatra on the ferry, but I didn't want to go if people were still too traumatised by the tsunami to be thinking about having visitors. Is it OK to go?
      Pulau Wei off the northen coast must have been the hardest hit of all?

    26. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 7:54 am  

      Damon,

      maybe there is something about an 'Arab' perspective, though I was reflecting on the same characteristics you describe about South East Asia, as you will know, politics isn't the thing here, and in China ( East Asia) everyone is a foreigner who isn't Han Chinese, let alone a real foreigner, foreigner like me. In much of central America and Latin America, the US is the bogey-man, in Nepal, it is India. The point i am making is that there is always an external other one can foist lots of frustrations upon - some legitimate, some not.

      It's interesting to hear your observations about the different Middle Eastern countries, especially Xena Warrior Princess (?!), I've pasted through that part of the world ( not the gulf states), and almost always travelled with other female friends, and unlike say, India, or Bangladesh, where women get stared at, and especially as non-white women we're not afforded the protection of being 'foreign and maybe important and rich', we managed to get on fine and had the most intimate holiday encounters where families of women with children would invite us into their homes - something which isn't doable with male travellors of course. Equally, though we never sat down in the cafes where the men smoked so.

      Still, on the point about Darfur, i think the whole world is guility and as you know there is lots of rivalry between Arab states and African leaders on how to manage regional conflict and tension. My own view is it shameful that Darfur is ignored by everyone.

      Are you talking about the ferry to Pekanbaru? If so, it's fine. I am travelling with a travel writer on Indonesia who confirms that it's OK to travel to these regions, obviously not in Padang on the west coast. The main attractions around Pekanbaru are Bukittingi, (very nice, set in beautiful countryside,) and further towards Medan Danautoba which is also stunning.

      Pulau Wei seems beautiful - people seem keen to see you here, even if remote and great for diving as its still untouched. The local people are desperate for tourists to come and revive the local economy, and 'tsunami tourism' seems to be the new thing, but it is so sad to see, in my mind, without being scientific, Banda Aceh seems incredibly poor in terms of development. It was a bit odd getting the ferry across from Banda Aceh and well, thinking about these waters in the tsunami.

    27. damon — on 11th December, 2009 at 10:41 am  

      Thanks Halima, I'm not even sure where the ferries go yet. I just thought it might not be the place to go. But think I will know and will look up the places you've mentioned.
      Hang on …. I just googled it, and the ferry to Pekanbaru sank a few weeks ago and 29 people died.

    28. MiriamBinder — on 11th December, 2009 at 11:05 am  

      At Reva “Certainly there is a view that Western women are ‘whores’.”

      One view held by some people, not all. In fact not all by a long shot.

    29. JamestheVIII — on 11th December, 2009 at 11:14 am  

      Reading up on the middle east it is very confused and mish mash of several ideologies they have had everything from communism to capitalism, they have had dictatorships to monarchies. None of these have transformed the region into anything resembling stability or nations who have progressed. Of course no one can escape the obvious western agencies have interfered in the region for decades and continue to do so.

      the only people who can change the situation is the people themselves if they want democracy, socialism or islam then they have to fight hard for it, it will not be handed on a plate for them.

    30. Reza — on 11th December, 2009 at 12:29 pm  

      Miriam

      “One view held by some people, not all. In fact not all by a long shot.”

      And I'm not suggesting for a moment that it is held by all men in the Middle East. It's simply prevalent, to a much higher degree in that culture.

    31. MiriamBinder — on 11th December, 2009 at 2:01 pm  

      Glad to read the expansion to your original statement

    32. halima — on 11th December, 2009 at 7:26 pm  

      oh… i didn't realise it was Pekanbaru where the accident took place. but Pulau Wei is good, just can't pick up a visa on arrival in Banda aceh like everywhere else inIndonesia, but otherwise OK.

    33. damon — on 12th December, 2009 at 6:10 am  

      This is a hard issue if you don't want to be overly negative. The question being ''what's wrong in the middle east?''
      Well, when I was in Dubai a couple of weeks ago, I saw a lot wrong there. I said on PP earlier that it looked like a slave society, with no freedom of speech and the obvious and contemptuous exploitation of immigrant labour. And everywhere you go is the grim face of Sheik Maktoum looking down on you from posters and banners.
      So I'll laugh if the whole gaudy project goes belly up financally. It's vulgar. Everything about it.
      But of course that's the ''liberal'' exception in the Gulf, and I'm not sure what's worse. (Of course Saudia Arabia is).
      The Emeraties are said to be proud of their desert culture, and even though they might look like soft mummy's boys hanging out at the mall, all immaculate and groomed in their dishdasha's (holding their Gucci manbags), they apparently like nothing better than to take the 4×4 out into the desert for a bit of back to nature stuff (though I bet they bring their servants with them to put up the tents and cook the food).

      ''Arabists'' will point out that untill just recently these people really were living in the desert, and even though they now live in luxury villas, their culture still is infused with that from the harsh environment that they so recently left.
      All that stuff that explorerers across Arabia like Wilfred Thesiger described, and which the bookshops in Dubai have loads of picture books of.
      The same for the Bedouin, and who knows, maybe the Berbers of the Maghreb, and the Marsh Arabs of Iraq too. The tribes, the local strong men, the political class, all scrapping for power. Obviously the Baathists of Syria know that as soon as they lose power that they're done for.
      This all sounds terribly imperialistic and orientalist though.

      But I have been working this year right next to London's Edgware road Arab shops and cafes. Is it something to do with the particrhal culture and the seperation between men and women? That particular Arab culture that you pick up? Which is as obvious as being in in a chinese enviroment. Here in Kuala Lumpar lots of young women wear hijabs, but still walk down the road holding hands with their boyfriend. In Dubai their are notices forbiding people of such practices (at the entrances to shopping malls).
      Here it seems that people do what they like.
      And then, just outside this internet place in the middle of the city, there are a group of Arab tourists in their 20's at a shisha bar, and I looked at them for a minute, They look just like similar guys in London. All guys, having a laugh and commenting on all the people walking past them. I'd love to know what they think of a supposedly muslim country like this and seeing so many women out and about on a saturday night and wearing whatever they want and going out with whoever they want. They might think it's haram - or they might think it's great (I don't know). Would they be happy to see their sisters out having a good time like these young KL women are doing?

      Like pornography, this blog is blocked in Dubai for some reason.
      http://secretdubai.blogspot.com/

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