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What is the Middle East?

It is a geographical region encompassing between 16 and 24 nations, depending on whom you ask. It is the religious center of the world for roughly 3.75 billion people. It is a common catchword often associated by the media with violence, oppression, corruption and radicalism.

Unfortunately, it is this third point which Americans most frequently remember when they hear or think of the Middle East. Owing to media stereotyping, the majority of news coming out of the region focuses on its negative aspects (such as violence and instability), painting a picture of it for the American public as a dangerous and irrational place.

While there are indeed certain areas which travelers are advised to avoid (northern Yemen, central Iraq and most of Somalia, for example), such locations are grossly outnumbered by the many safe, tourist-friendly sites and cities one could easily visit, ranging from Istanbul to Aleppo, and Abu Dhabi to the Dead Sea.

Americans should not be afraid of the Middle East, and they should avoid looking askance at it with a wary eye. Having spent the previous semester studying in Amman, Jordan, and having traveled over much of the region, I was amazed by the boundless hospitality I encountered among the locals. The anti-American sentiment that is assumed to be so pervasive over there is largely an illusion, created by individuals seeking to make a profit through controversial news.

As an example, the widely broadcasted celebrations in the streets following the 9/11 attacks, which were portrayed by some as the common sentiment across the region, were actually only filmed in two or three locations. These films, which sparked so much controversy and attention, came primarily from Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and Lebanon, where “celebrators” were bribed to appear happy on camera.

Although some of those celebrating may indeed have been pleased, they are hardly representative of the Palestinian, Arab or Muslim people as a whole. As well, broadcasting images of an Iranian cleric inciting crowds to chant “Death to America, death to Israel” is far from a true representation of the Iranian people’s opinions. The large-scale grassroots protests which followed the rigged 2009 elections in Iran seem to be a far more accurate measure of that.

The majority of Arabs I interacted with while abroad became very excited when they realized I was an American, and were quick to point out the difference between their disapproval of American foreign policies and their respect and admiration for the American people. They may not like our government, but they like us.

The Jordanians I spoke with about this were well aware that they are not viewed very highly in the U.S., and frequently expressed their willingness to fix that image. Many Jordanians were ecstatic that we, as Americans, were willing to come to their country, learn their language and endeavor to understand their culture.

Naturally, it was very exciting for them to share who they are and what they have with outsiders. This innate fear Americans have of the Middle East is unfortunately holding us back from better understanding a rich, complex and fascinating part of the world.

The myriad, different peoples who live across the region are, generally speaking, very amiable and sociable. At the risk of sounding cliché, they are not so different from us. They play soccer. They enjoy good music. They write literature. They love hummus.

Although they do have a different belief system, it is still founded on the same basic concepts of charity, peace and respect preached by Judaism and Christianity, and it emphasizes generosity and hospitality as lifelong duties.

In truth, Americans traveling in the Middle East have relatively little to fear. Provided they travel with an open mind and flexible attitude, they will be amazed at the warmth of the welcome and the breadth of the culture they are bound to encounter. The region and its people have much to offer, and we as Americans have much to learn both from and about them.

0 responses to “Why we shouldn't be afraid of the Middle East”

  1. Adam Ondo says:

    Keep in mind that if you travel to Iran you may be held hostage, especially if you are hikers or embassy workers. Also, don’t go to Lebanon if you are a college student (especially American University in Beirut), or you may be killed. And be careful walking around outside of Gaza with mortar shells raining down on the streets and Israeli airstrikes happening overhead. And if you like kissing your girlfriend in public, the United Arab Emirates are out of the question unless you want to spend a month in jail. And if you are planning to be a reporter, stay out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. And if you are a missionary, then Iran and Saudi Arabia isn’t for you, either, as you will be lashed and your bibles shredded.

    If those things don’t apply to you, then you’ll probably be safe.

    PS: Those 9/11 celebrations took place across Saudi Arabia, too, which you failed to mention. Also, op-eds in Egyptian papers praising bin Laden got good marks from Egyptian Muslims. I know this because I have friends from over there who admit that many Muslims, from all over the place, did celebrate after 9/11.

  2. Aaron Burro says:

    Keep in mind that if you travel to Wyoming you may get beaten up and tied to the side of the road, especially if you are gay. Also, don’t go to Chicago if you are a high school student (especially a CPS student), or you may be killed on your way to school. And don’t let your children out of your sight in a mall, gas station, front yard or bedroom, unless you want them kidnapped and murdered. Oh, if you want to have a drink once you’re 21, don’t go to BYU. And if you’re Muslim, stay out of Adam Ondo’s dorm room.

    If these things don’t apply to you, then you’re probably safe traveling the country.

    PS: Don’t turn on the radio or Fox News, because you’ll hear people celebrating about the Japan earthquake, Hurricane Katrina or the attempted murder of a congresswoman. I know this because I have friends from over here who admit that many conservatives, all over the place, did celebrate after all those tragic events.

    Stop with your hate agenda, Adam, it’s disgusting.

    • Adam Ondo says:

      See, you’re comment is the disgusting one. You pervert everything I say and label my comment as “hateful” when it clearly is not. Your examples aren’t government sanctioned like mine. My examples prove that there is strong anti-American resentment and anti-Christian resentment in certain countries that this article tries to claim are safe for Americans to travel to. I pointed out the awful things that Muslim governments have done to tourists. You pointed out that criminals are bad. Your example was quite pitiful.

      And not drinking isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

      PS: IF you don’t believe my comment, take a box of bibles to Saudi Arabia and start handing them out in front of the police station. Then we’ll see if I’m exaggerating things.

      • Aaron Burro says:

        Adam, there is strong anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-minority legislation being proposed every day by Republican governments in the midwest and South. There is plenty of government-sanctioned discrimination and violence here. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t visit the United States, and it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t visit the UAE. And not making out in public isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

        And I wouldn’t start handing out bibles in Saudi Arabia because I’m not an asshole. The fact that you that (and burning of a Koran) is a reasonable thing to do further underscores how ridiculous and non-existent your moral code is.

        • Adam Ondo says:

          I’m sorry, spreading the gospel to every corner of the world is one of the main tenants of Mormonism. Why do you think we’re building temples in Nigeria and have them in Ukraine and Hong Kong and have a strong presence in El Salvador. I’m sorry if you think fighting against evil and trying to spread the gospel makes one’s moral code ridiculous and non-existent, because that just shows the world how ridiculous and morally corrupt you are.

          • Aaron Burro says:

            Yeah, “spreading the gospel,” Adam, isn’t about standing in front of a police station in Saudi Arabia (or is it, and that’s why the Mormon Saudi revolution has been so slow coming?). It’s about speaking to people, and talking to people as human beings (not potential terrorists) with respect about Jesus and God and the loving, redemptive qualities of the Bible (or has your laundry list of Vengeful God passages that you’re handing out in front of Arab police stations an equally unsuccessful method). So yeah, thanks for lesson, but everything you’ve ever said here has proven exactly how morally bankrupt you are. Maybe spend more time reading the Gospel.

          • Adam Ondo says:

            It’s hard to talk to people about things when the authorities are going to lash you and imprison you for being a missionary. It is Middle Eastern governments and politicians that are morally bankrupt, I’m one of the few holy people left. Luckily, my persistence and will is much stronger than most, and I don’t fear death, so in the end I will win and they will lose. They will know fear and the people they hurt will become the triumphant ones. Then they’ll face their real judgment in a burning lake of sulfur and suffer for eternity, that’s what they’ll get for lashing missionaries and supporting terrorism.

  3. ADAM MATTISON says:

    What you are ignoring is the fact that, as a traveler in a foreign land, you are expected to understand and respect the cultural norms and expectations of the society you are visiting, irrelevant of whether or not you agree with them. Assuming a culture is “bad” because of this or that tradition is a naïve and boorish way of looking at the world. One doesn’t go to the U.A.E and kiss his girlfriend in public because that is not culturally acceptable, just like one doesn’t walk up to a kosher deli in Tel Aviv and demand a ham and cheese sandwich, or walk into an American church service wearing a shirt with a vulgar image. Understanding the culture and its taboos is your expected responsibility as a traveler no matter where you are.

    As for your other claims, easily 40 to 50 students from my study abroad program spent a significant amount of time traveling around Lebanon throughout the semester, especially in Beirut and Tripoli, without incident. Some even spent the full 9 day vacation we had doing research there. It is one of the most beautiful nations and, generally speaking, has one of the most liberal cultures in the Middle East. Although a radical organization (Hezbollah) does hold a considerable amount of power in the country, it is still a hugely popular destination for European and other Western tourists. As well, I don’t understand how you could see the AUB as such a dangerous place when it has over 6,000 students, many of them foreign, and a very good track record of student safety.

    If you plan on being a reporter in Iraq then that is a risk you willingly accept, and you are incurring the same dangers that being a reporter in Chechnya, the Sudan, and certain areas of Mexico would entail. They are all warzones. Iraq is not special in that regard.

    If you are a missionary then, as I stated in my article, you should read up on, understand and respect the laws and traditions of whatever nation you plan on working in, whether you agree with them or not. Proselytizing is illegal in many nations across the Middle East, and if you choose to do so anyway and are punished, then you have no-one to blame but yourself.

    Traveling to Gaza or Iran right now is simply stupid, and is not recommended by any Western government. However, if you choose to ignore the countless other places you could be visiting (Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Israel, Dubai, Turkey) and go there anyway, then I sincerely wish you the best. I personally traveled to Jerusalem and the West Bank (namely Bethlehem and a Palestinian refugee camp), and did not at any point feel unsafe or in danger.

    Concerning the celebrations in Saudi Arabia following 9/11, and your pro-Bin Laden Egyptians, as I stated in my article, they do not represent the Arab population nor the Muslim world as a whole. You are going to find radicals in every society who celebrate violence and tragedies which the vast majority of citizens view as horrific. The Ku Klux Klan is still a very powerful white supremacist group here. There are still neo-Nazis in Germany. Xenophobia has been on the rise in Russia. That doesn’t mean that the majority of Americans, Germans or Russians are zealots, racists and paranoid fools. Just the ones who like to see themselves on the front page of the newspaper.

    • Adam Ondo says:

      What you fail to mention is that if I asked for a ham sandwich in Jerusalem, I would not be lashed for it, merely ridiculed. That is why Muslim nations are barbaric. And AUB had three students killed there, which is what I was referencing. Also, reporters are respected in many war zones. Reporters even get interviews with the opposing side, sometimes. Sometimes they are killed by accident as bombs and gunfire don’t discriminate during a real battle, but then you go to the Mideast and you get your head chopped off even when there is no battle going on and you are not a threat. That is unacceptable and violates international law.

      • Aaron Burro says:

        Please link to any news articles that indicate that anyone has been lashed for asking for a sandwich in a Muslim country.

        • Adam Ondo says:

          The point was that ham sandwiches aren’t comparable about kissing in public and handing out bibles because the latter will get you lashed. That’s why the ham sandwich was a bad example.

      • ADAM MATTISON says:

        I did not mention that because it would not happen. Your comments prove that you have never had any personal experience traveling in a Muslim country, and that you are just using ridiculous stereotypes to make ridiculous arguments.

        Concerning reporters, you are giving the impression that every journalist in the ME is in danger no matter where they go, which is nonsense. The only journalist deaths in the ME this year have been in areas of conflict (Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt), ( As well, journalists are more likely to be in danger because they SEARCH FOR CONFLICT, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way. And, as stated above, that is the case in EVERY country, not just in the Middle East. Look up Anna Politkovskaya, or Sean Flynn for more information.

        Also, unless you provide evidence that students were killed at AUB, then readers here have no reason to believe you are telling the truth.

  4. Taylor B. says:

    “violates international law.”

    Are you kidding me? And killing innocent people indiscriminately such as you seem to feel is acceptable is not a violation of international law? What was it you mentioned a few days ago, rollback? At least pretend not to be a complete hypocrite who can’t get their own head out of their ass.

    • Adam Ondo says:

      Indiscriminately killing someone is not nearly as bad as targeting someone you know is innocent and should not be killed. If I throw a grenade at an enemy combatant and accidentally kill two civilians along with the enemy combatant, that is okay. If I have a gun and shoot the enemy combatant and then proceed to shoot the unarmed civilians, that is a war crime. Things like My Lai are atrocities, because soldiers were targeting civilians, while Hiroshima and Dresden are not, because we couldn’t very well program the bombs to only blow up who and what we wanted to destroy.

      As for being a hypocrite, look at the countries I’m talking about. They shred bibles and think it’s okay, but then we burn the Qu’ran and apparently it gives them justification to kill people and riot. These aren’t people, they are not logical, that’s why rollback is the only option.

      • ADAM MATTISON says:

        So, when Americans riot, then they cease to be people as well, and it becomes acceptable to use indiscriminate force to keep them under control?

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