The true Middle East

For Interim, I went to the United Arab Emirates – a country built on oil money like many others in the region, but arguably the ideal Middle Eastern country.

Unlike some other countries in the region, the UAE has started to really push sustainability projects, such as investing in tourism and alternative energies to prepare for when the oil dries up in about 93 years. As well, they’ve appointed a “Minister of Happiness” and begun to create an island called “Saadiyat” (which is Arabic for ‘Happiness”). They do still have sheikhs, but the sheiks act like governors of their states, and they have a president who is, as of recently, democratically elected via a parliament and an electoral college. They are slowly, yet surely, shifting towards a western-like democracy.

UAE is one of the safest places in the Middle East, if not the world, and continues to awe many with what they’ve been able to accomplish. It’s a bit sad that here, in the West, we shudder when we hear the name “Middle East.” The UAE is not the only safe place in the region, with Qatar and Oman being perfect examples of this.

I recently sent out a survey to SAS students asking four questions to show the inaccurate perceptions that many people have toward the Middle East. The results are as follows:

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Survey regarding how SAS students see the Middle East, by Matt Klauer

The questions I asked were incredibly general, and I meant to make it that way, because somehow we’ve come to think of it that way. It’s so much so that I could make any point and case on that through any article published by an American new outlet. Countries like the UAE, Oman, and Egypt have somehow become grouped with their more moderately dysfunctional neighbors.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent CNN article called, “Who lost the Middle East”… (as if the entire region was ever owned by anyone): “To listen to the presidential debates, particularly on the Republican side, you would think it was the absence of U.S. (read Barack Obama’s) leadership that is responsible for the current travails of a broken, angry, dysfunctional Middle East. Obama has no strategy in the Middle East, Jeb Bush says. The President is “making things worse in the minds of many Americans,” Marco Rubio charges. Ted Cruz, for his part, says the chaos in Syria and Iraq is a direct result of Obama’s failed policies.”

That’s the lead of the article, and the author of the article is Arthur Miller, a distinguished journalist who’s also worked as a U.S. negotiator in the Middle East. I have no issues with Miller himself and I truly appreciate his work, but this is how we’ve come to represent the Middle East as a whole. Even good journalists are failing to represent the Middle East properly.

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Abu Dhabi as seen from the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village. Photo by Matt Klauer

So, how should we solve this? Clearly we can’t just straight-up kick Iraq and Syria out of the Middle East. That would require the rewriting of history books and divine intervention.

There is no easy solution to this, but what we could do is start by not using the term “Middle East” to describe just Iraq and Syria. When articles are about Syria or Iraq, do not use the term “Middle East,” unless you want to actually talk about the “Middle East” as the entire region that it is. Otherwise, the general public is left to believe that ISIS is terrorizing and beheading people everywhere throughout the vast region. The general public isn’t going to stop everything they’re doing and go on a trip to a safe Middle Eastern country like the UAE, Oman, and Egypt just to see that that’s not the case, so they’re all left with false ideas and baseless opinions.

Here’s an ideal lead that I took from a BBC article titled, “Gulf States declare Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group”: “The GCC’s secretary-general accused the Iran-backed Shia group of recruiting youths from Gulf states for attacks.’

This lead is ideal because specifics are used. There’s no generic “Middle East” used or other generalizations. It simply puts it as it is. You can see that rather than using the “Middle East,” they use the “Gulf States” in order to not accidentally group any other nations in. They are only talking about the GCC (Gulf Cooperation council) states, so they only mention the GCC states.

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Dubai as seen from the Burj Khalifa, by Matt Klauer

The more we continue to be mindless about these generalizations, the more warped misconceptions on the Middle East get, and a society with warped and false views on issues is not a wise society. Just look at Donald Drumpf’s followers.

I hate standing up for political correctness because it can sometimes get pointlessly annoying, but when these kinds of incorrect generalizations end up influencing the success of presidential candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald Drumpf (Drumpf), it has to be stood up for. The Middle East is a fascinating place, and just because two countries in the region are actively embroiled in a war, it does not justify the demonization of the entire region.

So, please, let’s stop affiliating the entire Middle East with a small group of Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria. Such a rich and vast region like the Middle East truly deserves better.

Author: klauer46100

Matt Klauer is a sophomore Global Section editor for The Eye. He’s originally from Jacksonville, Florida, and is an out-of-the-box thinker, an enjoyer of precious sleep, and wants to colonize Mars sometime in his life. He can be contacted at klauer46100@sas.edu.sg.

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