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Wolves of the Desert

June 29, 2010

The blog scene in the Middle East is fascinating. It provides great insight into social attitudes among the younger Saudis, Emiratis and Bahrainis. Admittedly most of those who blog in English tend to be socially liberal, in that they are very impatient with conservative attitudes in countries like Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t lead them to reject all aspects of their culture. All of them take their religion seriously, and consider themselves good muslims.

A friend in Saudi Arabia  – who is collaborating with me and a colleague on a book aimed at helping GCC students to adapt and prosper when they go to study at a Western university – sent me a blog posting talking about men from the Gulf who go abroad, chase after western women and break their hearts when they go home and revert to the conservative lifestyles they left behind.

He sent it to me because relating to the opposite sex is one of the hot topics of concern among Middle Eastern students when they go abroad. Many of the men have no experience of a woman of the same age, apart from siblings, because mixing between unmarried men and women is frowned upon, and strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

My friend was interested in my feedback. I responded to him in this way:

“Wow. That’s a full range of attitudes is it not? None of the guys would admit to being like those the lady was talking about, but I suspect there’s some truth in what she’s saying. But it’s always dangerous to generalize, and also dangerous to believe that if guys behave that way, that’s “how they are”. People experiment when they’re young. I did, most of my friends did.

What some people don’t realize is that western guys go equally crazy. I went to an all-boy boarding school. I doubt if I saw much more of single women than the average Saudi guy who goes abroad to study. Same with many girls, who are educated by religious orders (ie nuns). “Loving” and leaving people is not good in any society, but khaleejis are not unique in this.

As I keep saying, if you look for them you’ll find more similarities than differences!”

Some of the Arabic blogs are less benign, I’m afraid, and I hate to think how some of them would have reacted to the piece. But the open way in which the blogger and the people who commented debated the issue shows that it’s dangerous to stereotype the people of the Gulf.

From → Middle East, Social

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