This Is Whom You Fear
This Is Whom You Fear #egypt
by Doug Baum on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 at 17:14
I’ve recently returned home from a three-week trip to Egypt and Jordan, where I work as a tour guide. One day, while shopping in the historic bazaar, Khan El Khalili, a BBC-TV reporter approached me and asked if I would mind being interviewed. The topic would be how I felt as an American visiting Egypt one year after their revolution.
With complete honesty I answered the questions, mentioning I’ve been coming to the region for eleven years, was hopeful for the Egyptian people and had been treated with nothing but warmth and hospitality on each and every trip. As the camera and microphone were set up, a crowd gathered around, listening intently, silent in stark contrast to the nearby Cairo traffic. The thirty-odd folks, mostly gentlemen, were hanging on every word I said and, short of lifting me on shoulders and dumping a cooler of Gatorade on me, I felt like the winning coach of the Super Bowl. It was evident those standing by were pleased with my answers. “Thank you so much for your kind words about our country,” one said. “We’re so afraid people in America only see bad things about Egypt on TV,” another echoed.
It’s not uncommon, as I prepare for a trip to the Middle East, to hear warnings from folks in the US to be safe, to watch out. Be careful. “You know they all hate us.” Now, for those of you who don’t get your information about the Middle East from TV news and Hollywood film, this FB Note is not for you. Bigots, the prejudiced and the ignorant, only, need read further.
Hatred, I believe, is rooted in fear. Humans fear what we don’t understand. Those among us who fear the Middle East inappropriately consider the region a homogenous whole, further mistaking the Islamic world as Arab. Indeed, the majority of Muslims live in Indonesia and Malaysia, non-Arab lands.
In his book Out Of Arabia, author Warwick Ball writes:
“At any time from about 1990 onwards, a visit to virtually anywhere in the Middle East would elicit the almost invariable response of an odd look and the remark, ‘But isn’t it dangerous out there!’ Never mind if one was just visiting, say, Turkey when there was a war in Iraq, or visiting Iran when there was a flare-up in, say, Lebanon, the response would be the same. Tourism in the Middle East certainly suffered accordingly. But a skiing holiday, for example, in Austria or a seaside holiday in Greece during the time of the war in former Yugoslavia would never have elicited the same response: few if any cancelled holidays to Austria or Greece or other countries in the vicinity of war-torn Yugoslavia. In practice, a visit to, say, Iran was just as safe as (or probably safer than) a visit to Greece. In fact it is true to say that one generally experiences more overt warmth, friendliness, genuine hospitality – and less ‘danger’- in the Islamic world than almost anywhere else, media impressions notwithstanding. The difference, however, is purely one of prejudice: Muslim Middle Eastern countries are perceived as self-evidently ‘dangerous’, European countries are not, regardless of whether there is or is not a war.”
Maybe my own simple analogy, based purely on geography, can help. When the Gulf Coast was hit by Hurricane Katrina it was bad. For people along the Gulf Coast. Folks in Des Moines, Iowa kept on shucking corn.
(Psst! Hey! I see you. Yeah, you there, the non-bigot. The open-minded one. Oh well. I probably lost the bigots at “homogenous” anyway. Read on.)
This Is Whom You Fear.
The Egyptian man on the crowded Cairo subway who offered me his seat. And didn’t try to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Dr. Khalid Bahrawy, animal physiologist, who was taken care of every afternoon, when just a schoolboy, by a Christian family. Khalid now lives in an apartment building next to Alexandria’s largest Catholic church with Jewish neighbors on the top floor. I’ve spent a number of days with Dr. Khalid in Egypt and in London where we were both speakers at an International Camel Conference. He’s never tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Mohammed, a twenty-five year old souvenir salesman outside Petra, in Jordan, who, upon learning my name (Douglas), asked, “Like Douglas MacArthur?” TWENTY-FIVE! Mohammed associated my traveling companion, Jimmy, with Jimmy Carter then announced he knew all the American presidents and could name them in order. Jimmy and I stopped him less than a quarter of the way through his recitation, afraid he’d realize we couldn’t disprove him! Mohammed seemed to have no interest in cutting my throat and putting the video on the internet.
This Is Whom You Fear.
Abdel Halim, bakery owner in the same Giza neighborhood, who won’t let me pay for anything I get from his bakery. In addition to throwing in an extra kilo of sweets I didn’t order, he’s never tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Adel Hamza and his entire family, in whose house I stay (along with groups I bring to Egypt). His wife feeds us, his kids and grandchildren play with us and never, not even once, has he tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Saleh bin Soliman, Bedouin of the Muzeina tribe, South Sinai, among whose extended family my groups stay while trekking the desert on camels. I’ve known Saleh and his family for eleven years, have seen his kids grow up, get married and become parents themselves and NEVER, despite numerous opportunities while sleeping in the desert, far from civilization, has Saleh tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
This Is Whom You Fear.
Hajja Mileyha, grandmotherly Bedouin in South Sinai, who once treated my winter cold with the most amazing chicken soup without poisoning me OR trying to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Maged El Said, owner of a Red Sea beach resort I frequently stay in, who surely has a master key, yet he (nor his staff) never sneak into my room at night to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Two “twenty-something” Egyptian brothers who took pity on me when I once sat outside their coffee shop at a bus station in Cairo, afraid I’d miss my bus, so I got there four hours early. After watching me nervously eye each bus that came and went, they finally invited me into their shop, offered me tea and a sandwich (wouldn’t let me pay and insisted I stay in their home on my next visit to Egypt) and wanted to arm wrestle to see if the pork-eating Christian had white muscle disease. One brother took me right-handed, I hammered the other with my left. Neither brother tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
This Is Whom You Fear.
An Egyptian soldier at a bus stop in Nuweiba, South Sinai (I was there early, too, afraid I’d miss that bus). I was asleep on one bench, which backed up to another bench at the bus stop. While I was sleeping the soldier arrived and sat down; I rolled over and scared him. He jumped up and I laughed. We shared a good hour of conversation ending with him, too, inviting me to stay in his home the next time I visited Egypt. Though I’m certain Egyptian army basic training includes hand-to-hand combat, this soldier didn’t try to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Abu Hazm, waiter at a restaurant I frequent, who insists on keeping my bags so I can walk around the adjacent shopping area without having to carry armloads of stuff. Never once has he stolen anything out of my bags nor, though surely there are knives in the kitchen of his restaurant, has he tried to cut my throat and put the video on the internet.
Mahmoud, the barber I use in Giza when I’m staying in Egypt, who puts a straight razor (yeah, old-school) to my neck. AND NEVER HAS HE TRIED TO CUT MY THROAT AND PUT THE VIDEO ON THE INTERNET!