So many times the view we have of another culture or another country is tarnished by the way that culture or country is portrayed by the press an by ones own country or ideology. A good case in point is the way Israel is viewed in the Mid-East.
When I first moved to Saudi Arabia we were cautioned to not discuss Israel in any way. I later discovered that if you have a visa in your pass port that showed that you had visited Israel that you not be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia or any of the other Arab Countries. My first Christmas I went to Al Khobar, the progressive Arab town where I was living. There was a hand carved nativity scene complete with baby Jesus. I asked where it came from and was told it came from Palestine. I purchased it and discovered the next day that Palestine was actually Israel.
There was also a black list of countries that did work or had ties with Israel. Companies such as Coke and AMC, then maker of Jeep, could not have products in Saudi Arabia. The United States Congress passed a law that prohibited acknowledgement of the black list as this would encourage the boycott. Unfortunately it hurt the Americans that innocently brought material into the country only to have it confiscated at the port. I almost lost a jeep I imported. A clerical error identified the vehicle as a GMC Jeep and not an AMC Jeep. Since Jeep was a term used for any 4-wheel drive vehicle in Saudi Arabia, it made it through customs and I had one of the only Jeeps in the kingdom. Following Desert Storm much of this disappeared and these formerly banned products are now in the market.
The state controlled newspapers and television news programs in Saudi did much to fuel the anti-Israeli sentiment. Israel was never used in the press. Instead the term “occupied Palestine” identified the land we refer to as Israel. This briefly changed during Desert Storm. The morning of the air war I turned on television and there in vivid color broadcasting live for the first time ever was CNN; totally unregulated. Bahrain and Qatar television also were beaming CNN live to their countries. A couple of days later and Israel came under SCUD attach. Broadcasts were live from that country. The next day I noticed that Qatar and Bahrain were showing live news but it was 15 minutes ahead of Saudi for the exact same program. Then when Israel was under attach and CNN broadcast from Tel Aviv, Saudi television would show a picture of flowers and play gentle music until the Israeli broadcasted ended. Israeli broadcasts were being censored.
As I stated earlier, much of what we perceive of another culture or nation or even religion is perpetuated by the view of our own country and leadership. I worked with a Saudi that went to New York on business. He was sitting in an outdoor restaurant by himself when a couple next to him began a conversation. They were very friendly and looked Arab to him and they lived in New York City. Eventually they asked him to come to their home for supper. He did and had a very enjoyable meal. He was shocked to discover that the couple was not Arab but were Jewish. Quit surprised at this revelation, his perception of the Jewish people was changed forever.
Perhaps we could all take a lesson from this Arabs encounter as we view different cultures and peoples. The American Indians had a saying. “Do not judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”