Saturday, September 17, 2016

Some Ideas About the Middle East

All of the previous ways various US administrations have tried to "fix" the Middle East have had limited - VERY limited - success.

Why?

One big reason is that the Middle East is religiously and culturally NOT the Western Culture.  Plans to reduce violence and increase cooperation that are based on that model will not work.  That includes the massively-comprehensive, Westphalian-style, international conference that, in the past, had worked for Europe (that it has been considerably less successful in this century hasn't seemed to dawn on the Feds, particularly the State Dept.).

In my life, I've known many people with Mideastern roots.  Part of this was the lucky accident of having been born in that early 50's time period that was filled with what were called "DP's" - short for Displaced People.  That was a term intended to be an insulting way to refer to the flood of refugees that changed the political, social, religious, and cultural dynamics in many Cleveland neighborhoods.

By an accident of naming, my maiden last name, Ruble, was unusual enough - and sufficiently "foreign" sounding - to lump me in with that group.  As a result, once these former Europeans heard my name, their faces would light up, and they would rush over to talk to someone who they believed to be another outsider.  I became familiar with a variety of non-American family structures and cultures.

Ironically, the Rubles entered the United States just as the country was becoming one - in the 1770's.  The first Ruble was imported by the British to fight the colonials.  Which he did, before deserting the Tory side to join the colonials.

Thus, one of my early ancestors had a Yakov Smirnoff moment - What a Country! - and became an American, by choice and action.

I was 10 when we bought a house where, 2 doors down, as we Clevelanders say, there live Mrs. Kellogg, and her upstairs tenants, the Nadars.  The Nadars were Egyptians, and Muslim.  Mrs. Nadar was a sweet woman with an old-fashioned upbringing, who - after months of coaxing - would stand on the upstairs steps, and talk with the neighbors.  She kept an eye peeled for any traffic, street or pedestrian, and scoot upstairs if any many approached.  I did think it odd, but Mrs. Kellogg explained that it was the way she'd been brought up, and she just didn't feel comfortable around men who she wasn't related to.

It was widely accepted that the seclusion of Mrs. Nadar wasn't forced on her, and that her husband, far from being a brute, was besotted with her, spending money on furs, clothing, and jewelry lavishly.
It was my first inkling that understanding Mideast culture would not be easy.

If you want to "get" the Mideast, you have to accept that family means something totally different to them.  For typical Westerners, your family is your parents, sisters, and brothers.  Later in life, you add in your spouse and children.  That's the relatively small group that influences your life choices - where you work, where you live, how (and if) you worship, who you associate with, how you spend your money.  You might solicit their input, but, in modern America, they seldom have a veto, unless their own money is on the line.  Relatively few people depend on their family to provide them with a business, or the money to start one.  Still fewer give their families veto power over their choice of a life partner.

That is NOT the experience in households in the Mideast.  In those countries, the family provides you with a living, in the family business, if they have one.  If a person is single, their income, minus a small amount for personal spending, belongs to their family.  If a young person wants to start a business, they go to relatives (close or distant) to secure the funding.  A bank would be a LAST choice, even in America.  In turn, when they make some money, they OWE it to their family to give loans to other family members.

Their choice of spouse is generally limited to what their family will accept.  A more progressive, modern family might provide several choices to the prospective bride or groom.  Often, in America, the first spouse is chosen by the family.  That is so they can either use that marriage to provide residency (and eventual citizenship) to someone they owe a favor to, or collect money for that green card marriage.  The American partner in that marriage is typically told they can choose their next spouse, after the green card comes through.

The family relationship is a little like the Mafia - once a part of that group, you can never truly leave.  There are benefits, financial and relational.  But, again like the Mafia, once you accept those benefits, they OWN you.  You are expected to acquiesce to the demands of the Family forever.

As will your children.  And their children.

These Iron Bonds of Family are everywhere in the Mideast.  Sometimes, a person who becomes acquainted with someone of that culture feels a part of the family.  That comes from the tradition of welcoming the stranger with food and drink, and a place to stay.  Sometimes, you begin to feel as though you have joined the family.

Don't believe it.  You will NEVER be one of them.  Family will ALWAYS come first.

After a time in this country, many immigrants begin to rebel against the family constraints.  The American experience is that, in a few generations, the original ties become weakened, through marriage with other nationality groups, education, and assimilation.  And, for other groups, that is true.

NOT Mideasterners.  There is are reasons why they send to the Old Country for their spouses, aside from the lucrative green card hustle.  By returning to their intertwined roots, they further enmesh succeeding generations into that Mideast culture.  At no time are the American descendants further than 1 generation from their Native Culture, thanks to at least 1 immigrant parent.

I haven't addressed the complicated kinship structure, where the spouses are related, at least distantly, to their partners.  This is part of the family structure that makes it so painful to break with the family.  If they do, they lose ALL of their extended family.  For someone brought up to distrust those outside the family, this is an extremely painful choice.  Leaving puts them adrift.  This explains why so many women who fear becoming a victim of an honor killing return.  They haven't the emotional resources to go it alone, without the family.

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