Saturday, October 07, 2006
Teaching Culture to Ease Tensions? Get a Massage Instead
"[British] State schools in predominantly white areas are putting Arabic lessons on the curriculum for the first time as students show increasing interest in understanding the Middle East."
sounds good. But let's read more...
[According to some official] "...young people's choices have been affected by the news agenda. They know about the tensions in the Middle East and also the influence and strength of some Middle Eastern economies. Part of helping young people understand these tensions is understanding the culture and language of the region."
So taking a couple of compulsory courses in Arabic will help studens understand the "culture" and therefore the "tensions" between them and the Middle East?
Something is not right here. It's that word "culture" again that does't sit well with me.
You know why? Because I think Middle Eastern culture has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the "tensions" between us and them.
If white British students want to understand these tensions, they need to look elsewhere. I suggest a course on "Middle Eastern Oil" instead of a course of "Middle Eastern culture." Learning to say "Al Salamu 3alaykum" won't help ease tensions (actually if the accent is pretty bad it can exasperate them!)
Am I unfair? I love Arabic (what else is left?) and it makes me sad that people's motivation in learning it is the "know thy enemy" kind.
But think of it from the point of view of the British student: it's not enough that he is scared of the Arabs and their violence (isn't that what "tensions" really mean? It can't be referring to the killing of the Arabs by the British, can't it now?), but now he is forced to study this language of theirs.
Ya. That will ease tensions allright!
Listen, Lawrence of Arabia knew Arabic. At least he knew how to say "Aqaba, Aqaba." What good did that do?