"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to." ~ Laurence J. Peter
Middle Eastern Elegance
It's often stated, probably because the Great Bush II planted it in the minds of the normalons, that Middle Eastern terrorists hate us because we're so damned lovable and good (i.e., free, successful, ad pukem). Intelligent, informed souls know this is hooey, but I sometimes wonder if it's understood how far wrong the "we're so good" theory is. Brace yourself, because you are about to hear why we have terrorism.
It's simple: Middle Easterners generally have far better manners ("the glue of society") than Americans.
"Appalling!" cries the insulated freak from Des Moines . "You are BlameAmericaFirst garbage," concludes another strolling through a mall in the DC suburbs.
What is a crucial difference between them and me? I have been to the Middle East , whereas they have not. I have worked with many people from that culture, and know it well.
As a wayward 20-something lad, I fell into making some money by videotaping weddings. It was fun at first, but I eventually felt like a low budget slave. I considered good wedding videos to be somewhat of an art, and I busted my hump to deliver exceptional quality. In addition to shooting with creativity and flair, I designed and built an audio system for my boss so that all of our wedding ceremonies were recorded in hi-fi stereo using hidden Pressure Zone Microphones. We didn't mess around, and many people came to us through word of mouth.
Despite our dedication and success, American brides, grooms, and their families often treated us as servants. Just getting a bite to eat at a reception could be impossible. We eventually wrote into our contract a clause that because we usually worked for 8-12 hours, at least a meal in the hotel kitchen was to be provided. Though there were wonderful exceptions, that was typically the American version of showing appreciation for a professional artisan: Follow the contract.
After a couple of years weathering American rudeness, I happened to be farmed out for a one-timer to a Persian (Iranian) photographer. With my boss's permission, I continued to freelance with this man, and later ceased taping American weddings altogether.
I could feel the accumulated stress of American weddings fall from me like wool from a laden sheep. Where I would sometimes be forced to beg American families for a 30-minute break to run down the street and get fast food, at my first Persian wedding, the bride and groom approached, handed me a plate, and insisted that I stop taping and get some food. I almost wept! And it wasn't a fluke. That is the way of the Middle East . I was not a slave who should thank my lucky stars for being hired. I was an honored, appreciated guest. "Please. You must have something to drink from the bar." Over time, I learned their customs and the key Farsi phrases needed to navigate a wedding. It was an honor to hear that prospective Persian brides began asking my photographer friend for "that American guy." One flew us from DC to her wedding in Boston , where we got the red carpet treatment. Fifteen years later, I still seek out Persian restaurants and savor their unsurpassed cuisine.
Of the two cultures I had worked with, which do you think best understood the complexity of human action? The behavior of my Persian clients inspired me to do my best work for them. I would happily stay until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, taping their celebrations (nobody parties like that, by the way), and honing a style approaching cinematic. It was a completely different environment. The laid-back Persians, and the classic beauty of their average bride, were a pleasure to work with. On the contrary, the sickening ambience of inhospitality and stiffness at the average American wedding made me want to run out of the hotel.
But take it that crucial further step. I am an American who had a negative reaction to attitudes of my American clients. Imagine how a naturally hospitable and respectful Middle Easterner reacts to the American arrogance and comparative lack of manners foisted upon them in their own country. You don't have to imagine, because we have seen it. The only place in the US you'll routinely find hospitality rivaling that of the Middle East is in the South. Unfortunately, US politics are notoriously Yankee, with a global bootprint.
When viewed through a Middle Eastern lens, the behavior of American representatives in their land is appalling. It obviously infuriates them, though Americans want to grant themselves a pass by writing off to nasty disposition the behavior they've inspired. If diplomacy is roundly considered to be important, what must be the outgrowth of its lack? We have seen.
GB The First initiated the Gulf War around the time I was wrapping up my wedding video career. Through working with Persians and visiting a few countries in the Middle East , I had learned instinctively how to approach people from that culture. Watching the idiot Bush mucking his way into what was probably an intentional instigation of war, I shuddered at his klutziness and abrupt rudeness toward a Middle Eastern culture. Tyrant though he was, I detected in Hussein's face that look a Middle Easterner will give you when you have committed a grievous error in protocol. He was offended and confused. Who could have told him how to deal with the bumbling Neanderthal from Texas ? It was a fatal breach on the part of GB I in that he gave Hussein no way to save face and exit a destination to which April Glaspie had led the way. It later became obvious that Bush's "diplomacy" was not klutziness, but merely brutish manipulation and duplicity. He wanted war with Iraq , and his bad manners ensured the outcome. Years later, his son couldn't even feign subtlety; he had 11 September behind him.
What I have seen when I go into Middle Eastern cultures with respect is that my respect is multiplied and sent back to me as hospitality. Are people over there perfect? Hardly. They routinely do things that we would consider quite odd, borderline criminal, or even reprehensible. But that is how they choose to interact in their society, and it's not any of my business unless I go over there, in which case I am obligated to fit in with them, not shove my expectations down their throat. When they come over here, they usually bring a similar respect.
The people of Iran are familiar with the legacy of the CIA of the US in their country. In 1953, a popular leader who was going to "nationalize" British oil interests in Iran (democracy!) was booted in a ham-fisted coup orchestrated by the CIA to install the Shah. The legacy of that tyrant (e.g., hostage crisis, Iran/Iraq war, more CIA puppetry and disaster) is what we see today, where the people of Iran are just a few missteps away from being "liberated" by the forces of God and All That Is Good (United States Military). If the US invaded Iran , how many Americans do you think would even be aware that Iranians aren't Arabs? It wouldn't matter as long as the benevolent whippersnappers of the earth were saving ancient culture from itself.
Manners ' the way you positively approach and interact with people, especially strangers ' have not been ignored by the United States ; they have been flouted, bastardized, and corrupted through actions and analyses that conclude, "We are better than you. You are children who will not be truly happy until we have inflicted ourselves upon you. Kiss our asses."
How anybody expects such behavior to end with a positive result is incomprehensible. American politicians should shut up, step down, and learn from cultures that are dominated by one thing when they aren't being trounced: Smiles.