Posts Tagged ‘Muslim’

Ode to Ras Al Khaimah

Posted on: April 17th, 2012 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

Ras Al Khaimah is “deservedly” enjoying, and will continue to enjoy, its reputation as a tremendous Tourist, Business Convention, and Education destination.

Ras Al Khaimah was my home for almost five years. In that time I witnessed incredible growth in both the infrastructure and confidence of the city. I watched the Cornish develop from a very small walkway (where I walked at 33C at 6:30 AM in 2007), to a fantastic, busy, multi-use venue in 2011. I was honored to teach at the Cove Rotana and saw first hand the quality and commitment of hospitality sector. My work at Injaz, RAK Tourism, the HCT, RAK Airport, Al Nahda Women’s Association, SAQR and “SAIF” hospitals and many other places, allowed me to experience the vitality of RAK citizens. It was difficult to leave.

Some further comments: While in RAK I live in three different locations, I witnessed quite amazing improvements in streets, sidewalks, lighting, and general environment (flowers, walkways).

I had the honor to tutor two of Sheikh Omar’s sons and feel strongly that the RAK leaders are dedicated, enthusiastic, and realistic as they strive to develop RAK’s potential. I do, however, encourage them to continue to be skeptical of those who would take advantage of their goodness and trust.

My work with the Ras Al Khaimah International Airport gave me insight into RAK’s potential as a flight destination. There have certainly been “growing” pains with both the airport and airline . . . but to give credit where credit is due, they don’t give up

 It is hard to explain to my friends in Canada (I returned a year ago) the speed of change in the UAE and RAK in particular. I took thousands of pictures, posted some on Google, and shared them with my family and friends in Canada. I have to explain to them now, however, that what they see in my pictures will not accurately reflect the RAK of 2012.

On a personal note (to underscore the “community” of RAK), I was fortunate to meet, work with, teach, and (quite wonderfully) become “a brother and uncle” to a number of Muslim ex-pat families. A Jordanian family living in Ras Al Khaimah brought me into their home (if the appropriate sense of that phrase with a Muslim family) and I helped their daughters with their English.

One daughter conducted (free) five of my Communication workshops for both professional and youth groups. She is now in university in Jordan. She received a big bouquet of flowers after her first workshop, and my old MacBook Pro when she completed the five workshops. My friendship with her, her three sisters, parents, and brother I consider to be one of the cherished benefits of my RAK stay.

One of my sponsors is a Emirati national. She works for a bank. Her father and brother were instrumental in solving some of my challenges. Another ex-pat family from Palestine brought me into their family, worked with me on a business start-up, and introduced me to Iftar! 

I enjoyed getting to know many Indian ex-pats. I attended School student performances and graduations, and for a brief four days, was basketball coach for a group of tremendous high students. (I was 58 at the time and keeping up with them was “good” exercise!)

I also was more than fortunate in getting to know ex-pats from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Malaysia, every GCC country and many from Africa, Europe and North American. 

Ras Al Khaimah is a good place to visit, to live, to raise and to educate children. It is not just a tourist destination. This makes RAK more than just a name on the map. I am proud to recommend RAK as a Holiday Destination from Canada (for the winter months!) although I think their might be value in having a week in Spain, before coming the UAE so as to decrease the effect of a 7 to 8 hour jet lag.

Overall, despite some challenges, I regard my time in RAK as one of the highlights of my life and I support, encourage, and will follow the city’s progress.

Shukran.

Tom Pattillo
tom.pattillo@gmail.com




Criticize the United Arab Emirates? Easy!

Posted on: November 27th, 2011 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

An unedited version of this response is at the bottom of this post.

Criticize the United Arab Emirates? Easy. Live there and the lack of logic, accountability and responsibility, cause both frustration and an unlimited source of humorous anecdotes.

The restrictions on Emirate women are to me unacceptable (four successful sisters and 3 successful daughters in Canada).  Why do the majority Emirati women appear to acquiesce?

CID (secret police) presence is overwhelming, yet non-invasive if on the right side of their laws. Police are professional and courteous. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching English language and communication programs with Police, Immigration and Customs officers. We shared meals, jokes, and laughter.

“Western” ex-pat professionals, experts, and consultants tend to accept that greed is a better motivator than “Western” truth, justice, ethics and morality.

“Non-Western” ex-pats are primarily laborers. To send upwards of 80% of their meager wages home to their families, they endure 10 to a room in a variety of conditions. Labor camps are “improving” because of international condemnation.

Non-Emirati Muslims (from Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria) cannot become UAE citizens. For some, going home is not possible. For others, the educational system and economic opportunities are better in the UAE than in their home countries.

When fired by a government organization (although lauded for my work and belief in the potential of Emirati Nationals), no reasons were given. The CEO was told to fire me. I had no recourse.

Where am I going with this? Simple explanations, simple understanding, simple conclusions, and simple criticisms are abhorrent to me.

The UAE’s 40th anniversary is next week. Consider Canada at 40 (1907); Could women vote? Were there controls on rapacious capitalists? Was there protection for the Chinese laborers that built our rail system?

Canada in 1967 versus the UAE in 1971. Only a 400-year-old Canadian would be able to witness the changes in Canada equivalent to the changes experienced by UAE in 40 years. From 1971 to 2011 the UAE has progressed from a desert and small business economy to what could be argued is the most technologically advanced country in the world.

Naïve criticism of cultural and religious influences on Emirati citizens is counter-productive to our “western aims and desires” for the citizens of the UAE.

We demand a more “western” orientation to women, power, business, democracy, justice, ethics and morality. We demand immediate changes. We demand they see the rightness of our demands. We demand and expect Emirati Nationals to easily accept these demands.

Asked about my five years in the UAE, I challenge my audiences to consider the different ethnic, racial, and religious influences on the Canadian mosaic.

Then I introduce four concepts that help explain the UAE (Arab) reality.

1) Tribes

2) Nomads

3) A “rentier” mentality.

4) The Muslim religion.

My Response to a reply to my “response” above.

Thank you for your comments.

I use the idea of a nation’s age to encourage perspective. There are people and cultures all over the world that practice behaviors based on traditions that we in the “West” consider barbaric.

Serbia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Russia, Germany, East Timor, India, China, Mexico . . . all have existed as countries well before the UAE was created. And their attacks on individuals, democracy, freedom, equality, peace are certainly not exclusively the result of the Muslim religion.

The common denominator in the worst examples of barbaric behaviors is authoritarianism, dictatorship, AND isolation from news about the world “outside”. Lack of education, social stratification, and the marginalization of women, also contribute to a country’s character.

Criticism of the Arab world, and the UAE in this comment, is based on the assumption that the UAE of 2011 is the same as “our” 2011. While the buildings, cars, airports, airlines, houses, highways, interchanges, malls, entertainment, and sports facilities are all equal to or better than many “western” oriented countries, the underlying, deep, traditional, cultural memory still drives the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of the majority of the Emirati National population. Culture, as anyone who has worked to change corporate culture, is notoriously difficult to influence let alone change.

It is absolutely imperative to know the cultural history of a society you are attempting to understand and potentially influence. Look at the UAE in 1971 or 1951 or 1931. Consider the native populations in those years. Consider their exposure to education, other religions, other nationalities, world media, different roles for men and women, childrearing . . . up to 1971. Throw in the negative impact of the “colonial” attitude on native populations and you will appreciate even more the reality of the UAE in 1971 to 2011.

Pictures of Dubai in the mid 1990’s show very little change from 1971. The major changes have been in the last 18 or so years. The Higher Colleges of Technology, the largest institution of higher learning in the UAE, was founded in 1988. Expansion to the smaller Emirates was not completed until 5 years ago.

The admonition “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”, does NOT apply. Ignorance pre-supposes awareness of “laws” and their application. Ignorance of what you should and can know is far different from what you are unable to know, and unable to understand. “We cannot perceive that which we cannot conceive.”

 Below is an unedited version of my first response.

It is easy to criticize the United Arab Emirates. When you live there, the little things that make no sense, the lack of logic, and the absence of the concept of responsibility, cause both frustration and an unlimited source of humorous anecdotes.

The role and apparent restrictions on Emirate women (though much, much less repressive than Saudi Arabia), were unacceptable from my perspective (four very successful sisters in Canada).  Why do the majority Emirati women appear to acquiesce?

The presence of the CID (secret police) is overwhelming and yet non-invasive if you are on the right side of their laws. For small accidents and some other administrative issues, as well as interacting with many as an English language / soft skills trainer, I could not meet a nicer group of people. We shared meals, jokes, and laugher. However they do of course have unquestionable authority.

On the other hand, “Western” ex-pat professionals have it made if they accept that greed is a better motivator than “Western” truth, justice, ethics and morality.

The “non-Westerner” ex-pats are primarily laborers who put up with “anything” in order to send upwards of 80% of their meager wages back home to their families. They live 10 to a room, or more, in a variety of conditions. Labor camps (hidden behind both the laws and the power of Emirati owners sponsoring the construction) are “improving” because of international condemnation. I met and worked with many, visited some of their accommodations and listened to their stories. I count more than a few as friends. Regardless of their lifestyle in the UAE, it is often immeasurably better that at “home.”

Are the labors slaves? NO. As per the Irish immigrants to the US in the mid 1800’s, slaves would be treated better because of their economic value (assets of their owners). The laborers, despite apparent reforms (stated but rarely implemented), are often treated as mere fodder for the economic prosperity. They can be, and are jailed for any verbalization or action against their working/living conditions. And they can be sent to jail and deported with no fanfare.

Non Emirati Muslims (from Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria) are not allowed to be citizens and are treated with destain. For some, going home is not possible. For others, the educational system and economic opportunities are better in the UAE than in their home countries. My “family” in the UAE are Muslim ex-pats from Jordan (to which they will eventually retire) and are wonderful, warm, and supportive friends.

I was fired from two government organizations (although lauded for my work and belief in the potential of Emirati Nationals). There was no recourse. None. Nor even reasons given for dismissal in one case. My CEO was told to fire me. End of story.

In another instance (completely unrelated to the above) I experienced the UAE legal system (I was sued, but won). It is a totally different process from Canada! I met, informally, a number of judges. The ones I met were not Emirati. Some from Saudi Arabia, some from Syria. They are intelligent and open to conversation and questions, but they are far more “powerful” than Canadian judges. You can appeal a decision, but rarely with success. The same judge, the same evidence; the same decision!

Where am I going with this? Simple explanations, simple understanding, simple conclusions, and simple criticisms are abhorrent to me. The UAE is 40 years old next week. Were we to look at Canada at 40 (1907); could women vote? Controls on capitalism? Protection for the laborers from China who build our rail system?

What is more important is to look at Canada in 1967 versus the UAE in 1971. The change in the UAE in those 40 years would be in many ways greater than that of our primarily European background from hundreds of years before 1867. Such change in 40 years is beyond comprehension by the average Canadian. A Canadian would have to be 400 years old to witness the changes experienced by UAE in 40 years. From the desert to the most technologically advanced country in the world in 40 years.

Pejorative accusations against the cultural and religious influences on Emirati citizens is both naive and counter-productive to the aims and desires of those of us in the West. We demand a more “western” orientation to women, power, democracy, justice, ethics and morality. We demand immediate changes. We see the rightness of our demands. We expect the Emirati Nationals to quite easily accept our judgements, our demands, and the logic of both.

When asked about my five years in the UAE, I immediately challenge my audiences to consider Canada’s cultural realities. The different ethnic, racial, and religious influences on the Canadian mosaic. Then I introduce four concepts that explain the current United Arab Emirates (Arab) actions.

1. A tribal history that dates back thousands of years and that continues to exist and significantly affect thinking and actions in all Arab based societies. (An interesting parallel to the Canada’s Aboriginal community.)

2. A nomadic way of living, again dating back thousands of years in the Arabian Peninsula. (And again the parallel to Canada’s aboriginal community.)

3. The “rentier” mentality brought on by the immediate and overwhelming influence of oil. The mega-prosperity experienced in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain gave power to men (and only men) whose previous experience and history had been confined to a few thousand people, a small patch of desert, less than a little education, and leader status based on violence, blood shed, and death.

(While one could certainly argue that the Canadian Aboriginal Community is hardly rich, the same sense of entitlement pervades both the Arab and Aboriginal way of looking at their place in the world. For Canadian Aboriginals, the largess of the Canadian government could easily be seen to mimic oil revenue in the United Arab Emirates.)

4. The influence of the Muslim religion. Although most of the western media looks to the Muslim reality as the most significant influence on Arab actions, I would argue that it is the least important of the four. Easy to see, easy to attack, and yet of far less import. The tribal way of life explains suicide bombers far more accurately than the Muslim religion.

It will be interesting to observe the eventual outcome of the Arab Spring. I am not hopeful. The depth and pervasiveness of Arab culture is not to be overcome in a year, a decade, a generation, a century, or even a millennium. Yet we have to work with, live with, and grow with the Arab world. My simple advice is to begin with understanding. Only then can we accept the reality of Arab cultural assumptions. Only then can we find those areas of commonality upon which friendship and trust are based.