My struggle with tribalism


What is tribalism? It is a question I never thought I would have to answer in this day and age. Tribalism, in short, is being a part of a proud tribe or family. In certain ways, it assumes that one tribe is superior to another due to its name, size, tribe members, traditions or wealth.

My colleague Asmaa Al Hameli previously put her thoughts down on this topic, yet I would like to focus on a different angle.

In the Emirates, many families originally come from Oman, Yemen, Iran or other countries, and the family name clarifies the lineage. Sadly, that last name either raises a man's position or brings him down, especially in our society.

This issue creates feelings of frustration and confusion, especially when children are the perpetrators as well as the victims. In middle and high school, every argument I had would end with: "Why don't you go back to your own country already?". I could never defend myself, as I was under the impression that what was said was true, and that I did not belong to the UAE. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider in my country, just because my ancestors came from a different one. The truth is both my parents were born in the UAE. They both grew up to having "Emirati rights", if I can say that. So, why would it differ for me, my siblings, and other locals who share the same fate?

In university, I had got past this. Comments from classmates still pushed their way to me, but I managed to ignore it and move on. Their words change nothing: I am still a citizen and a national. One classmate though seemed to have a pressing problem with me. She went to my professor and demanded he remove me from the class just because she was uncomfortable with having an "impure" person studying with her. At first, I was offended but then I realized how ignorant and, frankly, arrogant she was. If this happened to someone else it would have had the potential to start a war. I merely resorted to keeping away from her because nothing I said or did could have changed her outlook. Her way of thinking saddened me, because in the end we do share the same nationality and country. My ancestry does not change my loyal and proud feelings for my country, nor my place in it.

Tribalism can make people feel devalued, like they do not have an importance in society. Those who are subjected to mistreatment from others because of their family name or background will most probably have low self-esteem. This feeling will affect their marriages, careers, and daily life chores.

The question remains, how can this issue be tackled? In my opinion, awareness and education starts from one's household. Parents have the responsibility of teaching  their children not to differentiate, as these children will one day leave a mark in their society. People must learn to respect others, no matter what their nationality, or in this case, ancestral background is. We must look at each other as individuals, and not judge upon one's last name or family members. To excel as a country and a society, we must push apart these ideas that have created barriers towards our development.

Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said: "You are all from Adam, and Adam is from sand". We will all end up back in the sand one day, a dark grave cradling our soul, with no last name. So, let us grow out of the shell of tribalism and focus on empowering our society to give back, without obstacles and ideologies, to the country that has given us so much.

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