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The clash of the un-civilisations

Affronts to indigenous cultures on the part of visitors, guests or tourists is nothing new. Ignorance comes in all shapes and sizes, but in the age of globalisation it's even more disconcerting for two reasons.

Affronts to indigenous cultures on the part of visitors, guests or tourists is nothing new. Ignorance comes in all shapes and sizes, but in the age of globalisation it's even more disconcerting for two reasons. First, there remains very little excuse for such boorishness when so much cross-cultural learning is readily accessible and multiculturalism has even reached the status of art form.

The second is more disturbing. It is the false pretence of a one-way globalisation on the part of its self-appointed agents. One calls to mind the Mr Smith character from the Matrix trilogy, only it is that unnerving mass multiplication of his identical twins in the last episode. Our Mr Smiths have come to force on us their narrow-minded conceptions of what they themselves have never actually attained of their own cultures. After all, the ones who come over really are the B team. We call this, in our sacred law tradition, " jahl al murakkab" - compound ignorance.

Compound ignorance is not just to not know a thing, but to not know that one does not know. Really though, throughout the regions of the world's "developing south" (dropping a little PC in there), it is been the magnanimity of the natives that has always maintained a civil equilibrium. But let us explore the compound nature of this series of unfortunate events further. If we continue to invite these types over here and constantly tell them, "Make yourselves at home" and "Forget the Romans, do as you do where you come from", what do we think is going to happen? What do we think we're going to end up with?

You made the bed, you are going to have to lie in it. You imported the plaid polyester pantsuit, you are going to have to wear it. Maybe you should have done what every fifth-grader dreads: maybe sometimes you ought to let your mother dress you. You might end up with a little more self-respect; she is wiser. But once we get into junior high and the atmosphere of popularity and trendiness gets a little heady, we feel as though we have outgrown our mothers. But do we not all wise up in the end and find ourselves telling our kids the same thing our parents told us, when we swore up and down that we'd never say that to our kids? But when you're 1,430 years old, you really don't have much excuse for not thinking in terms of the big picture.

But many of these cultural affronts at the very least belie a failure to make even a freshman effort at cultural awareness. At the very most it reveals the hubris given away by its petty spitefulness. One would like to say that it stops there and it really just makes the guilty party look the ugly one. But if left unchecked, we could end up having core aspects of our cultural and civilisational substructures shifted away before we are ever the wiser. And we end up in the no-man's land that the scholars referred to as a manzila bayna manzilatayn, a place between two places, or "up the creek without a paddle", as useless as the flotsam and jetsam on the surface of the floodwaters, unable to help ourselves or anyone else for that matter.

It is time we stop being caught up in the petty and superficial symptoms on the surface and start thinking civilisational thoughts. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi

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