Despite living in such a culturally diverse and pluralistic society, I have overheard many discussions about the social gap that apparently exists between Emiratis and expatriates. Young children in schools are especially affected by this because Emirati parents are being accused of refusing to let their children play with non-Emirati children while expatriate parents are being blamed for not being respectful enough towards our Islamic faith.
This is not surprising. Why? Well, you need to consider all the cultural factors that influence the dynamics between various groups of people: the self-perception versus the perception of others, the intergenerational transmission and the clash of cultural values, especially in terms of raising children appropriately.
Let's take a closer look at the perceptions that are taking place between the parents involved. If Emirati parents feel that their identity is being threatened by the presence and behaviour of other parents whom they view as foreign to them, certain stigmatisations naturally emerge. This leads to a bigger social gap between the two parties, between "us" and "them". At the same time, tensions can build and accusations based on stereotypes turn into insults and ultimately end in conflict situations between the parties.
However, as soon as children are involved, you always have that generation factor mixed into it, since certain behaviour patterns are passed down from generation to generation. Our children see how we interact with others who are different than us. If we don't interact with other nationalities, our children will find it difficult to appreciate cultural exchange.
As parents, we have to set a good example first. After all, engaging with others has always been a part of our lifestyle. We grew up with hospitality as one of our core values that still exist today.
The different lifestyles that exist in our society include the modern lifestyle that we have already accepted. Unfortunately, the challenge that we face is that it can bring up "cultural clashes" because, in our culture, the focus lies on religion and family. For me, it is very important that my children engage with children who grow up with similar values to themselves, but they don't necessarily have to have the same nationality. And here I mean the good values of a human being, not necessary just Islamic values. That is something that I deeply care about, and by doing that I want to protect my children from bad influences. What parent would not want to protect their child from harm? It's the same with Mother Nature; Mother Goose would never leave her chicks alone or let them come into dangerous situations.
Finally, I send this message to all Emirati parents who have somehow let go of their cultural identity and have forgotten the importance of holding on to our beautiful values and culture. It's important they raise awareness about our cultural values and influence their children.That way Emirati children can practise their Islamic and Arabic values while opening their hearts and minds to other people's cultures and learn from their good values as well.