x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The Ali Column: Why culture clashes are worth it

How we can benefit from learning from other nationalities to make a richer society.

Unfortunately, some people believe that the more foreigners there are around you, the more your cultural identity is threatened by the presence of others.

When someone feels that way then it is easier for them to create a gap between "us" and "them". Nevertheless, there is no relationship between the number of visitors to the country and cultural identity. Instead, there are so many other factors, which I would like to demonstrate to you.

In my opinion, globalisation has had a significant influence on cultures via social media, movies, music, other forms of art and the internet in general, much more so than from the people who visit or go on to live in a particular country. These influences can cause social tensions but can't be erased because globalisation will keep on going at a faster pace.

Limiting the number of immigrants may be a solution for some countries, but not for all. Many countries who set immigration limits, such as the United States, keep receiving a high influx of foreigners at their borders. As an example, just look at the Mexican-American border. Stricter laws don't stop Mexicans from entering. Why? Well, because they see it as a game to cross the border into a country that appears to be more attractive to them and their families.

Would immigration issues in the UAE improve, if our country would do the same? I doubt it.

In the UAE, stricter laws are OK when they guarantee the safety of our visitors and residents. Otherwise, stricter immigration laws could easily be interpreted as having a negative impact on our image as a foreigner-friendly country.

The worst thing that could happen is that it would backfire and encourage even more illegal immigration than we have now.

Each country's cultural identity is influenced by its historical background, the way it went through a process of internalising certain social behaviours when dealing with foreigners. Such dynamics prove that identity can only be formed by interacting with others and setting yourself apart from others.

Some countries, such as the United States and Great Britain, perceive themselves as immigrant nations from the beginning and therefore are, in general, rather receptive towards foreigners.

The UAE is another case, but unique with its population mix that contains more than 80 per cent foreigners. Some would argue that the relatively low percentage of foreigners in Germany and in Austria had led to racist actions, but the problem has its roots in our perception of cultural differences and how we react to and deal with them.

Foreigners everywhere are looking for a home. Limiting their numbers in our country would negatively affect our international reputation, economy and cultural diversity.

We wouldn't be able to present ourselves as the global nation that we wish to be. Therefore, we need expats so that we can continue to grow as a welcoming and developing nation.

To do that, we need to try and perceive other cultures as ones we can learn from, without having to give up our own cultural values.

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