x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

We know our culture, let's help the West know it, too

A recent trip back to the western world provided the opportunity not only to educate Europeans on life in the UAE but to also learn what they thought of the country.

While living in the US, my perception of the UAE was shaped by the American people and their media. Although I understood that the majority of these views were skewed and unfounded, I could not help but be influenced by them.

They were, just as I was, mentally and geographically disconnected from the UAE, hence much of the information was warped by the time it was received on the other side of the world.

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, further distorted an understanding of the UAE, and the Arab world in general, as collective fear and anger became prevalent in much of American society.

Although Dubai's global fame aided the UAE's image in the US, the UAE was still routinely associated with the negative aspects of the region.

As I had not returned to my nation for more than a decade and had spent much of my childhood abroad, I too bought into the idea that the UAE was a closed and radically conservative society.

These views were quickly dispelled upon my return to the Emirates, where I found a multicultural, progressive, open and accepting society.

Pleasantly surprised, I began sharing a more accurate picture of the UAE with my friends abroad, who seemed intrigued and astonished by what I was telling them.

A recent trip back to the western world, the first since my return to UAE, had me visiting Europe and provided me the opportunity not only to educate Europeans on life in the UAE but to also learn what they thought of the country.

I found that most of them knew of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The news of our cities' prosperity was foremost on many of their minds and the uncertain future of their own economies had many pondering a move to our more stable markets.

But their curiosity was superficial and they seemed fearful and uncertain of being able to live in an Emirati society. Better armed to correct misconceptions and answer questions about my nation, I still faced the same misguided statements and queries I had encountered in the US.

Women routinely stated that they would not be able to adjust to wearing the hijab if they moved to the UAE. Some said they could not live in a country where freedom of religion did not exist. One European asked me how I could live in a society that was closing rather than opening up to different ideas and beliefs.

"What do you have to wear in the UAE?" and "it's terrible how women are second class citizens in your country" were just a few of the questions and remarks I faced.

These statements illustrated that although the financial success of the UAE generates interest, there is a lack of understanding of Emirati culture and daily life among many westerners.

More projects that promote our nation and traditions, such as the majlis, set up by Abu Dhabi in New York's Times Square to showcase the emirate to the world, could help promote understanding and dispel misconceptions about the UAE.