I have been fascinated with the Middle East since I was five years old. Childlike wonder and fantasy filled my heart and my mind regarding what this section of the world was like.
In High School we learned about the instability of the region due to the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts. The only other information I really had about this ancient part of the world was through the bible & a fascination with Egyptology…my mind was like a sponge and from there I had to soak in everything I could about a region filled with history and turmoil.
I have associated with Arabs and with Muslims from different parts of the world for almost a decade and learned so much.
One of the cultural norms I managed to pick up is in regards to group identity with the Arabs. I was raised in a culture where individualism is highly prized. I was proud to be my own person and I valued my identity beyond anything else (except of course the family due to being raised in a Hispanic household) but still my identity was very individualistic compared to how some of my cousins were raised on the island.
The American Identity
American individualism reminds me of the pioneering spirit…the American quest for knowledge, the unknown and conquering unseen lands…experiences…
Though Americans are proud to be individualistic, there is still a sense of unity among us that supersedes our own identities at times making us “American” having that oneness with other Americans no matter our creed, color, race, religion, social standing…we are all united as Americans to give ourselves that group identity of being an American.
From what I personally understand about anthropology/sociology people develop these cultural norms due to their environment. Take a look at Americans who first came to this country…they had to have the individual strength and fortitude to make it out in the prairie and with Western Expansion having the “pioneer spirit” gave them an edge over others and that type of individualism survived.
The Arabian Identity
What I have learned about the Arabian identity is that the tribe, the family is paramount to everything else. Your actions will reflect on the group as a whole…similar to saving face I believe with the Asians such as in Japan, China and Korea. According to a website I visited: Middle East Tribalism:
“Tribal identity, like other bases of social cohesion, including kinship, citizenship, and nationalism, is something that people (and sometimes ethnographers and state officials) create, and it changes with historical and political context. The first form that the notion of tribe can take is the elaboration and use of explicit ethnopolitical ideologies by people themselves to explain their social and political organization. These locally held ideologies of tribal belonging in the Middle East are generally based on a concept of political identity formed through common patrilineal descent. A major exception is the Tuareg of the Sahara, where tribal identity is based on matrilineal descent—descent traced through the mother.”
The Arab group identity seems to stem from the harsh climate Arabs come from and working together as a group enable the tribe to survive.”
“…tribal names and chains of patrilineal genealogies provide a range of potential identities rather than a basis for sustained collective action in itself.”
So much could be devoted to this topic. I am barelyscratching the service regarding these two cultural differences.
All in all, it is wise for both Arabs and Americans when dealing with each other—-whether it be politics, religion, or business are to be reminded of the cultural uniquenessof each and respect one another for these differences and still find a way to have open dialgoue and work together.