CAIRO/IOWA CITY, IOWA: The Arab world and the West represent two sides of the same coin. Though we are from different parts of the globe, we are two parts that make up a whole: we live in the same world. In that respect, though we all have our distinct cultures, it is worth remembering – and strengthening – our universal culture.
The most basic roots of global culture are derived from the fact that we, as humans, experience the same basic feelings – pain, love, anger, fear, etc. We all aspire to avoid pain and maximize pleasure. It is the existence of fear that holds us back from forming relationships or trusting another person, especially one we perceive as different from us. Our mutual understanding of how death, life, war and tragedy affect a person should be a platform upon which we can foster respect and friendship. No one wants to lose a son, a mother or a grandfather, so we should all be able to see the insanity of needless violence.
We also understand the personal connection a person has with his or her home or village – it would pain us to see it destroyed. But the shared culture of the world can become clouded through dehumanization. War is only possible when we perceive the enemy as being less than human. The rhetoric of politics and overzealous leaders allows the mass populous to forget that they have the same heart as the person they hate across the border. If you strip away the external factors, what you have left is the same basic individual with the same basic needs.
There are also values, morals and traditions that are respected and appreciated around the globe, such as the role of the family. The form may differ, but the relationship between family members is important in all communities and cultures. In the Arab world, the family represents the past, present and future. It is believed in the Arab world that individuals are not only educated in schools, but also in the home. With that belief, families exert tremendous effort in shaping their children s personalities. Kinship ties also often bring considerable responsibilities; an Arab individual would be considered less of a person without his or her family s ongoing support and guidance.
In the Western world, the independence of individuals plays a larger role in the development of family ties. In that regard, Western families provide education, guidance and support but also teach independence and responsibility to allow individuals to form their own lives outside the family boundaries.
In both cases, the importance of the family is apparent. Although Arab and American students sometimes argue over the level of responsibility and independence expected by the family in their respective cultures, it is easy to realize that though we differ, we still agree that the family plays an important role in education and support.
Countries define their culture by their history. But one may ask, The history of what? Most of what is found in schools textbooks is the history of politics, the history of conflict. Yet, every country has a period they look back on as a darkened era, in which grave mistakes were made, or as the good old days when everything was simple and people were happy. Each has had its share of triumphs and trials. It is important to remember the histories, but it is also important not to read too much into them. The grudges of the past should not prevent two nations from respecting each other in the present, or from working together toward a common goal. By focusing on events, we forget the collective feelings, the human aspects that led to the eventual settlement of the conflict.
To achieve true respect and understanding on a global scale, we must interact and focus on our common human characteristics. We are all human beings, and share the same feelings, needs and values. What we forget most of the time is that even though we disagree, we can t separate ourselves from the other side of the coin; we all have something in common. At the very least, we can share in our thirst to understand one another.
Pensee Afifiis a student at the American University in Cairo and Jane Slusark studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. They co-wrote this article as part of the Soliya Connect Program s West-Muslim World intercultural dialogue program. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.