Are you into a Middle Eastern political or social cause that you have found yourself 100% dedicated to? Congratulations to discovering a new part of the world! Not many people who travels start to indulge in the culture and language of another country.
However, there are some side effects I have seen consistently with the, mostly young, sometimes older, Western activists who throw themselves into a Middle Eastern cause. If I have met you somewhere, some of your traits might resemble this person:
You are completely in love with the new country, the new culture and the cause you have discovered. The reason for the cause – a conflict, a social injustice – has probably existed for long but for you it’s new, and so be it. For you, it’s a new situation, and you apply that to the cause. Therefore, the cause is new.
Injustices in your own country, at home, don’t matter half as much to you. To be active in the local politics or volunteer in your local community is not as exciting, even though you might be able to provide much more input in a country where you already knew the context, the culture and the language. No, it’s the across-border-thingy that attracts you. The Middle Eastern people need to be saved. They are oppressed.
Could there be nuances in or two sides to a conflict? Nah, that doesn’t interest you. You are 100% pro or against. Local politics, peace negotiations, revision of the law – all this isn’t that interesting, if it isn’t involving what you can recognize as pure, angry activism.
You despise the Gulf countries and are in love with the rest. Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are oppressive countries where other kinds of Westerners go to make money. There might be plenty of human rights groups in these countries, but that doesn’t catch your attention.
All injustices are the fault of US, Europe, or Israel. There is little responsibility with the national governments or the hardcore religious groups that overthrow any attempt to democracy. The West is to blame for everything. The West is all over racist. You don’t have statistics that will back this up, but statistics is nothing that matters to you anyhow.
The women’s rights situation you either overlook, you become uncomfortable if another activist points out the systematic oppression of women in the country or region you are dedicated to. Or you might make this your own cause, you take it on yourself to educate and liberate the oppressed women in the Middle East, ignoring the many local women’s rights groups that is, patronizing the Middle Eastern women by making them need your help. You might even create a Facebook page where you undress in support of the women of the Middle East. Would a Middle Eastern woman undress to support her sisters in the West? Probably not. But that doesn’t cross your mind.
You have very clear opinions on the hijab. It’s either sexy, you try it on in the mirror before you travel to a Middle Eastern country (note: in most Middle Eastern countries it’s not mandatory), you have postcards with photographs of women in hijabs and AK4s stuck to your bedroom wall, and you dress in one on occasions and in places even when it’s not needed. Or it’s oppressive, and you do everything you can to find evidence that justifies this cause.
When hanging out with Middle Eastern friends that you’ve made in your city back home, you have lower standards than you would have with friends of your own nationality. Did a man you hang out with crack a sexist joke? Do you know that he specifically treated a woman you know badly? You forgive him, because he is from the Middle Eastern country you adore. He still needs to learn, as if he has no brain of his own, as if there weren’t men in his country that could behave properly.
Dear Western activist for a Middle Eastern cause: if you read this and you feel targeted, please don’t get too mad with me. If you feel targeted, spend some time to think why and how being an activist for a foreign cause without seeing the full aspects of it, can be problematic and reinforce stereotypes. You see, this text is aiming the problematic aspects of activism when applied to a foreign country, in the context of post-colonialism. And you know what else? I used to be where you are, myself, once upon a time.
J.C. Carlbom, describes herself as, “a Swedish writer and former humanitarian aid worker with a thing for the Middle East.” Her writing can be found on her blog Sweden and the Middle East Views.
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