The blind deal on open-mindedness

Once upon a time, it used to be a description many people aspired to. Once upon a place, it was a phrase that was quite straightforward.
Open-minded.
Here in Qatar, it takes on a whole new meaning.
On last count, there were some 150 odd nationalities living here. Which means people of different faiths, tongues, race and ethnicities living bumper to bumper in a country that quite clearly says it’s an Islamic state.
If you are at this point thinking, ‘poor expats’ or ‘ but no, Qatar is not like Saudi’, or ‘but they are quite open-minded here’ or ‘they are becoming more open-minded’… bingo! I am talking about YOU.
I’ve grown to despise this phrase ‘open-minded’.
Because, in the context of Qatar (and maybe the region), it’s a close- and narrow-mined expectation.
When someone says I wish they were ‘open-minded’ here, it invariably is from a position of extreme privilege.
The urgent plea for open-mindedness is always from those blind to their own privileges.
And the plea is always on these lines…

  • I wish they were open-minded enough to see my point of view.
  • I wish they were open-minded enough to be influenced by my worldview (from my country).
  • I wish they were open-minded enough to let me lead my life the way I’ve always done (in my country).
  • I wish they were open-minded enough to not expect me to understand their culture and contexts.

This plea for ‘open-mindedness’ fits in quite nicely with the stereotype we are exposed to everyday about how Islam and open-mindedness are mutually exclusive. What we forget is that all religions are fundamentally opposed to open-mindedness. Their survival is dependent on you believing that that particular faith and none other is your path to salvation; on you believing that you are blessed enough to belong to this and not another faith.

So, this plea for open-mindedness reeks of the purest form of ‘I am right, you are not’ reasoning.

There are two parts to the conversation here.
One from Qataris, Arabs and some Asians, who diffidently say “You should respect our culture.”
I use ‘diffidently’ and ‘should’ in the same sentence, because for some strange reason, they seem to seek your respect of, and not your open-mindedness to their culture.

The other part of this conversation is the demand not request. “You should be open-minded.”
Asking you to disavow your close-minded belief system, to allow them to live their life exactly how they’ve always done.

Though this post has been a long time coming, discussions over the past several weeks have finally gotten under my skin enough to write this.

  • Wish they were open-minded enough to allow more Christmas celebrations.
  • Wish they were open-minded enough to allow more Halloween publicity.
  • Wish they were open-minded enough to allow alcohol everywhere (why don’t we set up public taps?).
  • Wish they were open-minded enough to be just like us, from **insert ‘open-minded’** country.

If this plea is heeded to, then we will have one homogenous, dead boring, world. Let’s toast to that.

Edited to remove repetitions and typos.

10 things I’ve realised since the ‘exchange’

…that I spoke of in my last post.

  1. Every woman I knew had at least one story of sexism to recount. Many had several.
  2. Almost all of them struggled to respond appropriately, though every one wished they had a scripted response.
  3. All my white contacts thought this was a purely sexist issue.
  4. All my non-white contacts thought this was a purely racist issue.
  5. All my friends (regardless of colour) thought it was a combination of both — this would not have been said to a man of colour; and it most probably would not have been said to a white woman.
  6. That all those who have accused me of being oversensitive (in the past as well), are those I’ve accused of being racist or sexist. The bystanders have invariably seen my point of view.
  7. And that is called gaslighting, Tracy tells me. Here is the link to an article on that: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/why-women-arent-crazy/ (And thank you Tracy for being such a good friend that evening.)
  8. And coming back to those who think I’m oversensitive, they genuinely don’t get it, or think it’s only a ‘joke’…
  9. So that brings me to Moha‘s comment on my post that there’s always truth in a joke… an intention as well, I must add. And that intention is not always to get a laugh.
  10. The worst kind of sexism for me is the one shown by women… when they do think it’s okay to receive such comments or to be stereotyped. I feel a mixture of anger and pity for them.

All in a day’s work. Sexism, racism or what have you…

Act 1. Scene 1. (Wish I had a gun to shoot.)

Location:

At my office desk

Players: 

Me (Brown, female); RandomWhiteGuy (a consultant & soon to be colleague, to be referred to as RWG); Boss

Boss: I have the map for **insert name of popular kids theme park in Dubai**

Me: I love **insert name of popular kids theme park in Dubai**

RWG: I am going there. Do you want to come with me, to take care of my kid.

**What happened in my head: “Are you being sexist or racist, you a$*hole?”, takes out her brass knuckles and punches him in his face**

**What actually transpired (and am so proud of my delivery)**

Me: Could you be more sexist? Would you have said that to a male colleague?

RWG: Ah, you said you liked the place.

Me: Yes, to go to with my kids.

RWG: I have no one to take care of my kid there.

Me: Hire a maid.

RWG: I have a maid, she won’t get a visa.

Me: Do you really want to continue this conversation?

Boss: Maybe it started as a joke…

Me: No, it didn’t. It’s sexist, and I don’t have to tolerate this.

RWG: (Looking clammier than he did few minutes earlier) I didn’t mean to be…

Me: I hope so… (cuts short the conversation and continues with earlier discussion with boss)

Me:  (Still awaits an apology)

Fortunately this wasn’t one of those situations where I fumbled, and later, in futility, thought up a response in my head. I am glad I gave it to him directly, to his face. Yet, I am smarting and furious; I so wish I had a gun, or brass knuckles, or something very sharp…

PS1: RWG doesn’t know me. This is our first interaction. So any excuse of him having a banter can’t be accepted.

PS2: I write this in public, because I don’t think this is an official exchange/communication and needs to be treated as a confidential exchange.

PS3: Healing with writing.

Amend: Added location, and the fact RWG will soon be a full-time colleague.

Racism or just poor parenting?

I have this tendency to view any conflict that involves more than one ethnic group as a racial problem.

It’s time for me to reconsider my point of view. It’s not about race at all; it’s about really poor parenting.

Remember…

  • When you see youngsters misbehave at malls.
  • When they bully you off your lane on the road.
  • When they are rude to their nannies.
  • When they show no respect for their teachers.
  • When they mock waitresses at the cafe.
  • When you see their girl-fridays walking five steps behind them, to carry the tiny bag of cosmetics from Sephora.
  • When you see their maids come up to the office floor to carry their Louis Vuitton handbag to the waiting car.
  • When they jump queues and refuse to wait their turn.
  • When they push past you without an ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’.
  • When they walk through the door you hold open for them, without a ‘thank you’.
  • When they demand service, because ‘please’ is an ugly word.
  • When they leave the public toilet messy, because they can’t clean up after themselves.
  • OR When they think it’s ok to punch a doctor…

When you see this, and when you see some more, remember there is a set of parents responsible for that out-of-control, badly behaved girl or boy.

A mother and a father who failed to correct their child and to set a good example.

Parents who failed to understand that the ‘cute’ (right!) brats who misbehaved with impunity, would grow up to be thugs.

Men and women who think procreation is the beginning and end of being a parent.

Parents who are oblivious to the HUGE influence they have on their children — be it good, bad, or (increasingly) ugly.

“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” — Robert Fulghum

Do you have a problem with La Cigale, Doha?

I don't suffer from a persecution complex. Now read on...

Then let’s start an anti-Cigale club.

My first bad experience was about 3 years ago. On a weekday night, a few of us went to the lounge at La Cigale. Appropriately dressed, except that we couldn’t quite hide our nationality.

As Westerners and nationals from a particular Arab country (not all) were allowed in, we were not. Because we didn’t have a reservation to enter the almost empty lounge. A few other similar incidents involving Asians, proved case in point.

It’s not just that. I happen to go to this place on work quite often — I don’t choose to, but when contacts invite me over, I can’t quite turn it down. The reception at the restaurant/coffee shop is always colder than their frozen desserts. So much so, one contact apologised to me when she realised the staff were hesitant to serve me properly.

Get this. Two people of similar backgrounds visit the hotel to meet a senior manager. One is caucasian, the other is from the far east. Guess who was totally ignored?

A friend from the only Arab nation that is allowed patronage there made a booking. When she landed there with a couple of African and Asian friends, the slippery eels out there tried to hide them in one corner of the lounge.

Don’t believe me? Experiment… if you are white, take a non-white with you to La Cigale. Check out racism in action.

PS: I can easily use my journo card and ensure 24/7 access to the place. But who wants that! I am angry…