A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

“Midt i Beirut”

The complexity of cultures and civilizations is something that globalization and media are ceaselessly trying to homogenize- stereotyping entire regions, underplaying the startling differences in cultures, and portraying differences that should be positive as negative oddities with a lot of potential to start conflict.

Denmark. I’ve always known that the Danish capital was Copenhagen, I knew that they had green, rolling plains and a whole lot of cows, and I knew that my favorite dairy products were made in Denmark. I had met a few Danish people who I automatically classified with the rest of the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Northern Europeans who were naturally “colder” than Mediterraneans and who generally preferred to mind their own business.

One of the exercises we did at the dialogue workshop consisted of having each person write down a demonstration slogan that they think is vital to the betterment of today’s world and in which they would go protest for. After the first round in which each person represented their own slogan, everyone was asked to choose another person to demonstrate with based on the other person’s slogan.

The slogans contained things like “Better Education”, “Peace”, “Freedom of Thought” (mine), “Trust”, “Reconciliation”, and “Freedom of Belief”.

Dina, an Egyptian woman, went a step further from these generalizations and wrote a more specific slogan- “Palestine”. The most shining case of on-going injustice, where thoughts aren’t free and necessities don’t exist. Palestine; the ultimate breach of human rights. And to my surprise, the Danes agreed, because at the end of the exercise, “Palestine” was the most people chose to demonstrate about, and behind Dina stood an equal number of Danes and Arabs. I found it very surprising to listen to why they chose “Palestine”.

I mention this particular incident because during the cartoon controversy, the Israeli-Palestinian case was mentioned in every single conversation I had about the cartoons. “Do you think the newspaper would be allowed to draw something similar about the holocaust?” I also mention it because most of the Western youth I’ve met in my life (and believe me when I tell you they weren’t few) were extremely ignorant about Middle East politics, which led me to generalize that all of Western youth are the same. I was proven quite wrong.

There were other similar exercises that broke my own stereotypes about “all the Western world”. One was similar to a poll, where our facilitator asked a question and gave 4 choices as answers each of which was equivalent to each corner of the room. Seeing people physically representing their answers was fascinating, especially as the proportions of Arabs and Danes in each corner was equal.

For example, one of the questions was “In personal matters of great importance such as marriage, jobs, etc. what is your family’s role in your decision?” The choices were:

Corner 1- I would not even tell them
Corner 2- I would inform them of my decision
Corner 3- I would ask for their advice but do what I think is best
Corner 4- I would depend completely on their decision.

I would have thought that most of the Danes would stand in corner 1 and 2 and that the Arabs would stand in corners 3 and 4. To my surprise, there was an equal number of Danes and Arabs in corners 2 and 3, and no one at all stood in corners 1 and 4. Similar results were seen in the rest of the exercises.

Mohammad, myself, Bettina and Bassem in downtown Beirut

Other than breaking cultural boundaries, the workshop was a lot of fun.

Here are some pictures of the workshop. (if you click on them they grow, wheee. Better yet, download Firefox and click on each box while pressing Control and gasp as something really magical happens).

Nada and Bassem karoakingGorm, Chris, Anne and IAmerThe entire crew
Nada teaching Chris bellydancing (in public)Gorm showing off his 1$ sunglassesBettina and Anja trying to catch a tanOutside the Cable Cars
Mona and AmerChris, Mohammad, TimmMe looking evilByblos
SolidaireBassem and the derbakehFaesal, Anja, and AlexCharlotte, Mohammad, Katrine




Something that should be introduced to the Jordanian market


  1. Anonymous

    Interesting post. Whatever the general nature of a culture maybe, i dont think a single workshop with 2 dozen participants can offer an accurate reflection of that culture. The whole ‘family-corner’ exercise was particularly feeble, and while it was an interesting unfolding, certainly shouldnt be given any value (to both arab and danish understanding). if you want to understand a culture, you need to immerse yourself in it, i.e. idealy, live in it or frequent it.

    Good stuff otherwise, iv become a fan of yor blog. our views are very dissimilar, but i respect anyone who coherently ad logically presents their ideas. Please keep up the good work


  2. Ozi, I most definitely agree that such a n activity in now way even shallowly allows someone to understand a culture, it takes years and knowledge of language and convention. But in these 5 days and with these 14 people, I really did learn a lot. Nothing compared to what I would learn were I to spend sometime in Denmark, but I’m thankful for the experience anyway.

  3. Happy for y’all, a little less stereotyping in the world. Why don’t _I_ ever get invited to such an event ? I have a lot to say about Danish mentality.

    Keep up the good work, Roba

  4. Hi Roba, waiting to hear more about your experience. I’m looking forward to hearing what is the most effective point, thought…or whatever that you came back with. By the way if you are interested in such a meetings apply for I particpated with it 5 years ago and it was one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life.

  5. Your generalization of Western youth might not have been as wrong as you think.

    Don’t forget it takes a certain type of person to join such a workshop, people with certain ideals and qualities regarding open dialogue and free thinking.

    The fact both groups were so similar in their responses in the corner exercise, and that nobody at all stood in 1 or 4, points to the fact that you were all independent people who reach your own conclusions yet care about the ones around you.

    It would be interesting to do the same experiment with 14 people off the street, or more rural streets even.

    Regardless, the workshop sounds pretty cool.

  6. Anonymous

    Hmm, seems to have been a very interesting meeting, the select your corners experiment especially. However, I think these meetings should enhance not only tolerance but enable people to see the world from a wider experience. I mean, whatever we think of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, what the Egyptian Dina claims (“the most shining case of on-going injustice”, “the ultimate breach of human rights”) are to me provincial thinking from a very narrow-minded point of view. No doubt, human rights should be respected in Israel/Palestine, yet the conflict there is far from being even one of the worst in the world. Far worse living examples are plenty: Darfur, Congo and many other places in Sub-Saharan Africa, generally human rights in almost all Arab countries etc.

    Exactly the kind of thinking that what is mine or close to mine (my Prophet, my fellow Arabs etc.) is what matters the most is the kind of thinking that led to some ugly aspects of the cartoon crisis as well. The mirror of this is of course, for example, some of our fellow Americans and Europeans thinking they are the centre of the world and “swarmed” with immigrants and refugees while the true problems are elsewhere or claiming their religions is far above Islam.

  7. husams

    Lol. Ta7sheesh jameedkast with you roba, o sho you don’t eat chicken cause they got wings!! Is it logic?

    I guess the question about the family’s role would have shown a better resolution if instead 1 and 4, the questions are, would you fellow your parents if they disagree with your decision, would not follow your parents if they disagree with your decision. The workshop in general sounds interesting. I don’t think people generally disagree towards good and evil. They just disagree towards understanding them, once you understand each others right, you are on the same division.

    Thanks for CTRL tip, I didn’t know it before.

  8. Husams, lol, there is logic behind it, I’m actually allergic to poultry ;)

  9. Jameel

    Even if this workshop is about culture, you are hardly representative of the Arab culture. At best, you represent 1% of the whole? Hardly justifies you being there.

    Doesn’t negate the fact that you should be there if you feel this topic concerns you. But that only renders the forum useless when looked at as a way to change anything.

    I assume too that for the Danes (and I lived there for 2 years), the people that came did that for the trip itself, or are unrepresentative of their society.

    This forum is one of a multitide of initiatives the Danes are taking at undoing the controversy that one man got them in. I do not see how it helps us if the victimizer meets the victim and they talk it over. Isn’t justice that the victimizer apologizes in the least?

  10. Isma3i, ROBA, some of these guys are CUTE. I wanna go with u next time. I can be your 3attal. Did u know I work free of charge?? :) It’s a bargain. I also entertain as a bonus.

  11. InfidelDane

    Jameel: Roba shouldn’t be there ? Who then ?
    You lived in DK for 2 yrs ? So you must know that “we” are proud of our welfare system and our freedoms.
    My national pride has suffered badly. I’m a victim too. Who’ll apologize to me ?
    and you ” do not see how it helps us if the victimizer meets the victim and they talk it over” ok, got any better idea?

  12. Marianne

    Jameel – who is the victimizer in the case of the cartoons?
    The editor of Jyllands-Posten? The cartoonists? The Prime Minister who refused to apoligize on behalf of a independent newspaper?
    The judge who found the cartoons non-blasphemous?

    Or is it all the people who went beserk in the streets in the Middle East because of some cartoons most of them had not even seen for themselves?

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