Inspired by Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write about Africa.
Be as geographically vague as possible. Treat the Middle East as one nation with expansive deserts, run-down buildings and people living in tents. Men wear turbans and smoke hookah. There are also underground night clubs, unlimited wealth and very aggressive sheikhs — think “Aladdin.” The Middle East is both a war-torn wasteland and a place of riches, filled with oil-drunk-barbarians.
Treat Arabs, Persians, Muslims and Middle Easterners as though they are all one homogenous, indistinguishable group because they all look the same to you anyway. If someone in class points out that Arabs ≠ Muslims and Persians ≠ Arabs, nod knowingly, and then proceed to conflate them anyway. It’s really hard for you to keep all these identities apart when they’re all brown, bearded, eat hummus, and make weird guttural noises.
Express your disdain for the state of minorities in that region. Make sure to use the word “backward” as much as possible. Constantly refer to Muslims as being part of the “most oppressed race.” Always begin by talking about Muslim women, and how they’re treated so awfully, how they’re forced into marriages, how they’re not allowed to pursue education, how they’re waiting for you to get on a volunteer trip to help liberate them. Definitely bring up the fact that women aren’t allowed to drive, despite the fact that this issue is central to literally one country in the entire region. Again, don’t get too caught up in the details. The point is, these women need saving, even when they say they’re fine. To quote FEMEN, the Ukraine feminist group famous for its topless protests, “They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me.’”
When talking about Arab and Muslim women, always remind your fellow classmates that the veil is a thing. A very oppressive thing. When it comes to women’s issues, it’s all a “thing.” In the Middle East, “things” happen to women. Female genital mutilation is a thing, honor killings are a thing, acid attacks are a thing, forced marriage is a thing. Attempting to trace and understand socio-economic and political factors that have created and contributed these issues is too complicated. Framing issues isn’t important, because these women are being treated like bodies for their governments to project their ideologies on, they’re a means to a political end. Never question whether or not you’re partially fueled by your American exceptionalism. You’re the good guy here.
In your political science class, always center the United States in every Middle Eastern conflict. Disregard any history of colonialism, Western influence and American interventions. The region has always been in chaos. Talk about the Middle East in abstract terms detached from the reality of people’s lived experiences. Talk about Islam like it’s some rigid and monolithic system of beliefs independent of the people who practice it — a failure on behalf of the West to humanize Middle Easterners. Pay attention to youth movements and grassroots activism in the Middle East when it’s trendy to talk about, when it’s trending on Twitter #PeaceinTheMiddleEast #ArabSpringForever.
When you feel like you’re losing their attention, try to pull them back by throwing in 9/11 or anything that’ll blind them with a sense of patriotism. If bringing 9/11 seems like too much of a stretch, make sure to use buzz words like “jihad,” “suicide bombers,” “al Qaeda,” “extremist,” “radical,” “sharia,” “fundamentalist.”
In English class, always mention how amazed you are that the Middle East isn’t as primitive as you assumed it would be. The reading your professor assigned didn’t mention anything about camels. The characters were well rounded and people were going about their daily lives. Nobody’s hand got chopped off.
If you’re taking an Arabic class, let everyone know on the first day that you’re doing it so you can help fight the war on terror. Reduce a very rich language spoken by millions to just another qualification on your résumé. Arabic is the language spoken by the terrorists and you want to infiltrate their ranks from within. Your opinion is well informed, you’ve been watching “Homeland” since it premiered.
Always end by talking about freedom. Your freedom, their freedom. Freedom is always the operative word.
Haya Alfarhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.