5 Common Misunderstandings About The Middle East

By Rich A. Rosendahl

Someone recently asked me to come up with a list of 5 common misunderstandings I’ve noticed Americans tend to have about the Middle East, here they are:

1) It's dangerous.  Sure, some parts are very dangerous but so much of the Middle East is much less dangerous than even the US.  If fact, a recent report ranked Jordan as less dangerous than the US - Global Peace Index 2017 So lets be careful not to discount the entire region as untravelable, when there are so many beautiful and safe places to visit in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and more! 

2) People in the Middle East don't like Americans and/or Christians.  Two places in particular that I have spent time that should reflect this, if it were significantly true, would be Palestine and Iraq.  Both places have lots of reasons to not be thrilled with someone like me, however, when I have gone and continue to go there and elsewhere in the Middle East, I am welcomed with unmatched hospitality.  I am openly American (with a couple truly unique exceptions you are very unlikely to find yourselves in) and open about my faith.   The key is not being an a$$hole about either, no one, anywhere likes it when we're are being a$$holes ;) 

3)  Woman are so oppressed they have to wear burka's everywhere in the Middle East.  There are certainly places where the cultural norms regarding dress would contrast what we find acceptable in the US.  And the mistreatment of woman is a significant global issue that absolutely needs to be addressed and resolved. But stop by a Mall in Amman sometime and you may be surprised to see woman wearing Hijab's and Yoga pants.  There are such vast variations but as Americans we sometimes get stuck with one image in our heads and that is far from all encompassing. 

4)  The food is weird.  I love to cook and I especially love to eat.  The vast majority of Middle East cuisine is not only delicious but very palatable for Americans.  You may get a little weirded out the first time you are served goat meat but once you try it your worries will disappear.  A good plate of goat is reminiscent of crockpot of slow cooked beef roast back home, sans some remarkably flavorful Middle East spices of course.  And the most popular meats are usually chicken, fish, beef and lamb, so you may not have goat at all.  Here are a few of my favorite Middle East dishes I’d recommend for you try: Dolma, Mansef, Maqlooba, Shawarma, Falafel, Lamb kabobs and Kuba.

5) It’s just a big desert and everyone rides camels.  My friend here in the US gets a big kick out of this one, especially when I traveled to his hometown in Southern Iraq, found (the one) guy on a camel, took a pic and posted it on my Facebook page.  The largest contiguous desert is in fact in the Middle East, called Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter) that I have an adventurous desire to someday trek across, however, there are some significantly less arid places, with lots of cars!  For example, the West Bank, Palestine is one of my favorite places in the world.  Not only are Palestinians remarkably Loving, on a breezy day, surrounded by olive tree covered hills, it sometimes feels more like I’m in Southern California.  

These are just a handful of misunderstandings of the Middle East that we Americans tend to have.  Hopefully globalization will continue to expand in ways that bring our cultures closer together so, together, we can learn about and understand each other better - while discovering the remarkable friendships awaiting.  

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