Jun 22, 2009

Libya & Power of perception

Lately we hear a lot about integration issues in some European countries. We all know the story. Sad to say it is mostly people with Muslim religion which find that they have problems "integrating" in life in their country of choice. Even sadder to say it is mostly people from quite rich European countries which have the problem with "integration" of this particular group of immigrants.

Now, in my opinion these kind of problems existed, exist and will exist in any country in the world. Forever. They are probably never going to be solved completely. So many reasons, one of the less obvious ones is - What are we all going to talk about then? Imagine the boredom. No talk about "these Moroccans coming to France and being rude", "Those Arabs coming to US and bombing stuff", "Those Turks in Netherlands tsc-tscking to Dutch girls", "Those black Africans coming to Libya and breaking in the houses", "Those Algerians in Libya, lazy bastards" "Those Egyptians in Libya, sweet talking liars". (And I guess I better point out here that I am being sarcastic now.) Even if you go to a pure tourist country, where foreigners stay only few weeks at best, locals will always make fun of them, grouped by, say what? Nationality of course.

Integration is not a nice word any more, since it got negative ring to it over time. To start with, the whole idea was born a bit too late. That's how things are done I guess. Most governments are reactive, not proactive.

On the human level, I believe it is the fear of the unknown and fear of change in many of the countries that causes people to behave in strange ways. I hear it in Libya as well- "Go Home Comments" I mentioned in one post is a perfect example of it. The fear that there is someone different, with different culture, opinion, religion and family background who comes often in big numbers to your country that makes locals go berserk. You hear them whispering on the corners "What will happen to us all?", "This is bad..", "She is different..", "What if some of us change..", "What will become of us?"...

So why am I writing this then?
Integration problems in Europe are established. How to solve them, is something that we will be hearing for a long time. Many governments talk a lot and do little. But there is other side of the story as well. "The other way around". How do home countries of these immigrants to Europe treat their own immigrants?

I am an expat, not an immigrant. But as one, I face very similar problems as any other immigrant. I lived in several foreign countries for extended periods of time. Most of those countries were culturally and politically very different from mine. Admittedly, I did not like some of them. Admittedly, I did not "integrate" well in some either since it is easier to just move in expat circles. As expat, I know that I am not going to live in current country forever and that, at times, influences my integration attempts. Expats are a curious sort. We are temp immigrants. And because of that, we are always in minority and at the receiving end of discrimination. As one Libyan told me once - we come, take their money, behave different, generally cause problems (not specified which ones), and then we leave. And to top it off, it's their own government that gave blessing to us being here in the first place. And that can cause resentment.

Not that there is no resentment towards thousand of real immigrants from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey. They are looked down to, since Libyans as we all know are after all a superior beings. Immigrants from Mali, Niger,Togo, Chad, Sudan, Benin, Ghana, Gabon etc are treated worst. Most of them are here illegally and most are barely treated as humans. I had several illegal workers doing some work for me at different times and the way that their boss talked to them was disgusting.

My personal resentment toward life in Libya is directly linked to how locals behave to me. If someone yells obscene things at you in the street, if people generally stare at you it will not be long before you start disliking the country. And even taking into account the differences in cultures, there is a bottom line in all human relationships - decency and respect. And neither one of many prejudices I face on everyday basis here is caused by having either. These are just some of them.
I am white and blond and do not cover, so I am a slut. I am foreigner, therefore I am rich and should pay higher price than local does and have to resort to bribery to get things done. I am atheist, so I must be what? Insane? Soulless? I am here for the money so I am less worthy. The list goes on.
And all of this examples are disrespectful towards me. Would you treat your mother the same? Hell, maybe you would....

So trust me, I understand how a Muslim person might feel living in some of European countries. There is discrimination against them as well, there are prejudices.
They are backward because their woman "have to" cover. They are stubborn since they do not speak the language. They are at times, even terrorists because several fanatics with Muslim religion blowed up something. Their children are more likely to grow up criminals (dubious statistics), therefore all are criminals. They form strong communities with each other, therefore they do not "cooperate" well in local community.

The only difference is that governments of some European countries are trying to rectify things. Put up laws against discrimination. Help immigrants integrate. Give more opportunities. Form support groups. They at least try to rectify things on legal level. It is not enough, the damage is done and much more has to be done much faster. But at least there is talk.

You want to wear a headscarf to school and to work and not be stared at. I want to be able to wear what I want as well and not be stared at. How does that sound? Could it be, uhm, Same?

The bottom line is that both situations hurt us all on a personal level. I don't give a shit about your government, and you don't give a shit about mine. What we do care about is how citizens of a country we live in treat us. That's what matters.

You want your culture to be respected, your religion to be accepted, your lifestyle to be left alone. And I want the same for myself. So we could all start by extending this courtesy to immigrants in our own countries.

I always treated immigrants (if I am bothered enough to distinguish) in my own country with human decency and respect. And I always will. Because you see, I know I am not better than them. And because I do not believe that treating someone else as bad as I am treated here will make things better. For him, for her, and most importantly (humans are selfish beings) for me.


Mohamed Hotmani said...

Another great post. I've lived abroad and I was lucky enough to have minor integration problems. As you mentioned the way Libyans view and treat foreigners is not acceptable by any standards. My questions is what's the real deep reason of such unacceptable behavior disrespect and aggression from the people?

wisdom said...


Are you still in Tripoli ?

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