Cultures in Contact: How Education and Cultural Studies Help Obliterate Unnecessary Perpetuation of Cross-cultural Misunderstanding Between the USA and the Arab World
Cultures often shape the way people think and the way they see the rest of the world. For cultures, to be sure, provide us with customs, values, ideas, beliefs and principles. And people live in a cultural web that influences the way they relate to each other, the way they look, their habits, dreams and desires. But as cultures bind people together, they also blind and set them apart. We accept certain ways of looking at the rest of the world that can only be characterized as cultural stereotypes or frames of reference. These stereotypes define their relationships to other nations, cultures and societies, and they view other cultures as prescribed by their own. The most dominant ones shape the way people perceive the world, and they blind us to other ways of seeing it. When something violates such stereotypes, it may be called unnatural, uncommon, or, even worse, unethical! Our identities (who we are and how we think) are deeply rooted in certain cultural values that are so closely associated with our beliefs that questioning them implies re-considering the way people see the world, and the way it sees them. As a matter of fact, in the aftermath of the Cold War and 9/11, 2001, the Arab and Muslim World has been engaged in an ongoing struggle to develop new approaches, initiatives, and programs toward a better understanding of the region and its peoples, while stressing the point that much of the misunderstanding between this part of the world (the Middle East) and the rest of the world stems from real conflicts and displeasure with Western policies. It is the purpose of this paper to explore the manner in which education and cultural studies can be a vehicle, which may serve to moderate the tensions that emerge from dissimilar understandings and goals. It is our intention to address those pedagogical and systemic aspects, which, in a way, serve to unintentionally reinforce a jaundiced view of other nations and people, and find answers for the following questions in the course of the paper as well: What divides and binds cultures? Where do our differences come from? Are those differences cultural? Are they religious? Are they social? Or are they political? Should nations live in cultural boxes? How can education and cultural studies help us build bridges instead of walls?
Key words: Mutual understanding; Common ground; Grievances; Foreign policy; Set apart; Differences; Exchange programs; Forums; Perceptions; Stereotypes; Animosity
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