This morning I commenced an experiment upon my unwitting students.
With each group of ten students – there are five groups in total – I am opening the tutorial with the question: What does the Middle East mean to you?.
The majority of the students are British, with a smattering of European; the majority have never visited the region and predominantly cite the BBC as their main source of information on all things Middle Eastern.
As they mulled the question I encouraged them to think creatively: not just the news, but food, culture, history, music, film, fiction and faith.
What emerged from the resulting spider diagram was bleak.
Rather, bleaker than I anticipated.
Unfortunately I forgot my camera today, so the findings of Group 1 must be crudely rendered below:
Divided societies – conflict – terror, Censorship, Contrast to West, Cleanliness, Theocracy – shari’a, Dress, Anti-Semitism, Wealth – ostentatious, Patriarchy, History – Ottomans, Oil, Zionism.
As I stood back a wave of despondency swept over.
I commented on the negativity of the overall picture and lamented that the true beauty, diversity and general deliciousness of the area was absent.
Sweet though they are, their faces merely radiated perplexity and I vowed to change this.
By the time they finish my course, they will not only know the Middle East – they will be irrevocably, inevitably and hopelessly in love with it.
This will be continued…