Wednesday, June 21, 2006

We Americans are too Arrogant to Admit that We Lost

I lived in the States for 7 years after I won my green card lottery. During these years, I was able to get a degree in Business Administration. Shortly after I obtained my US citizenship, I decided to go back to Egypt and have been working for a multinational corporation here during the last 2 years. When I went back to Egypt, everybody made fun of me. I heard people saying in my face that I am too stupid to give up the luxury of living in America. I was asked why I would be back to a third world country and why would I return to deal with a failed system of government. My answer is simple: I found myself becoming more self-absorbed, selfish, arrogant, and self-centered as I spent years in the States. I found myself more detached from others and more competitive. I noticed how the American system destroys the sense of community and how people fill their void by meaningless consumption. I looked at people’s eyes and could not find happiness. I saw most people hooked on drugs or Prozac. I saw teenagers shitting on their mothers and not respecting them. I wanted to be my own God and plan for my future and was not happy when things did not go my way. There is something about living in America that killed my spontaneity and transformed me into a hollow man. The latest fiasco in Iraq proved that I made the right decision to leave. It is very clear that we lost that war in iraq, yet out arrogance and our inability to admit that we lost is dragging our feet to more humiliation by the Islamic terrorists. We thought we are better than the whole world and we accused the world of failing to understand that we know the “Truth.” I befriended many Americans and I dated a couple of American women. One common thread among Americans is their tendencies to be so self- absorbed and alone in this world. You can be talking to them and feeling lonely at the same time. There is just this deep void that permeates everything in their lives. I refused to be alone and I went back. It is not perfect in Egypt but at least I am more spontaneous and feel more close to people (even the likes of Maloka). I am serving in my church and teaching Sunday schools. I am less concerned about tomorrow and more aware of the present moment. Yes, there are many societal ills in Egypt, but there is still a sense of community and respect for the elderly.
Here is a nice poem by TS Eliott that highlights my point

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Anonymous Peace on earth. said...

I cannot agree more.All what you mentioned is just at true feeling that a lot of foreigners or foreign born Americans have.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is why Americans hate soccer. Because they suck in it and cannot be number 1. How arrogant

7:09 AM  
Blogger Egypeter said...

My goodness Maged!!

I am so sorry that your experience in America was from hell. But as an American born Copt, I hold the ABSOLUTE EXACT OPPOSITE of your views on America.

I really can't believe it. I've met hundreds of immigrant Egyptians and I have never heard anyone describle America like you do. It really saddens me.

I know your views on Iraq and how Sadaam (while hell-bent on destroying America) was a SECULAR ruler, nontheless. And secularism in the middle east is such a sweet sweet dream of mine. I long for all despotic ME regimes to embrace secular governments. But while my views are different than yours regarding Iraq, no big deal, there are deacons in my church who would agree with you on the War in Iraq. But all of the other stuff about family and community not being important in America and how ALL Americans are self-absorbed...well, in my opinion, you couldn't be further from the truth.

I thank Jesus every night that I was born and raised in this country. But I also thank Jesus that we've got people like you fighting the good fight back home too :)

God bless ya, Maged!

2:11 PM  
Blogger maged salamah said...

Thanks habiby, I realized that I was over-generalizing in my statement, but I always had issues with how capitalism is destroying the sense of community and connectedness between people in the US. Also, I never meant that my experience in America was from hell. In the contrary, I have got a lot from living there, such as being respected for who i am and dinding my inner voice. I just felt that people are treated like bee-workers in a bee hive and that rugged individualism took a hold of people. if one dies, he/she is replaced and noone reallly cares/ I am trying to find a nice medium between the extreme individuality related to being an American and the extreme dependence related to being egyptian

3:25 PM  
Blogger Egypeter said...

I see. Point well taken. You're in my prayers Maged!

10:29 PM  
Anonymous true egyptian said...

Indeed the west has a lot of negatives, but overall, I found life in the west much more rewarding both from the self point of view and the general society point of view. I left Egypt as a late teenager some 38 years ago? I lived in the west all that time and have travelled extensively nth america, europe, asia and sth america. I live in Melbourne Australia.
To sum it up, it is up to the person, I am very much involved with the comunity, my kids, although born here, but all very aware of thier Egyptianness and very much involved with the church.
One thing stands out, that is the value and respect of human life. In the west I am treated as a valuable member of soceity and respected for what I am, regardless??? In Egypt I did not experience this at all. I was always just one of the crowd? Not to mention alination due to religion?

11:32 AM  
Blogger maged salamah said...

Tue Egyptian,
I am glad you had a positive experience in the West, but we all differ in our reactions to immigration because of our predispositions/personality. I wish you wrote something about how you dealt with Western racism, and please do not try to convince me that it does not exist in Australia since most Australians recently acknowledged this problem in a recent poll.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous True Egyptian said...

Dear Maged,
I respect your feelings, but considering the time you stayed in western soceity, you most likely did not give it enough time.
My first negative experience was in Vienna as a young Egyptian high school student who was sent to study and every one treated me as if I was out of a zoo? Most was exteremley surprised to find out I was christian, they assumed all egyptians are ARABS and moslems? I was asked frequently if I owned a camel?
In Australia, I remeber, as a student returning home one night through the city of Melbourne, this would have been around 1973 or 74 and Moshe Diane (Israel Defence minister at the time) was visiting and giving a talk at Melbourne town hall, I was asked by the police to walk on the other side of the street, fearing Arabic looking youth?
Yes, there is some prejedice in all societies, today our Moslems brothers (more than any others) are hated and feel prejedice because of 9.11 and sucide bombing etc?
But the law of the land allows them to be equal. And many if not the majority have no problems at all.
Even though there was some feeling of prejedice, still, I was top of my uni at gradustion, I worked for a govenment organisation and was sent at their cost to do master degree and an MBA. When I worked for an international US based company, I became one of their to management world wide (I am talking one of the top 10 companies in the worls) no prejedice experienced. ONLY YOUR MERETS AND ABILITIES were considered.
Now I run my own company and employ others, I hire on merits not because of nationality, religion or race.
I hope I have given you some answers, however you can put it to the test your self, you sound like a youn man in mid to late twenties max, the world is yours do take it.
In Egypt on the other hand, your name and religion do count????

4:46 AM  
Blogger maged salamah said...

Dear true Egyptian,
I appreciate your response, but let me tell you what I meant when I said that racism hurts. Only whites have some privileges that neither I nor you will ever have. These privilges create a huge gap between them and others. I also made it and worked for Microsoft company before deciding to leave, but this lack of privilge helped me make the decision.
Peggy Mcintosh is a white writer who generated a list of her own privilege: She wrote:
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

I generated a list of muslim privilege as well so i am not saying that Egypt is better.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous True Egyptian said...

Dear Maged,
I am some what saddened for the way you feel and obviously your experiences shaped these feelings.
I am sure I can claim all 50 points just as Peggy McIntosh did? However the point here is being comfortable in the way you live.
I accept your point and indeed racism is the worst prejudice there is. Hate destroys all, those who dispense it and those who fall victims to it.

I hope you are very happy (which is stating the obvious). You are in my prayers and I pray that God’s love and care be with you always.

It does not matter where you live as long as God and Christ is the centre of this life.

I will keep reading your articles and if I come to Egypt, I will let you know

Cheers and God bless.

11:27 PM  
Blogger maged salamah said...

Thanks dear true Egyptian. You are right; happiness only comes from living with Christ and having Him in the cetner of your life. I feel much happier in Egypt because I am being myself and I am surrounded by my loved ones. I have so many problems in Egypt, especially religious prejudice, but because of my income and social status, I managed to minimize the impact of prejudiced islam on me. For example, they do not pay me and I have my own house. I have my own driver so that i do not drive among these idiots in the streets.

6:47 AM  
Blogger maged salamah said...

and please let me know when you come to Egypt

6:48 AM  
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9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree, while America is a very competitive place there are people in the country that compete and succeed without being selfish or greedy. It is funny that many foreigners tend to feel this way. Yet, you do not feel that it is greedy or selfish to go to another's country gain all that you can and leave. Many people are always saying that America tries to exploit other countries but how many immigrants come to America (legally and illegally) and work to send money back home or to temporarily take advantage off the economic benefits and then leave. It amazes me how people are always talking crap about America and Americans in general. If you think it is so bad then stay in your country. You are being a hypocrit to criticize a country when all you are doing is using it for your financial benefit. A place cannot make you something that you originally were not. So if you found yourself being selfish then you probably were already that way. If someone or something is able to "change" you then you do not have a strong self identity in the first place.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The writing of Peggy Mcintosh....its only applied if she lives in white majority nations...

If you live in a nation where the majority is your own race, you can write these kind of "privilege" thing for your race too...

So actually based on what do a person judge on other?

Whenever you are when you travel, whether its in US, Africa etc....people judge the skin color always on wealth/money.

Unfortunately. the easiest way but not always accurate ways is to affiliate the person skin color with current wealthy nations...

Nothing to do with skin color, people treat white better because people think there is something to be earn like money or not because of pure respect for skin color...

Do you see locals in Asia treat foreigner once they know they don't have money? Still with respect? They say something like dirty stinky white monkey, or poor albino...

Same like those Arabs or rich Japanese/Chinese when they enter casino/hotel in the west...they are the one to be privileged because the business operator thought they got money compared to the local...

But still, all is about doing business...nothing to do with respect based of skin color...

Yes, sometime a foreign born person in the west can feel this way, but what to expect...all the media and newspaper are catered for the majority...

When you back in Egypt, are the newspaper and media catered to praise other races? Its not, they will write all good things about your own...

People will always write good things about their own race because of their matter it can be proved universally or not...

Same does apply with Peggy Mcintosh's writing...this kind of writing is for her own race consumption..why need to be taken serious or believed?

People come to America because there is money to be earned, not because people admire white people...

Same like white American who go to China to do business...

If you want to do business with them, you must know how to praise them...people like to hear sweet things..that's' all...

6:02 AM  
Blogger AGUS said...

Hi Maged,
I live in Australia and I can totally relate to what you felt and said. I took up the citizenship and never looked back since, only now and again I can see a bit of regret as my country of origin does not recognise dual citizenship. What I am doing now is just taking the best of both worlds. I understand western lifestyle/civilisation or whatever we call it can be very individualistic and make you feel empty however the access to money in western world enable me to save up to travel back and forth to my country my origin for long holiday and believe me this is the best life I will always treasure for years to come.

8:18 PM  

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