Last week I decided I had to get out of here, even just for the day. So I popped off to Washington for a meeting of the National Council of US-Arab Relations. And why not? I’m on their mailing list. The topic was “What Lies Ahead for America in Arabia and the Gulf? Analyses and Prognosis.” Well, Okay.
Here’s from their website:
“Congressional & Public Affairs Briefings
The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations periodically sponsors public educational programs on Capitol Hill and around Washington, DC where an assemblage of domestic and internationally renowned specialists analyze, discuss, and debate issues of importance to the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world. These events examine how best to strengthen and expand mutual Arab-U.S. trust, confidence, and benefits while examining a range of complex issues, interests, and policies.”
There were a few guys, from the Gulf Research Center:
Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman and Founder, Gulf Research Center
Dr. Christian Koch, Director, Gulf Research Center Foundation
Dr. Mustafa Alani, Senior Advisor and Research Program Director, Gulf Research Center
The moderator was
Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations
I’m not sure what to make of this. Strangely, the NCUSAR is a charity, dedicated to promoting understanding across cultures. A noble goal, surely, but……? Giving money to help the US and the Gulf counties make more deals strikes me as a little disingenuous. Think I’ll continue with Medecins sans Frontiers, myself.
The guys on the panel were all knowledgeable, and I’m sure they spoke well. I have no memory of what anyone said though, except that the overall essence was that the GCC is some sort of solid block and should act as such? And many of us know that Oman and KSA, just to randomly pull two names out of the air, are a wee bit different. In every way. I couldn’t help but feel that Oman is above lots of this stuff, in the sense that Oman’s (HM’s) goal for the country seems to be for the improvement of people’s lives, not just a few people. (Yes, yes I know it’s not perfect.)
Maybe it was just over my head. Judging from the discussion, it looks like there will in fact be a future between the US and Arabia, surprise surprise. There were a couple of American guys in the audience who had served in Oman (as diplomats) and they seemed nice and normal. For that kind of thing I mean. I felt I couldn’t read the subtext.I will go to another one sometime and maybe be more receptive as I'll know what to expect.
I guess I just feel a huge disconnect between my ideas etc and those of these policymakers. Of course! But really, when I think about it, shouldn’t there be some similarities? I am American. I have a business in the Gulf. I am constantly trying to understand this language and culture, and misunderstandings are one of the biggest pitfalls, especially in Salalah. I even deal in oil, albeit another kind of oil! Anyway, to trot out my old metaphor, I felt like a cat in a cabbage field.
They had nice food though.
Perfectly understandable was the sweet little Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center. Of course, it’s completely adorable. A cute, bricked, plant festooned walk with tables outside in the middle of a blossoming garden lead you to the unassuming door in this Dupont Circle townhouse. They have an exhibition going on downstairs, highlighting some of Oman’s many crafts. Oman really has a colorful and rich craft history: fabrics, frankincense, silver, copper, weaving, leather, kanjals (Ceremonial daggers) and the like. In fact, it’s common for other, nameless countries in the vicinity to appropriate these crafts and then pretend they are originally theirs. Such behavior is of course common, even in my business, but whereas in my case it’s just creepy and very “Single White Female,” in Oman’s case it’s the whole national heritage!
This exhibition attests to the rich variety of Oman’s culture and heritage. The visiting artisans who went to Santa Fe for the Folk Market this summer made many of the pieces on display. Some beautiful things to be sure!
I talked to a friendly young American scholar, who was about as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as can be. It’s weird to talk to an American who has been to Salalah. Good-weird I mean. I am almost over eager to hear their impression. I kept grilling him on his impressions of Salalah.
Anyway, I didn’t stay too long as I was on my way to this other thing.
But if you are in Washington, stop by the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, small, sweet, surprisingly rich and very friendly and interesting! Just like Oman!
If you live in NYC, I recommend going to Washington, for the day at least. It’s clean, friendly, quiet, polite and well put together. Roses bloom right on the street, wallah. No wonder people think we’re a superpower. Gone are the old impressions Washington used to painfully give. I’m sure there’re still plenty of horrors (I mean of the drug/street/crime variety,) but I saw just quietly humming metros with excellent low lighting, good sandwiches, and plenty of announcements of free and high quality things to do. And, maybe, there is a lot of belief around. There is an earnestness. People go to Washington with an agenda, to get something done, and they believe strongly enough in it to go to Washington about it. The escape from constant cynicism is a relief. You do see the nuts (whomever you think they are) because everyone is there, but it’s their capital too, after all. I encountered no hostility, no aggression, and no one following me down the street begging for my money, my time, and my signature. Everyone said hello. Some of them even introduced themselves. People even stood aside to let others off the train before they boarded. I swear.