Kupakwashe’s Insights – Middle East Experience 2019
By Kupakwashe Matangira
Never-ending wars, religious tension, poverty and corruption- is this the Middle East’s cursed fate? During his presidency, George W Bush asked “are the people of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism?” Whilst on the Middle East Experience delegation (MEE), myself and 15 of the most incredible people from around Australia spent the start of 2020 trying to answer these very questions.
Nationalism, religion and the state, these are the headlines often associated with the Middle East. But does another world actually exist beyond these headlines? In 2019, I chose to apply for the 2020 Middle East Experience because I wanted to get an understanding of how the region worked outside the skewed Orientalist lens of Western Media. I wanted to feel the heartbeat of the region, connect with the people and understand their stories of what it means to grow up and live in the Middle East- a region so poorly understood by the West. I wanted to understand the events that have shaped the highly nuanced and extremely complex regional politics we have today. Is the Middle East a victim of its past or is volatility just the ebb and flow?
Time fails me to adequately explore just how much I learnt in the 3 weeks of MEE. When we landed in Nazareth, we immediately got a sense of how diverse Israel is, something not really echoed by Western media. Around us was a patchwork quilt of nationalities and religions- Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christian and Muslims, all coexisting in peace. The greatest lesson MEE taught me, was the ability to read between that narratives and not hold to a single story perpetuated by the media. Throughout the Middle East, there are dominant narratives that plague the region and stifle progress to any sort of peaceful solution and emphasise the concept of ‘the other’. Whilst on the ground, we got to understand the competing visions of political Zionism and political Islam and how that affects everyday people in their quest for a life of normalcy. As human beings, we seem to despise what we do not know and hate what we cannot seem to conquer. Whilst these narratives often breed prejudice and fear, I was inspired by the way young people throughout the region fought to understand each other as a means of recreating the narrative. Ultimately creating the world they want to see. In Jordan, we met with ‘I Dare for Sustainable Development’ and incredible organisation empowering young people to increase interfaith dialogue and pioneer a culture of peace through the promotion of sustainable life-styles. The organisation focusses on building healthy relationships through exploring alternate narratives to create empathy and understanding through eliminating the concept of “the other”. I Dare’s philosophy focussed on “building bridges instead of walls”. Through conscious rap and art, these young people were rallying for peace throughout their region, because that is the future they want. Not one of war or despotism, but peace. When we spoke to young Palestinians in Nazareth, it became apparent that human being everywhere want the same opportunities- the ability to access their rights without discrimination and achieve equality.
The Middle East is a beautiful place, but not without its challenges. As we traversed some of the world’s holiest sites, journeyed through the vast Jordanian desert, floated in the Dead Sea and indulged in some of the world’s greatest hospitality- we really got to appreciate the richness of Middle Eastern culture and fall in love with the region. Whilst the politicians we spoke to made the concept of peace and “two states for two people’s” seem quite aloof from the mainstream political agenda, it became clear the everyday people who suffered the most just wanted to live harmoniously with their neighbours, access their rights and territorial sovereignty. These people are not condemned to a culture of despotism and perpetual struggle, they want their basic human rights and a chance to rule over themselves. A chance to truly express who they are without fear of persecution.
If you choose to go on this tour, you will understand the layers of inequality and racism that plague the region, but you will also love the people and echo their vision for peace and a better life. Words cannot explain how much you will learn on MEE, the people you meet, stories you share, politicians you debate with and diplomats you take selfies with; will no only alter your lens on some of the world’s most complex issues, but it will readjust the narrative so you focus on more than just the single and very biased story told by the media. If you want to go on a tour that will change your life and make you eager to create change in the world around you, apply for MEE. If you want to be challenged and encouraged to grow in both your opinions and reasoning, apply for MEE. If you want to have the time of your life and understand the Middle East beyond the headlines and get a true picture of the region, apply for MEE. I can assure you, it will be life changing, exhilarating and you will love every minute of it.
This article does not represent UN Youth Australia as a whole – this is simply an interpretation by one of our fantastic volunteers in hope to create ideas and increased dialogue surrounding this topic.
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