Beyond Stereotypes

Amman, Jordan

Jad was incredibly diplomatic in his blog about the kinds of questions the Danish ambassador was asked to field, but he was right about one thing: the ambassador did an impressive job of fielding them!

When it came to Q&A time, my friends and I, Danish and American, were whispering to each other, “Don’t let every question be about the cartoons! Don’t let this be a whole hour about the cartoons!” The event’s organizers went to great lengths to make this event be about a very specific, non-cartoon agenda: how Westerners stereotype Arabs, how Arabs stereotype Westerners, and how it does all of us a great disservice! And fortunately, others in the audience seemed to feel the same way, and some good questions were asked.

I was hoping to be able to embed a clip or two by Danish-Arab comedian Omar Marzouk in my blog, but I couldn’t find any in English. You’ll have to do with reading some of the jokes we heard in this article. I couldn’t find clips in English from documentary filmmakers Georg Larsen or Ahmad Ghosien, either, but as soon as it comes out on DVD, you should all check out “An Arab Comes To Town” about Arab Muslim immigrants in Copenhagen. Emily and I asked Ahmad Ghosien how many people declined to let them film interviews, because of course you only see in the film the people who agreed to interviews. He said, “The Danes.” Not a single Arab household turned them away, but none of the Danish families they asked would appear on film. Not because they’re cold people, Ghosien was quick to assure us, but because the Danes are very private people.

In fact, this was the predominant descriptor/stereotype of Danes this evening: they’re very welcoming people, but not very friendly, and very private. Which, as anyone knows who has lived here, is exactly the opposite of how best to describe Arabs, who are friendly to a fault, with no concept of privacy!

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