Middle East Mag Bridges East and West
North Americans just need to take a glimpse at the news to know that Western and Arabic cultures seem to be constantly butting heads.
News media doesn’t help ease the stereotypical polarization that exists between the two societies, like when a camera and microphone are turned towards a certain extremist Florida pastor threatening to burn a Qur’an in his backyard.
But the amount of negative press this issue attracted only reflects that North Americans aren’t all that bad. In fact, we’re generally pretty tolerant.
Even so, those who have never been to the Middle East, or those who don’t know anyone Arabic, will find themselves asking: do they accept us and our Western lifestyle?
The reality is that in places like Amman, Jordan, there are many different English-language lifestyle magazines that cater to expatriates that live there—GO Magazine, a general interest magazine launching in November, is evidence of this trend.
Karen Simon, sub editor of Go Magazine, said that the publication doesn’t consider itself to be a typical lifestyle magazine, but a general interest magazine that urges readers to experience the country themselves—something that those who follow CNN as their only source for news on the Middle East can’t do.
“Rather than consisting of features and stories that simply recount information to readers, every piece presented in Go must encourage our readers to get up and ‘go’ do something specific in Jordan,” said Simon. “Whether it’s going out to a local restaurant, going shopping at a downtown market, playing a sport at one of the country’s many facilities, and so on, our magazine aims to initiate the reader’s involvement into any one of the subjects we cover.
“All too often in this country we hear people complain that there is nothing to do despite the many things Jordan has to offer.”
Lifestyle and general interest magazines also help integrate expatriates into Jordanian culture.
“English-speaking expatriates benefit from locally-based English magazines because they offer the chance for people to better understand the unfamiliar place in which they live,” said Simon. “Having an English magazine in a country where the predominance of people speak Arabic may help English-speaking foreigners feel less alienated when first arriving in the country.”
But still, there will always be a divide between the two worlds.
“Expatriates will always be in some way segregated from the foreign society in which they live; this is part of what it means to be an expatriate,” said Simon.
However, when coping with culture shock, it’s easy to push learning the local language to the back of your agenda when there are magazines available to carry on doing things one would normally do in North America.
“Having mediums like magazines, television channels and radio stations that cater to English speakers by offering the language that they already understand, does of course help to segregate them further,” said Simon. “By offering the language that they are already familiar with, you are removing their need to learn the language of the country in which they are based.”
That doesn’t mean that foreigners can completely avoid being active members of the community, however. There are limitations on how forward you can be when you’re taking part in activities that are entirely normal for Westerners, like having drinks at a bar.
“I think that English language magazines operating in this part of the world should be aware of the cultural sensibilities that they may offend if they are to broach certain subjects,” said Simon.
Simon maintains that “it’s important to remember to not overstep the boundaries,” and that it’s important “to not forget that English publications in the Middle East remain essentially foreign, regardless of whether or not they are locally based, because they are not printed in the country’s official language.”
Regardless, English language magazines are free to express the Western way of life. For instance, Skin Magazine, an arts and culture publication based in Amman, has alcohol advertisements prominently displayed in its magazines. GO Magazine does not endorse the consumption of alcohol.
According to Simon, not including bar reviews and liquor ads makes the publication acceptable to all ages and races.
“Some Middle Eastern cities, such as Dubai, have a large population of expatriates, so writing about certain subjects—such as alcohol and nightclubs—are less of a problem because there is demand for these sorts of topics,” said Simon. “But, in a city like Amman—which, however [liberal it has become], still remains conservative—the relatively small demographic which would be interested in these subjects does not counterbalance the larger population that would be affronted.”
Only seven per cent of Jordan’s population of 6,269,285 is non-Jordanian. People who speak only English are even scarcer. Even so, Simon said she believes that an English-speaking presence in Jordan is important.
“I think that as English continues to be world’s lingua franca—especially for subjects like politics, science and mathematics—it is important that English be present in Jordan, as over 40 per cent of this country’s population is under 20 years old,” she said.
In fact, more than half the population is under 30.
Simon said that a large majority of high-income Jordanian families attend universities in Europe and North America, and that the number continues to grow. Since 2000, Jordan’s rate of university enrollment has increased 14 per cent each year, from 77, 841 in 2000 to 218, 900 in 2007.
“Whether or not we find it important, an English-speaking presence is a natural extension to this occurrence,” said Simon.
This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.