Fear of the Other

Posted on May 3rd, 2013

American Civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘ Men hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they are often separated from each other’.

Fear of the Other

I live on a ‘privileged’ compound in Riyadh and I am not sure if it’s good or bad for my soul. I am not sure if the benefits of living in such a closed and controlled environment are in the long term good for the promotion and understanding of the rich tapestry of Saudi life. I am not sure how and why the housing landscape has evolved in cities like Riyadh. Who are the architects of these and why have they been built and housed in such a separated way? Gated communities, in my opinion do not help in the understanding and day to day discourse of intercultural relationships.

How can residents of compounds who jump into their 4×4 dark, tinted windowed vehicles and then jump out again at their place of work or their children driven to their international schools build any community understanding or knowledge regarding the diverse cultures that live and work in Riyadh.

I have a nice apartment loaned to me by my employers. I look out in to a palmed tree square. I awake to a chorus of birds singing in the morning outside my balcony window. Sometimes I swim in one of the many pools scattered around the compound or go to the gym that has all the latest equipment and helps keep my aging body in a ‘fairly’ healthy shape. The roads have no speeding cars and there is plenty of indoor and outdoor space for children to play. There is though something missing.

Most days are the same for those that live in this cultural bubble. Many residents do not make the effort to mingle outside the walls with other communities. I might not fully understand the feeling that for some compound life comes with an element of ‘perceived’ security. However, I feel ‘culturally’ imprisoned by high barbed wire walls and ‘protected’ by armed police and sometimes heavily armed military personal. Getting in to the compound with your vehicle or walking you have to go through three security checks.

Why as Saudi Arabia evolved in such a way? Why can’t we live in communities and build a landscape that brings host and guest communities together instead of the situation where we have this interconnectedness and gated communities become the rule instead of the exception. I am told constantly that that’s the way it is. Don’t we have the power to change to reverse this type of thinking?

Over the past month I have read many articles in the Arab News on ‘racism’ and ‘stereotyping’ certain communities. Is not part of the problem the separated and gated housing areas that are mushrooming across the city?

I spent twenty years living in multi-ethnic London where the rich, poor and those in the middle live side by side. Where many religious and cultural communities interweave with each other day to day in schools and on housing estates that help them learn about each others cultures and their common values.

Yes, there are some issues around law and order in London but issues that are manageable and are small compared to what I am witnessing in Riyadh. Having lived in both London and Riyadh the promotion, education and building a diverse communal landscape and a culture of learning to live together far outweigh the culture of this ‘fear of the other’.

Ramon Mohamed
Riyadh