Spending my most intense teenage years split between Italy and the Middle East meant that every year that passed, I felt closer to the international vibe of Dubai and more distant from the typical Italian life that was once part of my routine. One thing that, in particular, I experienced a lot and started bothering me more and more was the ignorance and subconscious racism that many of the people in Italy started displaying towards Dubai and the Middle East whenever I came back for the holidays.
Many referred to me with a tone of almost pity, implying that my lifestyle wasn’t nearly as free and exciting as theirs was. I lost count of the times I was asked if I had to convert to Islam, if I had to wear a hijab, if I could leave the house without a male, if women were allowed to drive and if I was allowed to sit next to guys in restaurants and movie theatres; let alone the many times the United Arab Emirates were mistaken for Saudi Arabia. I have been told things such as “I mean, all of your friends must be European, right?” and “So you talk to Muslims?”, as if, before befriending a person or even talking to them, I had to ask for their ethnicity and religion and if they were not white, I would not even consider having a conversation.
All the stereotypes were poured on me like a waterfall of ignorance and I found myself submerged in a pile of “I’m so sorry for you”, “It must be hard” and “Aren’t you afraid to walk alone at night?”.
Certain things I have been asked made me laugh until I was crying because of their stupidity, like “Do you have water? Since Dubai’s in the desert.” I guess you come to a point where getting annoyed isn’t even an option since the ignorance of certain people becomes incredibly ironic.
However, I have also been asked some terribly rude questions: a person once asked me “if I knew anyone who is a terrorist.” To my sarcastic answer, the guy replied that he was serious and genuinely wanted to know. I don’t even know how to express my anger towards this, and most of the times, if I think about it, I laugh it off, because it’s too terrible to even try and make sense out of it.
After three years, I can definitely say that I enjoy life in Dubai more than I ever did in Italy; despite not being a big fan of super innovative technologies and shopping malls, the people I met here are some of the most interesting that I think I will ever meet. It’s a completely different lifestyle and, even if I wouldn’t want to live here for the rest of my life, experiencing it hasn’t been bad at all. I have amazing friends from all over the world with completely different ways of life; I take the metro alone at night and walk around in shorts; I have made the craziest memories here, and I’ve heard many times that kids in Dubai party like nowhere else.
The root problem of this is that certain people lack the basic knowledge of areas such as the Middle East and, in Europe, few people want to explain the actual situation. Islamophobes, according to me, most times do not know anything about Muslim people or countries and feel “fear” because of what they perceive from the media. Extremist right-wing politicians share fake news and go off on dramatic rages about how Caucasians are “threatened” by the helpless refugees that reach our lands. The only Muslim characters in most movies are antagonists that fit the stereotypes; all popular books on Arab culture in Europe portray it in a depressing key. There is a lack of knowledge of the area, of the people and their culture and beliefs, to the point that generalizations are made and countries are mistaken for others. This begins with school and family life, where kids are taught the exaggerated differences rather than the multitude of similarities between different cultures. I can guarantee that most of these people have never spoken a word to a Muslim person, nor visited an Arab country.
Educate yourself; ask questions because you are interested, not because you want to prove a point; go out and talk to people, even if their skin is darker and they don’t eat pork; visit the countries you are so afraid of, because they will turn out to be the most amazing experiences of your life. Reject the ignorance and instead, be open, always.
Dear Islamophobes, I was born and raised in Italy, my skin is white, my nationality, name and even accent denote that I am European. I live in the Middle East and I am proud of it, proud of the part of the local culture I acquired since moving here.
I am sick of the prejudices, stupid questions, assumptions and looks of pity that some people back home give me.
You are more than welcome to visit and change your mind.