By: Pritika Gupta A common perception about the generation of the 21st century is that it is our responsibility to clean up any clutters left by previous generations – whether it’s the depletion of the ozone layer, the lack of petroleum or the issues with the Middle East. While there are initiatives to sustain the former two, what about the Middle East?
In more ways than one the Middle East is a land which is subject to previous, established notions and most unfortunately has been closed to both rectifying these past appearances as well creating new ones. Various labels such as Anti-Semitic and Anti-West do not help change the image of the Middle East which ultimately leads to the world assuming a constant discrepancy in any efforts to change this image. However, the generation of the 21st century has proven to be a more empathetic one. Or well, at least a less exacting one at that. Perhaps, being part of this so-called empathetic generation leads me to be a little biased, but I still remain utterly certain that the scope for this bias comes from the innate optimism that if there’s anyone who is here to bridge the gap between new thinkers of the Middle East and the old, preconceived notions about it – it is inevitably going to be us.
Human psychology provides that interest in a certain subject is manifested by simply being linked with the subject at hand. This is perhaps the reason why some American teenagers care to delve deeper into the issues of the Middle East. These are teenagers who have Jewish roots or Middle Eastern heritage and thus a large part of finding out more about the Middle East is synonymous with finding out more about themselves. Other teenagers look into the likelihood of the atrocities of war in the Middle East so as to preserve their sanity about the return of family members serving in the army. Either way, the essence of their responses, on being asked about their views on the Middle East, is generally along the lines of “Engage in war only if it is utterly necessary and threatening to global peace.”
Nevertheless, the above solely remains to be the feelings of teenagers who do not have to wake up to a life which, on some occasions, is almost synonymous with a dual entity. The numerous internet blogs represent the more technologically inclined population of Middle Eastern teenagers, a majority of whom depict themselves to be relatively liberal in their outlook. Granted that this is a fairly small representation of the youth of the Middle East but nonetheless, this also remains the most effective source since the banning of Facebook in certain parts of that region. Typing in ‘Should Middle Eastern countries….” into the search bar on Facebook showed a lot more results than I imagined. There are reasonable numbers of forums with heavy discussions between Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern teenagers and on close reading of these conversations, it becomes apparent that even while the Middle Eastern teenagers are trying to hold up the religious views of their respective countries, they do let their guard down and acknowledge that on most occasions they would like to be in easier circumstances. It becomes increasingly apparent that they are caught between two worlds and there is a definite tension between the freedom of the west versus the confines of religious thought of the region. There remains the innate need to be rooted firmly to their culture, but that never proved to be enough of a reason to not spread their branches. 18 year old Aniz Babak talks enthusiastically about why she wants to go the US to pursue drama as she states on a Facebook forum saying, “I feel like if I knew I didn’t have to censor what I say and if I could express myself freely – I know I would enjoy my education more”.
The current uprisings against governments and protests of the lack of political and economic freedom are indicative of the pro-active nature of Middle Eastern teenagers. Heba Mahmoud, 19, actively discusses her future hopes and expectations for Iran on a Facebook group. She writes ‘… I don’t know when the day will come when I am allowed to choose the government of the country I live in, but I hope that day will come soon’. Whether it’s the employment opportunities of the west or the liberty to dress most teenagers feel what is best said by sixteen year old Zeynep Sunbay “At some point it will be best to go west”.
Thus in multiple ways, it is true that the world views the Middle East through tainted windows, where looking in is just as hard as looking out. Perhaps there will come a time where previous governments do not inhibit the views and secular outlooks of people living in pre-dominantly Muslim countries. But until that time formally does arrive, the subtle movements towards a common understanding via social media are indeed commendable for the present.