Inside The Arab Mind - by Rami E. Kremesti M.Sc.

© 2012 AMALID.ORG

I recently got back from a project in Algeria in which a European contractor was building and commissioning a CCGT power station for an Arab Algerian client.

With my arab upbringing, I immediately bonded with my Algerian counterparts. The European engineers and managers were having trust issues with their Arab counterparts. I immediately realized the advantage I had over my European colleagues.

Part of the problem was that the European engineers were withholding information from the client, or so the client thought... The impression I got from my European colleagues was that they had an attitude of superiority and they refused to pass on information and to train their Arab counterparts...

In the chemistry lab, which was part of my scope of work, I commissioned some instruments that were still in their boxes. Some of these instruments, like the Megger instrument that measures the dielectric strength of electrical insulating oils, I had never seen before. I read the manual and I commissioned them. An Algerian chemist could not believe this. He thought that I had done this before... I told him i just read the manual... I kept repeating this mantra to the Algerian engineers: read, read, read !!! It is one of the teachings of the Koran I told them...

Within the space of three months I trained the Algerian chemists on many chemicals tests and analytical instruments. They really appreciated my openness and a couple of times they called me "Sheikh Rami" and "Teacher Rami" which are appellations of respect in the Arab world. I thought to myself that the European mind is indeed more trained in analytical thinking but is that really, profoundly a reason, an excuse for pride, for racism? I quoted to my Algerian counterparts the poem of Rumi in which he likens a person laden with information that refuses to share it to a donkey that is laden with sweets but refuses to unload them and taste them... I have seen a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama which says something to the effect that passing on information is a road to God...

At the camp bar (we lived in a guarded camp for security reasons) I asked the Lead French Electrical Engineer about his experience with the client. He said it was bad, that they did not understand things but at the same time were acting difficult during inspections and meetings... I told him you must win the Arab heart before you win the Arab mind... I told him about my positive experiences but he told me that I speak their language, Arabic...

In another incident, I was doing loop tests on a control panel for a small sewage treatment plant. I had energized the panel and with the help of two Polish engineers we were doing I/O tests. One of the engineers of the client, with a massive beard, showed up and stood at the door of the cabin that housed that panel were we were working. He started speaking with a loud voice over the mobile phone within our space... it was an assertion of power I could read him... After he finished his phone call I greeted him politely and showered him with phrases of understanding of his concerns why we had energized the panel before a turn-over to commissioning was done: I explained to him that we were just doing pre-commissioning tests. We inquired about each other's health and thanked Allah for his blessings. We became instant friends.

Arabs admit that their countries are under developped compared to the West and that they have problems with corruption and poverty. They admit that their youth want to immigrate to Western countries for the chance to live a decent life sometimes on small fishing boats crossing the Mediterranean at great risk to their lives... This made me think: is it Islam that holds them down? or are they by nature spiritual people, uncompetitive in an analytical, scientific, technological world and Islam has nothing to do with it? Watching some Muslim sheikhs on muslim channels answer questions to callers about business transactions and things unrelated to religion as pregnancy made me inclined to believe the former theory...

The Arab mind is rife with conspiracy theories... One time I overheard Egyptian workers talking about how El-Baradei is a Mossad agent. Any one that is pro-West is either that or works for the CIA. One evening at the camp bar I had a heated discussion with an Algerian Engineer that holds French citizenship about this ... He asserted that it is not in the interest of the West to have a stable and strong Arab Middle East. I disagreed with him and asked him if he had a brain to think for himself. Didn't Hezbollah know better than to assassinate former PM Hariri? Ofcourse the accused accuse the Israeli Mossad of being behind the assassination even though the Special Tribunal for Lebanon found evidence implicating four Hezbollah members in the assassination... For me this phenomenon is a symptom of the weakness of the Arab mind and state of affairs... A weak person always points the finger at someone else for their problems... If the Arab Middle East were united and strong, they would have no problems with establishing positive neighbourly relations with the state of Israel. I always tell my Lebanese friends instead of continuing on the path of calling Israel "the enemy" why not sign a peace accord with them and sell them water instead? Also wouldn't the Israelis rather come skiing in Lebanon instead of going to the ski slopes in Europe? The situation in Syria currently is another example... Syrian propaganda accuses the Israelis and Americans of supporting the Syrian opposition to topple the Assad regime which is supposedly anti-Israeli and anti-American.

Speaking of conspiracy theories I was half angry half astonished to watch "respected " Russian commentators on the Russia Today channel talk about American Imperialism, how Ban Ki Moon works for the CIA because of his stance on the Syrian crisis, and World War III scenarios involving the new super-powers... I was amazed at how old dogs can't learn new tricks... These are all ex-KGB agents I thought to myself... They still have influence in Russia... Why can't Russia turn the page and adopt a constructive attitude toward the West? Why can't they turn a new page in international relations? A page built on mutual trust and respect. What did 50 years of Communism get them? Their closest neighbours hate them: the Polish, The Ukranians...

Yesterday I was reading my Koran and I realized despite the many verses that contradict many teachings in the Bible there are many common teachings and stories between Islam and Christianity. And the sweet thought came to me perhaps the two religions can be reconciled... There is a teaching in the Koran that says something to the effect of "let Allah decide on the differences between them on the Day of Judgement". Can we adopt this mode of thinking to reconcile the differences between Islam and Christianity? There is another teaching that each people receive illumination from God through their own prophets in their own language... The Koran is replete with stories and teachings about Moses, Noah, Jesus, Isaac, John the Baptist, Zachariah his father, David and Goliath, Solomon, David, Joseph, that come straight out of the Bible. The Koran teaches basically belief in Allah and the Day of Judgement, doing good deeds, and giving to the poor (the Zakat)... There is nothing wrong with that I say... There is a strong common denominator.

Differences with Christianity arise over such issues as denial of the Crucifixion, denial of the Trinity, the Sonhood of Jesus, the nature of the Holy Spirit (they believe this term refers to the Angel Gabriel), the status of Women, turning the other cheek (in Islam it's eye for eye and tooth for tooth), Sharia law (no separation between Church and State), and ofcourse last but not least the militant verses that enjoin Jihad and the killing of "Kuffar" and "Mushrikeen", the unbelievers, Christians, Atheists, all those that don't accept the teachings ofIslam. Ofcourse there is the Sufi interpretation of Islam which interprets Jihad as spiritual struggle and some commentators of the Koran stress the importance of the context of some of the militant verses, which brings the two religions even closer... But why do muslims go off in a rage everytime someone draws a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed or tweets a criticism of him? Does it diminish the status of a Lion if you sling shit at him? Does this make him less of a king of the jungle?

Other enriching experiences I had in Algeria were with the Indian, Chinese and Malaysian engineers... They are very down to earth and kind people and I appreciated that. I felt close to the Indians because I had read the Baghavad Gita and the Bradarnyaka Upanishad. An Indian engineer once told me true wealth is spiritual... He had a distant gaze in his eyes... These engineers make less than their European counterparts but that did not seem to bother them. It sure bothered the European guys though because sometimes their jobs were being outsourced in an Eastern direction... This didn't bother me though... I'd hire an Indian Engineer any day over a stuck-up, over paid European that does the same job and bitches all the time (especially the French)...

Now I am back in Europe and I am very glad and thankful that I have dual nationality... My daughters do not have to grow up in a male and shame dominated society... and I have a good job applying the analytical skills that I learned at American universities... However I can still exercise my Eastern inclinations for spirituality by going to the beautiful Orthodox churches around here... We are not that different after all...

 

Rami E. Kremesti M.Sc.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

February 17, 2012