Learning from TED: January 7, 2013

I downloaded Maz Jobrani: A Saudi, an Indian and an Iranian walk into a Qatari bar over the weekend, maybe even Friday, but this morning was the first chance I had to watch it.  While Jobrani is a comedian and this was, in many ways, a comedy routine, it offered a lot to learn from.

He started the talk by saying:

I love coming to Doha. It’s such an international place. This is like — it feels like the United Nations just here.

Looking at the crowd, you would have to agree with him.  It was filled with people apparently from various Middle Eastern countries as well as many who appeared to be European or maybe even American.

He goes on to say at one point that:

… a lot of Americans don’t know a lot about us, about the Middle East…. People don’t know we laugh.

He doesn’t stress American ignorance too much, although it would probably be justified if he did.  That wasn’t the purpose of his talk.  He does make enough of a point of it, though, to make you think.

Jobrani’s message is one of trying to build bridges of understanding.  He encourages travel and getting to know the people some of us are so afraid of.  Unfortunately, the people who are most afraid are the least likely to travel, the least likely to get to know anyone from the Middle East who lives in the US.

So what did I learn?  I have known Iranians for more than 40 years.  I have have had students from the United Arab Emirates and from Saudi Arabia and probably from other countries that I don’t remember right now.  I have had Muslim friends from Malaysia and Indonesia, as well.  What was new here?

Strange as it may seem, I think it was the laughter that struck me most.  Yes, my friends and my students laugh.  But somehow, seeing a room full of Middle Easterners laughing was a new experience.  Especially since they were laughing at themselves and at us and at the human condition.  It gave me hope.

Now, if we could just get a room full of Americans to do the same thing…


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