Arabs and South Asians

July 17, 2006 at 5:45 am (Arab society, Personal, South Asia)

My mother just told me of an incident I thought would be educational to share. But, first, a warning: the following post may be considered racist and offensive. I am sharing this to offer some indication of how inter-racial interactions can be like and how certain ethnicities are prejudiced against others. Please do not continue if you think you might be offended.

So, my mother and father and their friends are walking around while on vacation, seeing the sights, during a tour. In front of them is an Arab family. They say something, and my mother catches a word, “Hindi,” which is what Arabs use to refer to South Asians. My mother’s group was the only South Asian group around.

This sort of behind-their-back commenting, my mother doesn’t like at all. She’s usually quiet and tolerant, but comments like these make her want to say something, and sometimes she does.

So, she told the Arab family that she understands Arabic. (This was out of courtesy so they watch their tongues, and to make them aware that they shouldn’t be so derogatory as the target of their remarks just might understand what they’re saying.) Then she said to them, “Kayfa haalak,” meaning “How are you?”

The boy, who was about thirteen years old, turned and said: “Kalba.”

My mother became furious. She started scolding him and giving him a piece of her mind. Her friends had to physically restrain her from slapping the boy (or worse). Once the boy’s father realized what was going on, he removed his son and scolded him. But the damage had been done. My mother tried to be polite, and the young boy responded with an insult. It’s one thing to insult someone you know, but to insult a stranger is the height of ill-manners. As we would be wont to interpret it, a child’s comments and attitudes reflect what he sees, hears, and learns at home. As offensive as his behavior was, it reflects what sort of environment he may have grown up in.

“Kalba” in Arabic means “dog.”

When she told us this, I was the only one among her children who understood what “kalba” meant – even my sister, who has Arab friends, didn’t know what it meant. (I know it because it is a cognate for the Hebrew word for dog, “kelev”. Both share the same root letters.) Had I been there with my mother, I would have certainly exploded and given the boy and his parents a piece of my mind. An offended woman is dangerous to behold, but the child of an offended woman is a different threat all together.

Unfortunately, South Asians have come to expect such behavior from Arabs. In our experience, we have never encountered such a stuck-up, uncultured, proud, ill-mannered, rude, insulting, and obnoxious people. My father has worked extensively with Arabs over the past decade, and he has nothing positive to say about them. In his opinion, Arabs are one of the least cultured and civilized race on earth. I could go on and on and on about them, but I won’t.

I have explanations as to why Arabs are this way – and it has nothing to do with racial inferiority or superiority. But that’s a post for another day. I just thought it would be educational for people to be aware of how some ethnicities interact. And to explain that if in my posts I seem biased against Arabs, it’s perhaps an ethnic thing. South Asians are not fond of Arabs at all. I have yet to meet a full Arab I liked. (I knew a half-Palestinian half-American guy who was really nice. But he was raised more as an American than an Arab anyway.)

I recognize that there must be nice, good Arabs out there. I’ve heard Lebanese are cool, as are Jordanians (real Jordanians, not Palestinian-Jordanians). But I haven’t met any good or nice Arabs yet.

Um, I don’t want to be any more offensive, but I have a term I sometimes use to refer to Arabs. Depending on how it is said, it can be something Arabs can be proud of or something by which they will feel offended. I call them “oonT ke awlaad” (Hindi: ऊन्ट के औलाद; Urdu: اونٹ کے اولاد). It means “the offspring of camels.” Camels have a very different reputation among South Asians than it does among Arabs. In South Asian culture, camels are considered to be uncivilized (as in, absent where civilization usually springs up), stubborn, dirty, foul, and low-class. The strange thing is that in a culture where politness is valued, no has corrected me for saying it or objected when I’ve said it. People laugh. Some nod their head. Some say nothing. Most will smile.

I recognize my biases and prejudices. They don’t rob me of any sleep (even though the politically correct world would think they should). I make no apologies: I believe what I believe unless convinced otherwise. I have yet to be convinced otherwise.

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11 Comments

  1. Matthew Brown said,

    I’ve begun to wonder about Arabic culture; in the Middle East, where Arabic culture dominates, it seems that Arabs cannot even get along well amongst themselves. Perhaps this is why Israel is such a thorn in their side: To the extent that the Arabic world has been able to unite against Israel, it has still failed to expel the Israelis. The Arab nations bicker constantly among themselves and seem unable to unite on even the one issue that they all seem to agree upon: the destruction of Israel. Perhaps RealPolitik is to blame, but I think the culture has something to do with it, too.

  2. blackflag said,

    You should read the book (or see the movie) “the house of sand and fog”, it is somewhat …. enlightening? My inlaws are Persians, not the uber crazy Iranian kind, the “got the hell out of Iran in ’79 kind. The movie displays certain cultural aspects of Persians I find interesting.

    Good post btw.

  3. Rina said,

    I have just read a whole page of how Arabs are bad and ill-mannered. This is the most untrue incompetent thing I have ever heard. One child called your mother a dog so you judged the whole Arab nation? What if that was a white person who said that to your mother? Would the reaction be the same? I don’t think it would because above all it is the whites who invaded and isolated south Asia and you still seem to be in there countries and happily fond of them. Be assured my darling you will find as many white, black, south Asian as you would find Arabs. I also forgot to mention I am actually Indian just incase you think I am Arab because of my views. I am married to an Arab man, have so many Arab friends and have visited many Arab countries around the world but I have never heard such non sense in my life. Maybe its you that has a complex? To be honest I have come across more bitchy and devious south Asians at university and in day to day activities then I have Arabs. So many times I hear south East Asians girl comment about Arab women, why? I don’t understand, if she’s Arab the south Asian girl most certainly would say she look south Asian not Arab, why? A lot of your discussion will also depend on which part of south Asia you are from if you are south Indian this is for sure a complex problem. Don’t forget the Moguls built your country and yet you seem to curse them. The British didn’t come to invade Shiva temples but the empire the Moguls built.

  4. A non arab said,

    LOL@ uncultured, uncivilised arabs, i find this comment extremely farsical and shall i tell you why? Firstly ”uncultured”,,Are you aware of what constitutes culture – language, food, music, education etc…Now if one went to ”Israel” they find arabic food, arabic music, 2 elements of culture that have been STOLEN to make up the culture of a non existent race…
    Secondly ”uncivilised” LOL LOL LOL LOL i take it by civilised you mean christian american, as this is what the general mood is…Now would you call civilised launching wars on innocent people on the ”pretense” of finding an illusive criminal namely bin laden? How about the treatment of the Iraqis by the Americans? Is civilised having sex in the streets, women drinking like men and falling about stupid, how about the rise of AIDS and other STDS due to promiscuity, how about the violent rapes, murders, tortures, child abuse, child rapes in the ”western socities”, how about the drug abuse, the increased poverty? Is this all what one calls civilised? If this is so, then please give me uncivilised everyday of the week and keep ur ”civilised” and stick it up you behind – the same place your ignorant pathetic post came from lol…Oh by the way im a non arab 😉

  5. Jen said,

    Arabs certainly do have a reputation of bigotry and racism. It’s just plain true. Anyone who thinks racism against darker skinned people is a problem in the US has clearly never been to an Arab country.

    However, I do know a few you would honestly like. 🙂

  6. ismail said,

    kif haalak????? yo people just came back from my contry wich is saudi arab. it was realy jayyed jidaan.lol

  7. Nadirali said,

    I am not surprised. Arabs are amongst the most racist people in the world today. The conditions they have put South Asian and African workers is unbeleivable.

    Pakistanis also dislike Arabs but not enough of them. They are entrapped by Arab propaganda of “Islamic unity”

    Pople like Persians and Turks know enough about Arabs through history and dont want much to do with them anymore.

    In time South Asians will find the same especially South Asian Muslims who sometimes seem to suck up to the Arabs.

  8. im non arab and your post is messed up said,

    You are currently representing the one matter you hate,, prejudice/ racism/ generalization.
    There are bad apples in every bunch,,, and I dont’ understand how you can generalize such categories on an entire race. Making a few bad experiences your entire basis to judge a race is extremely ignorant, shallow and self-centered.
    Yes,, there are arabs out there that completely fit your description,, but yes, there are amazing arabs out there, and I have personally met a lareg amount of them. My best friend is an arab adn has truly touched my heart to this day, but that doesn’t make me say all arabs are good, just as you aren’t supposed to say all arabs are horrible.

    If anything you have an attitude problem and learn to judge each person individually by their own actions and impacts on your life,

    I find the way you linked a 13 yr old boy calling you rmom a “dog” and the israel issue quite amusing… more like ridiculous. I love how, like everyone else, you are blinded by the media.

    You, alone, truly represent ignorance at its best, and I applaud you for hitting the that climax. It’s pretty disgusting how people love to name or insult races. You were against that and now turned into one of those who do it.

    I suggest you reconsider your views and try to broaden your view about arabs by meeting some others or thinking out of your “extremekly tiny”: box.

    i dont think anyone in their right mind would be offended by your article, but definitely would be amused by the hate and stupidity you represent.

    Thank you

  9. Umm AbdurRahman said,

    Im not an arab but i always avoid the question of where are you from. I always say im from Adam the first human on earth which we all are from. All humans have character issues that need to be delt with such as racism. I agree with the above post that says your post is not offensive but just shows ignorance. I think there is ignorance on both the side of the arab family and your own. I have experinced racism from all races including my ‘own’ (what ever that means) who think just because im a muslima i must be foriegn and im proud to break the reality down to them as they will realise their error. All men and women are created equal in the sight of Allah and He only distinguishes between what is in their hears. He looks not at their form but at their deeds and hearts. So Allah is not like His creation in anyway. As humans we do judge by what we see. But if we knew that we are here for, to willingly obey our Creator , Sustainer the one where Peace comes from we would not judge by race or general misconceptions. Many countries are ‘ex’ colonies so i think this has left a legacy of ignorance hate and lack of understanding which education and travelling brings.

  10. Umm AbdurRahman said,

    Im not an arab but i always avoid the question of where are you from. I always say im from Adam the first human on earth which we all are from. All humans have character issues that need to be delt with such as racism. I agree with the above post that says your post is not offensive but just shows ignorance. I think there is ignorance on both the side of the arab family and your own. I have experinced racism from all races including my ‘own’ (what ever that means) who think just because im a muslima i must be foriegn and i happily inform them of their error. All men and women are created equal in the sight of Allah and He only distinguishes between what is in their hears. He looks not at their form but at their deeds and hearts. So Allah is not like His creation in anyway. As humans we do judge by what we see. But if we knew that we are here for, to willingly obey our Creator , Sustainer the one where Peace comes from we would not judge by race or general misconceptions. Many countries are ‘ex’ colonies so i think this has left a legacy of ignorance hate and lack of understanding which education and travelling brings.

  11. A commenter said,

    I think muslihoon was just venting. He did after all say that this post would be racist and offending on the description, so, you can’t really complain.

    However, he does have a point, you know. Most major conflicts in the world center around Arabic nations. It’s true. Most terrorists are Arabic, even though most Arabs aren’t terrorists. You can call me bigoted and racist and brainwashed all you want, but it is still true. Truth! I know, you politically correct people are afraid of truth and view the world through rose-colored glasses, but it’s TRUE! True true true truth!

    Also, no matter how much you deny it, the Koran encourages violence and will ALWAYS encourage violence. Once again, it’s true. If you would like me to look up the relevent words please please please ask and I will find them for you. Words that encourage the killing (slaughtering?) of other religions and infidels and all.

    Please, Arabia has issues today that need to be solved. Of course, so do all places, but generally they don’t involve a Jihad war against other religions/ethnicities in which millions are killed (and this has been going on for centuries, it’s not just today).

    If you would like me to back up any of my statements I made here, please, just ask, and I will provide you with reliable, solid sources.

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