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The Middle Eastern Society

Monday 14th January

Middle Eastern Society: Majlis
​The Middle Eastern Society began the Lent half with a majlis (a ‘council’ or literally ‘place of sitting’) sharing experiences and thoughts on travel across the Middle East and North Africa.
Charlie Hierons (JMG) began discussion by drawing on his experience of a n Arabic language summer course in Morocco. He emphasised that the Moroccans he encountered were extremely friendly and also referred to some of the cultural differences which he noticed during his time there. His experience of Ramadan in Morocco was a particularly interesting part of his trip as it gave a sense of the close bonds created in Moroccan communities during fasting. Ramsy Polding also related his time in Morocco to the Majlis and, having spent much of his childhood there, indicated that life is strongly family-orientated throughout the country.
Daoud Jackson KS presented a different perspective on Moroccan culture. Daoud discussed the “loitering culture” and “hustling” which are common in some parts of Moroccan cities and suggested that this can be unnerving for foreign visitors. 
​Having initially listened to the experiences of British travellers, the Majlis shifted its focus towards people who had travelled the other way. First to speak was Hussein Kanaan (JMOB), a Palestinian refugee who lives in Lebanon and is completing his second year at Eton as a Sixth Form Scholar. Hussein contrasted life in Lebanon with life at Eton. Although he assumed he would have more freedom at Eton, this turned out to be truer in some respects than others. For example,  the uniform took a lot of getting used to. Hussein also spoke about how both Britain and Lebanon are ethnically and religiously diverse societies, but in very different ways. Hussein’s insights into cultural differences were picked up on by Rakan Dajani (ASR), a D Blocker from Tunisia, who spoke of how it took a while to adjust to some of the formalities of life in Britain.
​This being just days after the D Block History trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the majlis listened to the experiences and impressions of the recently returned Sachin Chandra (MAG) and Joseph Boorman KS.
​Towards the end of the meeting, two Eton Masters spoke of their time in Iraq with the military. One spent much of her time within the walls of Camp Victory, but was able to shed light on some of the difficulties in establishing trust and strong relationships between the coalition forces and Iraqis. She also affectionately recalled the rare occasions when she was able to sample Iraqi cuisine (a welcome change from the staple diet of burgers on the American base), particularly appreciating simple dishes such as traditional Iraqi flatbread with lamb. Another Master, who worked with the British military in Basra four years after the initial invasion, spoke profoundly about the barriers that need to be broken down between soldiers and locals, from the simple appearance of a uniform, to the more complex linguistic, cultural and political differences. Ultimately, however, by the time that he had left Iraq, he felt that he had developed genuine relationships of mutual trust with some of the locals. 
​In a fascinating and inspiring evening, the majlis began by exploring the Arab world’s western tip before its gaze spanned the length of the Middle East towards its eastern frontiers sharing in the Eton community’s vast experience of the region. Mr. Shirwani poignantly ended the majlis by reminding us of the immense variety of the Middle East and urging us to experience it first-hand on our future travels.   ​​  ​  
Charlie Hierons (JMG)


Date Posted: 28 January 2013

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