Interrogating the Politics of Identity

In a world that is rapidly becoming smaller in regard to time taken for a person to interact with another person who lives thousands of miles away, it can be stated that globalization as a concept is far too real to be ignored. Scholars, however, fail to agree on a specific definition of the concept, resulting in some kind of confusion in regard to what really constitutes globalization. Presently, globalization is mainly discussed with respect to its impacts on specific countries and communities as opposed to a global context. This paper considers globalization in a context of the UAE and other Gulf countries. Trying to examine the issue of identity within the UAE with respect to the rest of the world and especially the more influential West, this paper will scrutinize the definition of globalization, its dimensions, the existing global systems, the main aspects of identity and the impact of globalization on the UAE and other Gulf states. The paper will also include a review of various articles on the subject including The Impact of Globalization on Arab Gulf States, Nearly Half of Arab Youth are Keen to Embrace Modern Values, We don’t sit with elders anymore, this means we waste time on meaningless social media, and National Dress is Important but Doesn’t Define Who We Are.

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Globalization

Globalization can be defined as a phenomenon which is interdependent with many facets. On the one hand, globalization means creation of international relationships that link different parts of the world together in terms of business, politics, and culture or world views. On the other hand, globalization can simply be an international integration of social and economic systems resulting in blurred boundaries that define people within their cultural contexts. Globalization as a concept has many facets because each discipline involved defines it based on its subject of interest. In business, globalization is about international trade and going global in regard to the free market policies. Globalization from a business perspective is thus limited to perceiving the entire planet as a single market with endless opportunities. Social scientists, on the other hand, perceive globalization as a cultural concept where the dominant cultures impose on the less dominant ones, resulting in creation of similar cultural practices across the globe. This creates a united front while slowly eradicating the less dominant cultures, eventually creating a planet with one culture. Currently the dominant culture is consumerism, although most people consider it to be a part only of American culture. Nevertheless, people are increasingly becoming inducted into the culture of consumerism regardless of their nationalities. From a political perspective, globalization is embedded in international relations. While striving for better foreign policies in all modern states, international relations in some way result in the coordinated global governance through a series of political interrelations between governments (O’Sullivan, 2008).

Taking into consideration all these definitions, it is clear that globalization requires all nations to unite with a purpose that will mutually benefit all those involved economically, politically or socially. Economically, globalization opens up markets and enables businesses to be more profitable. Socially, it allows for the formation and maintenance of better personal relationships thus boosting cross border interactions and exchange of ideas. Politically, it ensures that governments can co-exist harmoniously thus increasing the chances of stability and security.

With the advancement of technology, time taken to interact across different geographical locations has been drastically reduced. Considering that distance is measured in terms of time, reduction in time taken implies that the distance between the two locations has been eliminated. The earth has thus become one small area across which information and ideas can travel with a lot of ease. Thus the true definition of globalization is elimination of distance to bring different geographical locations together. However, it isn’t just about technology and time. Globalization is also about an ability of one culture to influence a given population and lead to the extinction of their original culture. For example, most people in the UAE now dress like American people in terms of jeans and t-shirts as opposed to their cultural dress codes. This implies that American culture has influenced the culture of the Emirian people such that they are comfortable to dress like the Americans as if they belonged to that culture.

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The Dimensions of Globalization

Having stated that globalization has a variety of facets, it is important to discuss the dimensions within which it exists. There are four major dimensions: cultural, economic, ecological and political dimensions.

  • The Cultural Dimension

Culture can be defined as aspects of a society that help to define it, including the way people speak or communicate generally, the way they dress, the way they define personal relationships and even the type of food they eat, the music they listen to, the way they dance, and the kind of art they like among other things. Basically, culture defines people both from the inside and the outside. Considering the cultural dimension of globalization, it is important to establish the culture of the people in context. In this case, people of the UAE and other Gulf countries are the main subjects.

Cultural globalization entails the development of a global culture such that people can speak the same language, enjoy the same kind of music, dance and art, and even subscribe to the same fashion trends regardless of their geographic locations. It also entails an ability to interact with other people regardless of their cultural background given that the culture context of the entire planet has been flattened out. In most cases, this would be considered a bad thing as other unique cultures are being forgotten as people embrace a unified global one.
In the cultural dimension of globalization, the media is the greatest culprit in spreading the dominant culture to the rest of the world. An example is fashion style and music that most of the world’s population is subscribing to. Through the radio and TV stations, as well as fashion magazines, the media has set out to propagate western tastes in music and fashion throughout the world and the result is that citizens of the UAE dress in the same way as those in the US, and even enjoy the same kind of music and dancing styles. The media in this case is seen as responsible for the transmission of these ideas and values across the continent such that there is some level of uniformity in the perception of the Americans and Emirati people despite a long distance between their geographic locations.

  • The Economic Dimension

The economy of a given country is defined by the kind of businesses people and their governments indulge in. Considering the economic context of globalization, business relationships often span across national borders especially in this day and age. Domestic markets are no longer enough to sustain large corporations, thus there is a need to form economic interrelations on all the continents. The economic dimension of globalization thus entails internationalization of trade and finance with an enhanced role of such international economic institutions as the IMF and the World Bank.

Economic globalization is thus a context within which economic transactions are not limited to a geographic location and where business deals can materialize even if conducted in and between different time zones. An example of economic globalization is evident in the way companies continue to open franchises overseas and even carry out online sales and shipping of orders to other nations. In the UAE, people are increasingly buying luxury goods from the UK and the US and getting them through courier services. Also, people are able to open franchises of multinational brands like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart among others despite the fact that these companies are originally located in the west (O’Sullivan, 2008).
International economic institutions have also currently become more active in that they are not just about regulating the global economy but rather leveling the field for the international business community given that the global economy is now interdependent. This is a clear sign that economic globalization has been consolidating itself over the past few years and at the moment it is undeniable.

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  • The Ecological Dimension

Today, the environment is the strongest uniting factor amongst the nations. In the recent years, the need to protect and conserve the environment has been a subject of many conferences and international conventions. This underlines the importance of the environment to the world populations. The ecological dimension of globalization addresses global environmental issues like climate change, conservation of the endangered species, environmental degradation, population growth, water, health, food security and sanitation among others.
Ecological globalization entails synchronization of the approaches and perspectives of various nations when dealing with the issues mentioned above. An example is the use of eco-friendly packaging as seen in most of the retail chains and manufacturing companies in the UAE. These organizations not only appeal to local populations but to the environmentalists as well. However, such organizations exist only in the UAE as both Wal-Mart and Costco in the US have a similar initiative where most of their product packages are either recyclable or made of recycled plastics.

  • The Political Dimension

Politics define how people are governed, and the kind of laws that dictate their lives. Considering the political dimension of globalization, the most important ideology lies in the formation of political interrelations or finding a middle ground for all the national governments. In the present context of international relations, the middle ground is human security and democracy. Almost all the governments that are part of the international community have pledged to support human rights, fight against terrorism, poverty, diseases and other things that threaten human security. They have also pledged to exercise democracy within their jurisdictions. The fact that these nations have come to an agreement despite their different cultural contexts in terms of politics implies that the political values have been transmitted across the world and are near unification.

Global Systems

Global systems are defined as units that are not necessary distinguished by nationality. These units may be clusters of nations with common aspects or values and meanings. An example of global systems is the West. When people talk about the West, they often imply the United States while others also imply the United Kingdom. The United States and the United Kingdom are considered to be a global system because they are similar in some ways in regard to values and meanings as well as ideas. Along with other English speaking nations in Europe and overseas, the West is a cultural force that has over the years managed to influence the rest of the world in regard to dress codes, relationships, business and cuisine.
The Arab world is also a global system, despite its little influence on the rest of the world. This global system may have succeeded in spreading Islam across the continent but it has not had much impact on the cultural practices and world views of the populations outside of its geographic location (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009).
Asian system, on the other hand, has succeeded in inculcating some concepts of its culture into the minds and hearts of the rest of the world. For example, there is a general assumption that an action movie is good if it includes Chinese and Japanese techniques of self defense or actors like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee among others. Also, Thai and Chinese restaurant chains have become common in all the major cities of the world implying their influence on culinary tastes and preferences of people.

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Main Aspects of Identity

Cultural identity entails a number of things including language, cuisine, dressing and relationships. Over the past few years, scholars have invested their time and resources in finding a global language and among the successful attempts is globalization of English. The language is used both far and wide, and even in countries that have not encountered the British in their past. This means that there are countries that have incorporated the English language, an element of western culture, into their own cultures (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2009). This implies that they are globalized from a cultural context in that they use a global language with as much ease as their own. The UAE is one of these countries where apart from Arabic English is also increasingly gaining popularity.

In regard to cuisine, it is popular to find outlets that offer exotic food products such as Thai, Chinese, Italian, French and Mexican among others. While they could be justified as meant for the tourist population that is often high in the UAE, most of the residents also indulge in these foreign cuisines in a bid to explore beyond their staples. A common aspect is the fast food culture that has been picked up so rapidly in the UAE with people opting for fries and burgers, coupled with carbonated soft drinks like Pepsi and Coca Cola. This is not traditionally the UAE`s culture but it is rapidly taking root in the society. It is one of the pivotal contexts used to state that the nation is westernized.
While people have increasingly developed a unified fashion sense, it is still commonplace for people to be defined by their dressing. An Emirian woman is, for example, expected to wear a hijab at all times. This is however not always the case as some have adapted more liberal forms of dressing and can be spotted in trousers and t-shirts like their western counterparts (Pew Global Attitudes Project,2009). The definition of relationships is an important aspect of each culture. The Chinese, for example, thrive on personal relationships that are based on trust and loyalty. Emirati people, on the other hand, separate business from personal relationships, elevate family and give it a central part in their social circle, and are conservative in regard to cross gender interactions. In the West, anything goes, as they say.

Article Review: The Impact of Globalization on Arab Gulf States

“The Impact of Globalization on Arab Gulf States” by Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is an article that explores the impact of globalization on countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The article highlights how these countries have experienced globalization, increasing their importance to the global economy in the process. In the article, it is clear that while globalization has opened up the AGS to the global economy making them large contributors by virtue of their resources, the political impact is still unclear. The AGS have become powerful economic hubs, with high GDPs and growth rates, high standards of living and even high life expectancy (Abdulla, 2000). This means that up to this moment, globalization has offered nothing but good things for the AGS in regard to their economies and the standard of living of their citizens. Tourism has also significantly increased with the countries’ globalization especially in the UAE (Abdulla, 2000).

In regard to economic globalization, the AGS have strategically improved their legislation and infrastructure to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves with advancements in technology and information systems. Politically, the article states that the AGs are likely to lose control over their affairs as they move towards political globalization. Sovereignty is however likely to remain given that it is the pillar in the context of international relations.

Review of The Three articles on the Blackboard

Nearly Half of Arab Youths are Keen to Embrace Modern Values by Ayesha Al Khoori is an article about the state of culture and tradition in the UAE. Al Khoori (2014) cites a survey which states that 43% of young people considered traditions to be outdated. In the article, the author argues that family values are still widespread in the UAE and that the society is generally conservative and not as modern as portrayed in the survey.

Al Khoori (2014) in his article “We don’t sit with elders anymore, this means we waste time on meaningless social media” tackles the fears of the majority of Arabs across the Arab league countries. In the article, the author cites a number of surveys in which Arab elders are seen to oppose modernization based on the ideology that it is of a western origin. In most cases, people lack a clear definition of what constitutes a modern value especially in regard to what they want and what they consider outdated. Assuming that modern values require one to shun his/her religion, family and morals implies that modernity is bad. And yet being modern is the way to go especially in a globalised world. Herein thus advocates for informed choices in regard to embracing modernism, as opposed to shunning it because of its western origin. In other words, modernization and westernization are two different things (Al Khoori, 2014).

We don’t sit with elders anymore, this means we waste time on meaningless social media. National Dress is Important but Does not Define Who We Are is an article by Khalid al Ameri, which touches on the subject of the national dress in regard to the culture of the Emirati people. In the article the author argues that while the national dress is a symbol of pride and respect for their culture, the Emirian people should be able to represent their culture with their deeds and earn respect of people of different ethnicities and races in the UAE and beyond (Al Ameri, 2014). Rather than expecting respect and assuming that it is their God-given right, it is their deeds that matter the most and thus it is high time they started acting like true Emirati people as opposed to just donning the kandura and abaya and assuming that all is well, culturally speaking.

Globalization has opened up the UAE and the other Gulf countries to the world in terms of business and tourism. It has, however, opened up the rest of the world to these countries in terms of culture. People of the Arab world may continue to claim conservativeness but young people are increasingly embracing modern philosophies, technology and culture thus slowly killing their original culture. Economically, these countries are becoming bigger and better with more significance in the global economy, while politically their sovereignty stands as strong as ever. Basically, globalization has brought in modernization in terms of culture and made the region’s economy very successful.

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