Ahead of tonight’s presidential debate, let’s take a moment to discuss xenophobia. I’m in the Middle East for ten days on business. It’s my first trip to the region and it’s very different from what I expected.
People here are kind, warm and welcoming. In the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, I feel completely safe, comfortable and welcome. I’ve been better received wearing a Brooks Brothers suit in Dubai and Manama than a visitor to New York City would be in traditional Arab clothes.
People here are courteous, considerate and friendly. Guess what happens when you smile at an Arab on the street? They smile back at you and nod. That’s more than I can say about New York City. And it’s much more than can be said of Paris and London.
We are closer than ever
In business and social settings, everyone I’ve met has been sophisticated, cosmopolitan and forward-looking. They are tech-savvy, and no doubt technology has played a large part in shrinking the planet. We are closer than ever to each other.
Before my trip to the Gulf, I was a little apprehensive. It was not a conscious fear. I just didn’t know what to expect and found myself feeling nervous. Maybe it’s because of the way we portray the Middle East in movies and on TV. I’m happy to say that every single person I’ve interacted with or passed by has been kind. I’m told it’s an Arab custom to be welcoming to visitors, and they are.
The population I’ve encountered is extremely diverse. There are people from all around the world living and working in harmony. Luckily for Americans, English has become the language of international communication. Everyone in these cities speaks English fluently and are well-aware of what’s going on in the United States, for better or for worse.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, is dedicated to diversifying their economies away from dependence on oil. Just this week, progressive Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud struck a deal with SoftBank of Japan to form a $100 billion technology investment firm. The future is here. It is right now.
We all breathe the same air
People are people and business is business. As President Kennedy said, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures.”