UN AOC Conference in Doha, Qatar and Middle Eastern Issues

Hi everybody!

I’m actually in the middle of finals right now because I pushed them a week early so that I could make the UN AOC conference in Qatar. As most of my finals are essays, I’m not particularly worried, but my Hindi final is going to be challenging. We keep on learning rather arbitrary words such as ‘red chili’ and ‘wheel’. When I’m in India I hope that these words are actually extremely useful and not simply as random as they seem to me now. Everyday, I better be eating red chili and talking about wheels (rickshaw wheels?).

So I leave Dec 8 for Qatar. I’ll arrive there Dec 9 for the youth delegate preparation. We’re going to talk about our key recommendations from the online discussion forum (www.unaocyouth.org/community), meet city leaders, and tour the city’s cultural sites. I’m really excited about the cultural tour – I think that the idea is great and I know that the Qatari government has been investing a lot in their arts. They had I.M. Pei design their National Museum of Art, and actually have developed a Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar. Jazz at Lincoln Center is going to open a club there as well, and they just won the bid to host the next U.N. Climate Summit. Watch out for Qatar, folks. They mean it when they say that they’re going to become one of the cultural capitals of the Middle East. I hope we visit some of these places, otherwise I know that I’ll sneak out for a bit to go to the National Museum.

I already selected the panels that I want to attend :

Sun Dec 11, 2011: Opening Plenary: ‘How Does Cultural Diversity Matter to Development? The Missing Link’

Breakout session 3: The role of creative industries to boost development – from education to business.

Action Network Session 6: The role of women in contributing to sustainable development (Of course I have to go to this one but the other sessions at this time are also AMAZING)

Monday Dec 12, 2011: Plenary 2: Promoting Trust and Tolerance to Advance Development Goals

Breakout session 1: Ten years past 9/11: What about Muslim/Western relations?

Action network session 3: The Arab Spring: Youth and nation-building (Again… all the options are stellar. Another one I would choose is Diversity and Inclusion: When Corporate Policy Conflicts with Country Law and Tradition… or Addressing Rising Restrictions on Religion)

Tuesday December 13, 2011: Plenary: New Strategies for Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding & Cooperation

Breakout session 1: A new agenda for living together: changing the narrative on dealing with differences

Action network session 4: Internationalizing academia for sustainable intercultural dialogue, understanding, cooperation and development: impact, challenges and next steps.

And the very last event is an art festival! The Doh’art Intercultural Festival.

This is a particularly relevant conference for me because I study linguistic anthropology, and cultural analysis is more important than ever in today’s immigrating and globalizing world. I have been to a number of conferences about international development, social justice, etc and the most pernicious issues (aka the elephant in the room) always are the cultural issues. It’s the hardest thing to change cultural norms and behavior. And to what extent should you even do so? Understanding different cultures and therefore different opinions, ideas, viewpoints, and values is the only way that we are actually going to have constructive dialogues about how to change things. I’m also grateful that the conference will be in the Middle East and will talk about immigrant/Muslim/Arab issues. I’ve personally witnessed extreme Islamophobia having lived in New York during 9/11, and I recently became very interested in Islamophobia in Europe. It was very marked in France, to the point where none of my French friends had Arab friends, and while I lived in an Arab neighborhood in Barcelona, I did feel that non-Arab residents in that neighborhood were very distrustful of their neighbors. “Integration” is a term that gets thrown out a lot in Europe, and many people feel that it is simply not possible, or they do not want it to be possible. I’ve also been going to some conferences/speeches about women and girls in the Middle East. It’s important to acknowledge that not all women and girls are treated horribly in the Middle East. That is a stereotype and generalization. At the same time, girls and women are oppressed or discriminated against everywhere around the world, and the Middle East is no exception. I hope to explore these issues more in the conference, and I will certainly be observing Qatari society and culture once I arrive. It’s a personal goal, but I also hope to one day speak Arabic or Farsi. I have to figure out what my next language will be after I get the hang of Hindi in India.

If I could plan one conference, I would plan this one. Doesn’t it look amazing? What do you guys think about the panels? Do you have any opinions/ideas/questions about these topics?

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