Arabia is too large and diverse to consider it as one homogenous region. It contains people with different aspirations, different backgrounds, and different languages - both in actual speech and rhetorical nuance. For the many who don't understand, or who don't bother to understand the subtleties that exist around the area, it is generally perceived by its lowest common denominator - a rather scruffy, warmongering, nuclear-intent bunch of terrorists who are intent on putting the world in danger. And for good measure, because the indigenous people who inhabit the peninsula follow the Islamic faith, all Muslims are perceived to be of the same mould.
Yes, there are people like that in the region. Yes, there are Muslims like that in the world. But there are plenty of other examples from other countries, covering other religions. We are surrounded by injustice - either created today, in the recent past (think IRA), or past mischief carried out by colonists. People like the British, the French and the Dutch who colonised large parts of the world, took away the best bits and in some cases left a decent administration, but failed elsewhere. Sorry, I've just been looking at the history of slave trading, so the Americans shouldn’t feel I've left them out! And then even further back to the Crusades, where the Christians were fighting who ...oh, the "infidel" - the followers of Islam. (And by the way, they were fighting to keep the Christian cross in Jerusalem, so it had nothing to do with Judaism, or the State of Israel).
But I digress. Maybe one day I will write a book about it - possibly for my own interest as a means of studying it in even greater detail.
What I am trying to get across here is the fact that we are often guilty of, as the expression goes in English, "tarring everyone with the same brush".
I spend quite a bit of time in Arabia even now, and lived in the region for a good many years, but I have always remained objective, I believe. (My nickname, "The Judge", must have come from somewhere!!). I abhor terrorism, in whatever name it is carried out. It has no place in a civilised society. But if there is terrorism lurking in the Middle East region, it does not mean to say that everywhere is condoning the ideals espoused. If you travel to Iran, for example, you will discover that the Presidential rhetoric is not echoed throughout the country. Far from it. Neither is Hamas an organisation that finds favour in all quarters.
Then there are some countries that have been slower to embrace a more modern world - partly because they preferred to do things their way (and that this their choice) and partly because they were not in favour of some of the excesses practiced in the modern world. I guess that Saudi Arabia falls into this category, but changes are happening there. Recent announcements give rise to continuing glimpses behind the veil of Saudi Arabia where a more progressive stance is being taken, which for a country previously shrouded in mystery and misunderstandings is remarkable. Keep an eye on this sleeping financial giant. The prospects as it opens up are immense.
The rest of the GCC is also wide-awake to the opportunities that the world can offer to them today. Most of them have money to invest and there are plenty of people looking for it, although in some cases Governmental paranoia remains a stumbling block.
And so, to the place in the Middle East on which I get most questions - Dubai.
You have read all the stories. The horror stories for the most part of projects stopped, expatriates leaving, thousands of cars and homes abandoned, a ghost town where all the major assets are now owned by Abu Dhabi or the National Government.
Are they true?
It seemed to me that most of the stories came from disgruntled and displaced expatriates, and let's face it; when 80% of your population is expatriate guess who is going to be the first to lose their jobs anyway? It may not be nice, but it's a fact of life, and anyone who ventures overseas really must go with their eyes wide open to the potential negatives, as well as the pluses.
It also seemed to me that the Government took immediate measures to deal with the impending crisis. They stopped all projects while they evaluated the necessity of continuing them, on the basis of why continue putting good money after bad, if it was going to fail anyway. That sounded pretty sensible to me, rather than ambling along as if nothing had happened.
Add to that, the announcements made by HH Sheikh Khalifa Al Zayed Al Nayhan, President of the UAE in March when he said "...People had got the wrong idea about the relationship between the Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments, with the former having no desire to acquire companies owned by the latter..."
And you begin to wonder why all the negativity.
Of course, the absent commentator from all of this was Dubai itself. Perhaps a mixture between not wanting to say anything for fear of misinterpretation and one of not knowing exactly what to say. After all, they have been misinterpreted often enough, and this was the first really serious economic downturn in many years. They seemed like a rabbit in the headlights - and in the absence of any official word, the stories started to be "interpreted". Things like "What did this particular thing mean" and "why had such and such happened?" Rumour quickly finds a home.
From my recent visit, I got the impression that Dubai had recognised it had fallen short on telling the true story, and that it was going to do so. The story is probably going to be overall positive. It will recognise the worldwide economic downturn. It will (or should) recognise that it is not immune, but should welcome the opportunity to slow down some of its growth, for the time being. It should remove the rumour and demonstrate that it, clearly, like the rest of Arabia, is awake.
The trick then will be to get the rest of the world to listen.