Yemen – friendlier and more tolerant?

Video links will appear at the end of the blog as well.

See my Yemen video here.


I spent a holiday in Yemen for New Year’s Eve 2006/2007. This visit coincided with the Islamic holly day of Eid-al-Adha and was the same time that Saddam Hussein was executed. It was a time not to be a westerner in Yemen you would think. I was surprised to find it friendly and in some ways more tolerant than the West. This led me to ask the question: Would we treat the Arabs the same way? I wrote this article in January 2007 upon my return to Islamabad. There is also a video of the trip to Yemen on the last 8 minutes of this film here.

Would we treat the Arabs the same way?

I spent New Year’s Eve and the days around it in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, and I wonder if good natured Australians would treat Yemeni Arabs in the same way that they treated me?

Clearly I was a foreigner, camera in hand as most tourists have. I wore an Akubra hat, RM’s pants and belt and Redback boots. I was, I thought, clearly and Australian – but to many of the Yemeni Arabs I looked American.
Yemen is said to be a hot bed of al-Qaeda. It is where the USS Cole was bombed, has recently come out of a civil war, and is awash with weapons. Almost every man wears the Yemeni Jambiya, a curved and brutal dagger that rests in a waste belt.
Added to this, December 30 was the Islamic religious day of Eid, roughly equivalent to the Christian Christmas in that families gather to feast, swap gifts and attend sermons at the Mosques. Compounding potential problems was the execution of Saddam Hussein on the same day.
Clearly this would not be a hospitable time for an American looking Australian, a citizen of the ‘Coalition of the willing’, so why go?
I have had the good fortune in my work to visit many countries and seen many things. Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, is a World Heritage protected city. Its old mud brick buildings are said to be the original sky scrapers, stretching eight to ten stories and build on thousand-year-old foundations.
It is the city said to have been founded by Noah’s son following the biblical flood, and is close to the site where the Ark is said to have been launched.
So there I was in an historical and religious city, in a country said to be the hotbed of terrorism, where an al-Qaeda attack had taken place and it was the Islamic religious day on which Saddam Hussein had been executed.

How was I treated?

Yemen has without doubt been the friendliest of countries that I have had the good fortune to visit. Out of the blue people would approach me on the street, and ask where I was from. When I replied ‘Australia’ they would warmly shake my hand and say ‘Welcome to Yemen’, and really mean it.

This did not happen once or twice, it happened on dozens of occasions over three or four days. On Eid day an old man even came to me, welcomed me to Yemen and gave me an ice cream for Eid. He then left, happily walking off down the street.

Others invited me into cafes to share sweet tea.
So what would the friendly Australian do on the streets of Melbourne or Sydney?
Let’s say on Christmas day a Yemeni was walking the streets, camera in hand wearing the habitual clothes of his country. In place of my Akubra, he wore the keffiyeh, the traditional cloth head covering. In place of the kangaroo skin hat band he wore a fakal, the twisted rope that sits around the head and holds the cloth in place.
In place of my RM’s belt he wore the broad belt and Jambiya dagger and in place of the RM’s pants he wore the long flowing white Arabic robe.
How would Melburnians treat this Arab, suspiciously photographing critical infrastructure like Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral or Federation Square?
Would Melburnians offer him an ice cream, or would the fear what he was planning for New Years Eve. Would they invite him for a cup of tea, or report him to JWH’s terrorism hotline?
And if honestly we do not think we would welcome him to our country, as I was welcomed to his, what does it say about our ‘civilisation’, our ‘mateship’, our ‘tolerance’ and our ‘hospitality’?
What does it say about the shape of our ‘relaxed and comfortable’ or our ‘alert but not afraid’ country that the Government has given us?
And if we would not welcome a foreigner just because he looked different, what does it say about us and our country?
I will let you be the judge.

More discussion like this is in: : 


Video extract of my Andrew’s trip to Yemen.

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