Changes Since the 1960s??
March 1, 2011
Today education and especially teachers have become part of the issue in many states. It brought to mind when I was teaching at the University of Texas in Austin in the 1970s. It was at the time when OPEC was in full flower and the oil countries were sending their brightest students to U.S. universities to be educated because they did not have the universities as yet to equal ours. I had students from many of the Middle Eastern countries including the Royal family of Bahrain. I remember one young man well. He was tall and quite handsome and very sure of himself. After all, he was an Al Kahlifa prince. The Al Kahlifa family was and still is the ruling family of Bahrain. One particular young girl, upon being asked why she preferred to be covered completely when she was in the presence of men, told me it gave her lots of protection and she liked not having to worry about men’s comments when out in public. She did not wear her covering in the U.S. (Every country has a different name for its loose garment worn by women in public, covering them completely and in some instances their faces also.)
I remember the Libyan students as being aghast at the girls (not from Libya) who would come to class in scanty tops and shorts. These young men were, for sure, conversant in the English language as they had passed the test to get into the University, but they were fresh out of the desert and were constantly bombarded by our TV, so much so that they stayed up all night watching it. In many a class there was an argument about Islam and women, and they had to be reminded they were in the U.S.
The Algerian students, because of the two cultures, French and Islamic, were much more progressive in their attitudes. Algeria had recently received its independence from France in the 60s and our students were the first generation to be educated out of the country. They were outgoing and receptive and never wore covering garments.
There was one instance when a Palestinian and an Israeli student were in the same class and it was a challenge to keep them separated. Nothing is changed today.
Perhaps the most surprising were the Saudi women who told me they changed their clothes the minute the plane left the airport for the U.S. and they did the same as they returned to Saudi Arabia. No, they could not drive in Saudi Arabia and found it difficult to get a license here. However, these same female students were allowed to complete high university degrees in the U.S. and I’m sure today many of those students today are now in positions of authority in Saudi Arabia but are still subjugated.
The Iranian students had become westernized partially through our Peace Corps and gobbled up our culture entirely. Surprisingly, these same students were protesting against the Shah and when they didn’t come to class and I saw the protests in Washington with students who had paper bags over their heads, I knew mine had taken part. There were no admissions, only smiles when I asked them. I do wonder what these same students today think about what their protests against the Shah accomplished.
But what I remember most, and this was several years ago, is one Islamic student telling me Islam would rule the world one day. I think about this often. At the time, I dismissed it as braggadocio, but today with the current uprisings in the Middle East, I wonder how many of my former students are fomenting revolution and whether their statement to me oh so many years ago is coming to fruition in some way?