Western influence is “spoiling” the Arab world, which is slowly losing its identity, a Qatari sheikh and former minister has warned.
“I used to travel with my wife and see families around us from the Middle East. They all spoke Arabic. But now they deliberately speak with their children in English. That’s a big problem,” Sheikh Mohamed AJ Althani told Arabian Business in an extended interview.
“We all now take our children to a Western-influenced school. But if it was up to me I would leave the first years for children to really remember this part of the world; religion and culture are very important and if they miss out on that they get lost later as they grow up, so it’s a big challenge.
“And that’s something I’m worried about.”
Sheikh Mohamed, who recently published his second book – a biography of his grandfather and founder of Qatar, Sheikh Jassim Bin Muhammad Bin Thani – said modern technology, Western fashion and the English language were infiltrating the Arab world, casting tradition and custom into the shadows.
“There is a spoiling factor here, where people forget the basics and I think the foundations of basics are very important,” he said.
“They do learn [the country’s history] but I don’t think it’s enough.
“People have taken the - I would say false - perception that you need to be in this fast internet age and unless you have a Western kind of education you will be behind. I think that’s not true.
“It’s happening in the whole region.
“Technology and the way people have perceived this world [are to blame]. All these advances that we see are coming from the Western, English, Anglo-Saxon dominance... that is the influence.”
However, Sheikh Mohamed said advancement in Arab cities, including huge developments and the influx of international brands, was a good thing. There just needed to be more balance, he said.
“We have to realise that today there are no barriers, you cannot stop your children or your people from knowing and seeing and hearing what’s going on in the world, so the best way is to embrace it but try to be ready for it and try to educate your population, your children, your people, that this is coming and we have to live with it,” he said.
“We cannot just close our doors. In fact, I would like to see more innovation here that would match this.
“We just want to make sure they have passion for their culture, they have passions for their history and they realise that – sorry to say – if you speak with an American accent it’s not going to take you anywhere. What will take you everywhere is your education and your heritage and belonging to a place.
“We just want the people to belong to a place and feel proud to be Qatari.
“If you are from a country you should be proud and if it’s not making you proud then make it make you proud. It’s your country, you were born here, you learned here.”