presenting differences with dignity
A rectangular, massive, silver, art piece of a building in the middle of Paris is the site of “institut du monde arabe,” an entire museum devoted to documenting and celebrating the Arab culture. This may seem strange to anyone who knows of the increasing hostility towards Middle Eastern people that exists in France. The Arab Institute silently communicates a hope that someday a cultural minority will be able to exist within a larger culture with sentiments of embrace instead of exclusion.
Embrace; receive gladly; accept willingly. These words do not often describe western relations with Arab peoples. However, these are all words I would attribute to this Parisian museum. I appreciate the style of the museum. It seeks to tell a story—many stories—stories of Middle Eastern people from long ago to modern day.
The presentation of the museum allows the visitor to feel a temporary sense of involvement with the Middle Eastern culture. This promotes increased understanding and toleration of the people displayed in the museum. Instead of just displaying artifacts from Arab lands, to be examined from a distance, the museum instead seeks to display the humanity behind the Arab culture with dignity, respect, and appreciation.
I left the museum with a sense of the similarities between Middle Eastern peoples and my own people. We are not as different as we may have been taught to believe. We have different belief systems, but we all believe in something. We have different aesthetic tendencies, but we all appreciate beauty. We eat different things, but we all find a way to grow and harvest food. We have different governments, but we have all created a system to live together. Our shared humanity should draw us together with stronger bonds than our dissimilarities can break apart. Unfortunately though, this is not typically the case. Museums like the Arab Institute, which display a different culture in light of what we can learn and gain from engaging the people of that culture, encourage increased understanding, toleration, and embrace between people groups in the future.