One of the most common questions I get asked about living in the Middle East is, “How can you feel safe over there?” Violence unjustly perpetrated against Palestine and ISIS’s attacks on minority groups, are the most recent examples of What Is Wrong With the World Today. Pictures of protesters in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain grace the front pages of many newspapers, often with the word “terror” in the headline.
In some ways, I am a little more fearful than I was when I lived in the US. I have to educate myself about different norms of labor laws, censorship, and the policing of women’s bodies. I worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something that could be interpreted in a way I can’t predict. I do not have rights that I had in the U.S., and trust me, I no longer take those for granted.
On the other hand, sometimes I forget to lock my door at night and I still sleep peacefully. I leave expensive items in my car and don’t have to hide them from view. I don’t worry that a policeman will turn a gun on me because I’m Black or that my government and media will slander me after I’m dead. As a woman, I feel safe walking city streets at night.
I’m not saying that the authoritarian surveillance system is something that I’m ok with, or that everything is as sunny in Qatar as it seems. What I understand now is having to convince international students in the US that they lived in a safe place. Of course this country is safe, I would say. We have an entire department devoted to Homeland Security, for crying out loud.
Well, except for that area of town at night. Well, be sure to say “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” to cops when they pull you over. Well, only if you bring a friend with you. Well, maybe if you lived somewhere else, but that kind of thing doesn’t happen here.