Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel

The Guide to Globalization: 16 Things You Should Know

Africa is not a country, and other things you should know as future global leaders.

Sep 25, 2016

In the inevitable wake of globalization, NYU Abu Dhabi was conceived as the impetus to intercultural dialogue, coinciding with the lucrative promise of widespread communication via the internet and economic integration. NYUAD’s rhetoric of global leadership resonates within this liberal arts environment, especially because it facilitates understanding between identities covering every color on the spectrum (pun intended). That said, I remain baffled by our insistence on using outdated and detrimental rhetoric to describe complex topics of race, gender, sexuality, war, history, economics, art, and politics. An easy example of this is still referring to black and white as different ethnicities. In other words, in such a globalized setting, I take issue with our insistence on using fallacious ideologies for the sake of our own convenience when trying to communicate our own cultural and individual uniqueness. It seems unbecoming of us to resort to particular nomenclatures when attempting to have the very same dialogue which largely shapes our NYUAD experience. It is quite the opposite of being so-called cosmopolitan or globalized but rather desensitized to our uniqueness.
This is why, in spirit of the whole kumbaya global leaders shtick we’re indoctrinated with, I have compiled a list contradicting these very same fallacious ideological conveniences we resort to in order to facilitate the globalization process on a local scale. If you are extremely offended by my claims to epistemological authority over the following topics, then awesome. If you think this is the most pretentious thing you’ve ever read, I wouldn’t think that opinion to be unjustified, but I firmly stand by the piece. These are the things I believe you should know by the time you step into the world as a global leader, and if you have any grievances then at the very least, address the statements and questions with a degree of openness. Come to my room and let’s talk. I dare you.
  1. Africa is not nor should be thought, described, or conceived of as a nation, because Africa is a continent and no, its capital is not Brooklyn. Learn the continent’s geography and its cities just like you would learn cities of Europe, because the world is far vaster than the OECD. There’s a difference between Ivory Coast and Mozambique, for example. The question is, do many of us know it?
Ted Talk: The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Relevant course at NYUAD: African Politics
  1. Similarly, the so-called Middle East is not a country, nor is it a region with one single issue of instability. Each area's issues are very particular, with spillover effects birthed from a multitude of factors that influence one another yet remain unique in their own way. Furthermore, much like there is so much more to Africa than malaria and corruption, there is tremendously more to the Arab World than civil war, violence and white SUVs. Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization and also hummus.
Relevant course at NYUAD: Emergence of the Modern Middle East
  1. Governments, countries, and nationalism are far from benevolent, and we should stop assuming that as the case. The rise and fall of empires is very much ripe and rampant; take opinions polls from British citizens on Margaret Thatcher before the Falklands War as an example. This also means we need to stop conceiving Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the axis of evil. We should swallow the double-edged sword of our own countries’ governments being abysmal excuses for men with sticks and carrots — and women, here’s looking at you, Hillary. Yay for equality.
Cool reads: The Logic of Political Survival, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita; The Dictator’s Handbook, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith; 1984, George Orwell
Relevant courses at NYUAD: International Politics; Introduction to Political Thinking
  1. It is such a cliché to believe that democracy is what a government should be, capitalistic is how an economy should be and anything else is archaic or backwards. Capitalism and democracy may work in some contexts, but they are far from an absolute means of political and economic structure.
-cough- Brexit -cough- Trump running for President -cough- Duterte actually being President -cough- Dang, this digital draft is killing me. Ahem. Moving on.
Cool reads: Economics 101, Steve Kenny; Democracy and Economic Development, Adam Przeworski; Brave New World, Aldous Huxley; The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber
Relevant courses at NYUAD: Political Economy of Institutions; Foundations of Modern Social Thought
  1. The effects of colonialism are still very much alive. Colonialism is not a thing of the past that does not apply in this day and age. Colonialism is bad, it happened, and let us acknowledge that our ancestors engaged in or suffered from it. Let us rebuild from whatever idiocy our predecessors thought would be cute to leave our generation to deal with.Colonialism is bad. Many people died. King Leopold II of the Belgian Empire makes Hitler look like your second grade bully.
Cool read: Reversal of Fortune by Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James A. Robinson
Relevant Courses at NYUAD: Colonialism and Post-Colonialism; The Great Divergence; African Politics; Political Economy of Development
  1. We should watch ourselves when commemorating and standing in solidarity with tragic incidents that occurred only in OECD countries. We are all people, and we will remain unequal if we feel worse for the deaths of a hundred in one country compared to millions in another. For example,arking yourself as safe in Charlotte, North Carolina on Facebook is ludicrous; there’s no reason you should be in Charlotte, North Carolina in the first place.
Relevant Courses at NYUAD: Inequality; Global Ethics; Wasting Time on the Internet
  1. Fundamental note: sex — male or female — is not biologically binary. The XX and XY chromosomes mean only so much when it comes to sex determination, and we are all to a large extent mosaics. By frequency however, we tend to be clustered around the typically male and typically female ends of the spectrum, even though prevalence is across the entire spectrum. Gender is also a social construct, and I wake up every day wishing I were Beyoncé because I’m a single lady, dammit.
This sex/gender binary has increasingly become accepted, although different cultures across the globe produced their own nomenclatures on the interplay between the two. An example of this interplay includes kathoey individuals in Thailand, who are accepted as a third gender.
Cool read: Gender and Genetics, WHO
Relevant course at NYUAD: Gender and Globalization
  1. Evolution may be a theory but then again so is gravity. “Oh crud, gravity is a theory too?” Student says before floating into outer space.
And no, religion and evolution are not mutually exclusive. Let’s not apply the emergence of Protestantism to other religions. Instead, we must accept that in many cases, Islam included, religion and science perpetuated, supported and harmonized with one another. Let’s also not compartmentalize religions in the same anthropological category as Roman Catholicism; it’s outdated and strips each of their richness and entirely different historical, doctrinal and geopolitical backgrounds.
Relevant courses at NYUAD: Faith in Science, Reason in Revelation; Fundamentals of Acting
  1. Branching off of the last point, being religious and implementing Sharia law does not mean you are conservative, closed minded, backwards, abusive of human rights or inherently violent. Religion just happens to be one of many ideologies used to justify immoral actions, just as much as nationalism is, for example. I would actually argue that nationalism is a worse ideology to justify violence than religion. In other words, think twice before you criticize Gulf Cooperation Council Laws because your friends think it’s cool.
Relevant course: Scapegoat
  1. My points must be having babies because the next one is:
The following is a misconception: a non-secular state is underdeveloped, and has not appropriated the proper standards of modernity. Interestingly enough, the structure of the modern nation-state is inherently secular for a couple of reasons: the purpose of the state is to sustain itself, and serves a national, state-sanctioned rather than religious agenda under the sovereignty of its government. Secondly, the moment a state dictates what you are and are not allowed to practice religiously inherently means that state and religion are not separated because religion is managed by the state. In other words, France and the burqini and Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are one and the same.
Cool read: Formations of the Secular, Talal Asad
Relevant course at NYUAD: Ibn Khaldoun and Political Theory
  1. Why are we still, for some inexplicable reason, asked the race/ethnicity question when applying to visas?
    The categories of Black, White, Asian, Arab and Latino are neither races nor ethnicities. White, for example, has a tremendous subset of ethnicities within it, and extremely wide biological variance within people who have less melanin concentrated in their skin.
Unicorn should be a box I could tick right next to Middle Eastern or White or Arab or whatever ludicrous origin-based question asked on any official document.
No course listing necessary; one spectacular woman says it all in one minute. Side note: she has appeared on Oprah and the other things she has to say are noteworthy.
Similarly, we need to stop associating some races/ethnicities with being inherently inclined towards some things rather than others. Black people are not better athletes, Asians are not human calculators and Arabs are not ticking time-bombs. How are these arguments still used as a scapegoat for a lack of understanding of how biology, society and culture work?
Furthermore, fear-mongering politicians and the rising far-right political groups in the U.S. and Western Europe propagate the stereotyping of minorities. In other words, racism and separating oneself from any group of people is not a solution, but a symptom.
Relevant courses at NYUAD: Race and Ethnicity; Race and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective
  1. Let’s talk about mental health: there remains to be a lot of stigma associated with seeing a counselor and taking medication. You do not need to be crazy to see a psychologist, and taking medication simply means managing chemical imbalances in the brain of an individual who suffers from depression, anxiety, and all the fun things on the bio-psycho-socially-caused menu.
Mental health is a part of self-care and practicing emotional intelligence. It requires an acknowledgement of your own needs, thoughts and emotions as you would acknowledge an adorable puppy. We take ourselves for granted sometimes, and much like we learn to be kinder with other people, we must learn to be kinder with ourselves.
The world would be pretty boring place without kooky nutjobs anyway.
Cool TED Talk: Depression: The Secret We Share, Andrew Solomon
Cool resources: REACH, our on-campus peer support group; NYUAD Health and Wellness Center's counselling services
  1. The use of labels should be put to no use other than mere convenience. The issue is when a certain set of labels is popularized so much that it becomes universal. With regard to sexuality specifically, the LGBTQIA+ nomenclature has been tremendously successful in helping individuals across the United States and many parts of the world figure out their sexual and gender-based identities. However, the moment an individual rejects these or any labels in general, marginalization becomes inevitable since our understanding of gender and sexuality is so heavily based on terminology which originated from the United States. This is not to say that anyone who finds comfort in this particular nomenclature is at fault; it is neither universal nor the only nomenclature available to describe similar aspects of one’s identity which have prevailed across all cultures since the dawn of time.
Cool read: Desiring Arabs, Joseph Massad; The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault
Relevant course at NYUAD: Arabs, X and Modernity
Here’s the interesting thing about Iggy Azalea: nothing. There is a fundamental difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Cultural exchange is easily one of the most beautiful things the human race engages in: it is how knowledge evolves and finds the ineffable number of ways it manifests itself in our daily lives. This spans fashion to critical thought to that one time you had fried chicken and waffles and lost yourself in gluttonous ecstasy. Cultural exchange emphasizes our diversity and embraces all the cool things we’ve developed over time and have to offer each other.
Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is like plagiarism. Cultural appropriation is when a particular part of a culture is poached and celebrated without taking this particular element of culture in the context of its development. For example, wearing a dashiki or kimono or kandura is so cool, but not knowing the names and capitals of the countries in West Africa, not knowing about the history of Chinese-Japanese relations or not bothering to learn a single word of Arabic while studying here defeats the purpose of cultural exchange and is quite frankly, insulting to the originators. It is also a fundamental problem when cultural appropriation becomes systematic, such as within the music industry where cultural genres like the blues or hip-hop become cash cows for artists who fail to comprehend and understand the struggles behind their origin. In other words, Iggy is only history repeating itself when record labels have already produced the likes of Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin, but do not celebrate Willie Dixon.
I think Azealia Banks summarized it best when she tweeted Iggy saying: “Black Culture is cool, but black issues sure aren't huh?”
Cool films: Dreamgirls; Cadillac Records
Relevant courses at NYUAD: Art, Culture and Self; Idea of the Exotic; Exile, Diaspora and Migration
  1. Finally, as a culmination of all previous points: we need to punch modernity in its lackluster groin.
I feel we are ambivalent towards modernity, and take comfort in the assumption that modernity offers a far better life than past civilizations. Being labeled as productive is synonymous with being labeled as progressive and, as an intellectual pitfall, it prevents us from observing the present as a coincidental epoch in history in which we live — instead, we see it solely as a culmination of socio-geopolitical evolution over the course of time. I simply call for a mental emancipation from an increasingly state-sanctioned education which alienates our humanity in the live-and-let-die structure of ordering things. I call for embracing a more theoretically critical way of looking at how and why it is that world works in the way it does, without falling into fallacious conveniences similar to the ones listed above.
Cool video: PHILOSOPHY – Michel Foucault
Cool Song: Borders, M.I.A
Cool read: The Will to Power by Michel Foucault
Relevant courses: Foundations of Modern Social Thought; Global Revolutions
There are of course, a few more points I wished to have listed including: the niqab/bikini debate on women’s liberation and why we should stop telling women what to wear. Others include how easy it is to address the Palestine-Israel conflict, a closer look into gender as a social construct, and counter-arguments to modernity through a Foucauldian lens of the world. But then I thought, Nah, let someone else do it, this article is too long anyway.
While I do firmly hold to these claims as truths in their own respect, it is crucial to note that it is all up for debate. In the interest of bridging the world closer together, and catapulting ourselves as the architects to globalization, one thing stands to remain universal: question everything; because relying on convenient assumptions is a detriment to the development of the inevitable globalized community.
Knowledge is power, and with great power comes great responsibility.
Kamel Al Sharif is a contributing writer. Email him at
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