The Problem With Regional Thinking: A Doha Journal Entry

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Mosque near Doha Int’l Airport (Photo: Bob Knorpp)

We Blog The World featured writer, Bob Knorpp, is traveling in Doha, Qatar on behalf of the site this week. These are his dispatches from the city tour and dining event sponsored by Qatar Airways.

“Be safe.”

The sentiment in and of itself is not unusual. People well-wish each other all the time. When you travel, people wish you safety and security. But as I prepared for this trip to Doha, Qatar, there was an added sense of urgency.

“Heightened tensions.”

This was the code phrase. After all, the region was explosive, right? Syria is aflame with war. The U.S. ambassador to Libya was just killed. It’s just not safe.

First, thank you to my friends and associates for caring about me. It warms my heart to know that so many worry about me and my well-being. But please allow me to offer some perspective to set your mind at ease.

Let’s first consider the distances here. Qatar, if you are not familiar with it, is located on the southeast side of the Arabian Peninsula along the Persian Gulf. Now consider Libya along the Mediterranean and it’s neighbor Syria. That’s a lot of geography between them. In fact it’s so much geography that concern about heightened tensions in the region is along the lines of a Frenchmen being concerned about heading to Disney World because there were riots in Detroit. After all, who knows? People from Detroit sometimes head to Orlando, Florida.

Now let’s consider Doha itself — gas rich and generally prosperous. This is a modern and urbane city that is on par with Dubai for architectural opulence. It’s not necessarily a completely accessible city (it definitely has its share of restrictions), but it is considered to be one of the safest places of the Arab world.

Now I’m admittedly a novice traveler. I’ve seen little of the world and I approach travel now with wide-eyed n00b wonder. But even to my mind, it seems like the concern may be misplaced. Sure, bad stuff could happen. But frankly, I live in New York where any number of badly self-installed window-unit air conditioners could tumble out of any number of shoddy windows panes and crash into my head, killing me cold on my walk to the train station. It’s just life.

But don’t think that I’m admonishing Americans alone here. A friend of mine from Israel tells how when he travels to New York, his friends back home tell him to make sure he carries a gun. I’m sure Mike Bloomberg would be thrilled about this.

My point is that we all approach travel with our preconceived notions. But to get the most out of our travel, we need to suspend those notions and (as a dear friend told me before I left) allow our destinations to speak to us in their own voice. Only then can we appreciate a place for what it uniquely offers, rather than lumping it together with regional bias.

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