The few times I have traveled in the Middle East region, I’ve come away with the impression that a lot of the folks there do indeed enjoy many of the things we think of as cosmopolitan or even Western. They enjoy them, though, on their own terms, and don’t like feeling forced into stuff or dictated to. And they like to put their own spin on stuff, sort of, um, like everyone everywhere does. Westerners seem to think sometimes that it’s all or nothing, that you’re either an exact clone of London or New York or Frankfurt or whatever or you’re a loin-cloth wearing savage.
In Amman, Jordan, at the University of Jordan, you can see young women in full hijabs or burkhas strolling arm in arm with women in jeans and t-shirts, and all of them holding modern cell phones. Some of the traditional clothing is designer label, some of it is bedazzled and bejeweled with bling like you’re in Times Square. Some of it is basic black and very traditional. They have Coke in the convenience stores, along with the ubiquitous cell phone scratch off cards and they have local drinks as well. Restaurants mix and match hamburgers and schwarma. It’s all a sort of hodgepodge to an outsider–but imagine how, say, Chicago looks to someone from Jordan or Turkey (Istanbul is another place of contrasts for sure).
What I think a lot of people resent is the idea that just because they like the Internet, cell phones, fashionable cloths, fast food, and other “stuff,” that they have to then embrace Western policies, beliefs, habits, and cultural norms. Like us, they want to pick and choose, but often we tend to view Western culture and commerce as something of a theology, where purity is as important as practice.