Today I finished reading Omar Saif Ghobash’s book Letters to a Young Muslim. Ghobash is the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to France and former U.A.E. Ambassador to Russia (2008-2017). Through this book of letters addressed to his sons, Ghobash explores his family history, upbringing, and experiences that have led him to “see the world through the prism of responsibility.” Ghobash was born in 1971, the year the UAE was founded. His father had become minister of state for foreign affairs for the country in 1974 and was killed in a terrorist attack three years after that. Ghobash’s mother is Russian and descended from Orthodox clergymen. Growing up, Gobash spoke Russian at home, English in school, and eventually learned Arabic and French, too. In light of all of this, he offers some unique perspective. Below is an excerpt I found particularly interesting:
So what do you do with these different forms of discrimination? Well, the most important idea I want to convey to you at this stage is that you should consider yourself burdened with privilege. Not because of what I do, or what I have given you. I want you to consider yourself privileged because you are alive, full of life, and because you have the opportunity to contribute something positive to this world. The negative comments, the overt racism, the negativity that can come from others because you or your group do not fit in with the dominant group–all this provides you with a richer perspective on social and economic justice. These negative attacks or comments give you the content for deeper reflection on what people’s lives can and should be about. […] Being an outsider is humbling. It makes you realize the humanity of all outsiders. It opens up a great space of empathy between yourself and everyone else who looks like they are excluded from the group. This is a set of people rich in perspective and experiences. It is often the outsider who has the most interesting view of what life is and can become.
In other sections of the book, Ghobash touches on extremism and the prohibition of questioning within Islam is a key theme as well. The book is available in English, French, German, Turkish, and Chinese, but has not published it in Arabic for fear of the reaction and reception it would receive in the Arab world.