As someone in the intercultural field, a Muslim and having spent many years living, working and travelling throughout the Arab world, I am always keen to scrutinize literature aimed at business professionals seeking to improve their knowledge of the region.
Donna Marsh’s “The Middle East Unveiled” is a recent edition to such literature.
With an experience of the region spanning some 30 years, Donna worked within sales, marketing and new business development across the region. Today she acts as a trainer and consultant advising companies on how to work more effectively in the region.
The major positive of the book is summed up in the title’s sub-heading, ‘a cultural and practical guide for all western business professionals’. The topics covered are very comprehensive. Ranging from the usual business practicalities and etiquette to safety and security through to what to do at the weekend.
One could suggest that the author was over ambitious in the range of subjects covered however the informal and succinct writing style help the reader get straight to the point thus lightening the experience. The format of the book further allows the reader to ‘dip’ into topics rather than having to wrestle with long chapters.
I find chapters on Islam intriguing. It is not uncommon for “Western” authors to misrepresent the religion, fuel expat stereotypes or simply offer their gloss of a highly complex and colourful religion. Donna however has managed to tackle a sensitive topic with an impressive amount of clarity, accuracy and balance. The key, it appears, is her straight-talking approach to the topic and a deep appreciation of what the religion actually says on certain matters plus the various practices across the region. In short the section gives anyone a great introduction to Islam and Muslims, increasing awareness and therefore reducing the ‘fear factor’.
Any review would not be a review without some nitpicking. Two major factors stand out for me when looking for the negatives of the book.
People love case studies, anecdotes and the like when it comes to cultural information. It gives people real life examples, context and a way of applying information to situations. Each chapter could have done with an anecdote from the author’s library of experiences to help readers along the journey. This neatly brings me on to my second point.
As a woman, such anecdotes would have had even greater impact. Donna’s advantage with this book was her gender. At a time when we are fed stories of stonings, burqas, forced marriages and honour killings this was an opportunity for a woman to bring across her story of the Arab world. Women in business tend to shy away from the region; a real and honest assessment of a Western woman’s role in the Arab world could have had a great impact on this perception. Although the book does cover topics around gender differences in a useful manner, that little bit extra in terms of a woman’s viewpoint would have meant added value to the reader.
In conclusion, Donna has successfully managed to encapsulate her knowledge and experiences in this great little publication. It is current, comprehensive and most importantly useful. A ‘must-have’ for anyone looking to better their understanding of working in the region.
By Neil Payne