Gudrun Harrer from Austria.

Harrer: It Is Not Only Misunderstandings Between Arabs and Europeans

Oct 13, 2019

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I came across Gudrun Harrer for the first time on Twitter and was surprised for not having known of her before. Reading her articles was smooth like reading prose rather than a political analysis. This was not due only to the Austrian charm and irony in her writing, but her deep knowledge and vision of things that make it easy to understand and learn. Despite a few points here and there that I would say are a Western mentality, I would agree with much of what she writes.  

Gudrun Harrer studied music in Germany and Italy, but in 1986 decided to switch to Arabic Studies and Islamic science at the University of Vienna. In 1993, she started her career at the foreign desk of Der Standard in Vienna, and became foreign editor in 1998. At the same time, she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation in International Relations at the University of Vienna, about the Iraqi nuclear program (Dismantling the Iraqi Nuclear Programme). Since 2005 she is a lecturer on Modern History and Politics of the Middle East at the University of Vienna and Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. In 2006 she was sent as Special Envoy of the Austrian government to Iraq and was charge d’affaires of the Austrian Embassy in Baghdad. She is a member of several influential institutes in Austria and Germany that deal with the Arab World. Politics is not her only passion. She also has new publications on cuisine.

Why did you specialize in politics of the Arab world?

It all started with a language course. But soon after that, the political and cultural interest in the Arab world broke through in me. And at the beginning of the ’90s, I started to work as a foreign correspondent, I came into demand, because at that time there still was very little knowledge and expertise available on this part of the world. 

Harrer, have you ever visited Saudi Arabia?

Yes, I did, but unfortunately not in recent years, to see how the huge reforms and development process have changed the country.

What do Austrians know about Saudi Arabia?

(Harrer) I think that the knowledge of Saudi Arabia in Austria and among Austrians is one-dimensional. This was clearly obvious and reflected in the discussions about the King Abdullah Centre (König Abdullah Zentrum) in Vienna, which some members of the Austrian Parliament intend to close. Saudi Arabia is seen as a supporter of conservative religious views. Any other aspects of the people and country are not seen nor recognized. Most media also have a one-dimensional policy on a country or government, either good or bad. There is very little consideration or explanation of historical development, which in the case of Saudi Arabia there should be.

In your opinion, where do the real reasons for misunderstandings lie between Europe and the Arab world? Can they be solved?

The reasons for these difficult relations also have a historical background: the Middle East did not have a good experience with Europe in the past. And many Europeans who followed the developments of terror in the world are scared of it. So I don’t particularly believe they are misunderstandings behind the relations that one can explain. Rather, both sides need and must explain their points of view to each other, so each can understand the other side. But, of course, there are limits to the understanding and acceptance that can be reached. For instance, as Western women, it will be hard or almost impossible to explain the system of guardianship existing in Saudi Arabia.

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