Saturday, December 19, 2009

National Day

Qatar's National Day was the 18th. They used to celebrate Independence Day (in this case independence from British oversight in 1971) on September 3 but a couple of years ago it was decided to instead celebrate when the Al-Thani family became the rulers of Qatar, so celebrating on September 3 was shelved in favour of December 18. From a weather point of view an excellent decision, the temperature is still in the mid-40s in early September which makes outdoor celebrations difficult.

Offhand I do not have the history of the Royal family handy but I believe that the current ruler is the fifth or sixth of the Al-Thani rulers, so the Al-Thanis have ruled the country for about a century.

Getting a detailed history of the area is quite challenging, as far as I can tell there are no history books in English giving more than a brief overview of Qatar's history. From discussions with my Qatari colleagues there are not many in Arabic as well. The reason seem to involve internal politics.

If you look at the history of Qatar, as was the history of other countries in the region, it was dominated by the interactions between the various families (though in English it would be considered more like clans instead of families since these families can have thousands of members). Families would control certain areas, possibly raid others, form alliances, engage in wars, flee to other areas if overrun etc. The history of these interactions and conflicts were rarely written down but instead kept in oral tradition, handed down from generation to generation. I've had the occasional snippet of this history, that the town of Al-Khor used to be under the control of a coalition of seven small families, or that one clan had been chased out of Qatar and had moved to what is now Bahrain, but for the most part I have no idea about what happened here. I'm sure a detailed history would be interesting. So why isn't there one?

Because all of the families are still around.

Histories are full of victors and losers, heroes and villains, joy and sorrow. So if a detailed history of Qatar were to be written who would be the bad guys? You can bet that none of the families are going to accept a history book that portrays them in a bad light, and I'm willing to bet that the oral histories very differently from family to family. What one family may consider a righteous victory another might consider an unjustified massacre. One family "reclaiming their land" would be considered "taking our land" by another family. And who would be right? That is what makes writing down the detailed history of the region so difficult. And I'm guessing that is why you do not see any books on it, it would be a sure way to just ruffle a lot of feathers.

This creates some confusion even amongst Qataris learning their history. One mentioned to me that he took a course in school and later took a history course while in Bahrain and what was taught there was very different from what was taught in Qatar, which also differed from what older members of the family would tell him about certain events. It would be difficult to tell who was right in the end.

Anyway, happy National Day Qatar. I hope that a comprehensive history book can come out one day.

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