The Best Country in the World?

by garrycraigpowell

This is Sur, in Oman, on the Indian Ocean. It’s one of my favourite places in the Gulf, partly because it’s so beautiful, partly because the people are so friendly, and partly because it reminds me of Sinbad (though he came from Sohar, further up the coast, near the Emirates) and the Arabian Nights. But what I’m thinking of right now, as patriotism reaches hysterical heights here in America with the political party conventions, is the oft-repeated phrase: “This is the best country in the world.” How many times have I heard that here, and for that matter, in England too? I hate hearing it, because the sub-text is: “and your country isn’t nearly as good.”

Of course there are many wonderful things about the United States, and Britain as well, and perhaps you could make an argument that they really are the best countries in the world–though for my money, I’ll take Italy or France, or Spain or Portugal. But that’s not the point. Just thinking of the lovely people of Sur, Oman, who are mostly black, because this is on the Swahili coast, and the Arabs used to sail their dhows down the coast of Africa and pick up slaves to bring back to the Arabian peninsula here–thinking of these people, who speak Arabic and Swahili, and are mostly devout Muslims, I’m sure most of them think that Oman is the best country in the world, and you could hardly blame them. It’s beautiful, dramatic, people are very civilized, very friendly and courteous, and it’s far, far safer than the United States or England. There’s free health care for everyone, free university education, and the standard of living is good. There are far fewer people living in poverty than in America. And there’s much less stress. There are disadvantages too: an autocratic regime, run by a hereditary monarch, the Sultan, a single man about whom scurrilous gossip is whispered. But regardless of whether you think it’s better to live in Oman or America, better to have been born American or Omani, from a logical point of view–I wish that people would consider, especially when talking to foreigners, that though it’s fine to love your country, the moment you start regarding it as the best, you are looking down on others, regarding theirs as inferior. And we would all do well to avoid that.

Here’s another picture of Sur, of boys playing football on the sabka, or salt-flat. This picture might have been taken in Al Ain, in the Emirates, where I used to live. My district, Al Khabisi, looked just like this: low houses and mosques, all whitewashed, and salt-flats. And the Emiratis thought they lived in the best country in the world too.