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Book explores Jewish professor’s experience in Qatar

“The Doha Experiment: Arab Kingdom, Catholic College, Jewish Teacher” by Gary Wasserman. (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017) 

In 2006, Gary Wasserman accepted a professorial position teaching American political science at a campus of Georgetown University that was just opening in Doha, the capital city of Qatar on the Persian Gulf.

Wasserman had taught abroad before and was interested in the challenge, as well as the attractive salary and benefits. In the end, he remained in Doha for eight years teaching and learning a great deal about Qataris, Muslim culture, and how the American ideal fit into the Middle East. His book describes his teaching experiences, his developing knowledge of this Middle Eastern Emirate, and what he was able to teach his students and what they taught him.

Wasserman examines his experiences from various perspectives. One chapter describes what it was like to live in a gated community in the Emirate. He provides his readers with a history of Qatar. He writes about the place of women in his classroom and in the country itself. He examines the experience of being an ex-pat in a country where the citizens do not have any contact with the expats who teach classes, and provide many services that are essential to the quality of life. He examines the masses of migrant workers who make up a majority of Doha’s population, but have no civil rights in Qatar. He also describes his experiences being Jewish in a fundamentalist Muslim country.

The majority of his students were also expats. They came from many Muslim countries — India, Pakistan and Turkey — as well as the Middle East. Qataris were so privileged, that having an education from a foreign university really didn’t matter when it came to getting an appointment to a government-controlled service. Perhaps Wasserman’s most interesting assessment is about the woman’s place in society. In the beginning all of his female students were covered in modest clothing. As time passed, more of the female students showed up in jeans and casual shirts. The student body also had a higher proportion of women to men. Many women wanted to get passes to further their education in the west. However, as one student explained, studying in America prevented her family from marrying her off.

His discussion of migrant workers is distressing. They compose about 80 percent of the population. They earn practically nothing, but send what they earn back to their families. The migrants do everything from serving as maids in households to driving cabs, to building the campus on which Wasserman taught. Yet they have no rights.

This book is so filled with fascinating facts and descriptions of Wasserman’s experiences that it becomes a page-turner. Anyone who wants to learn about Qatar, or who wants to explore Wasserman’s information about his eight years in Qatar will enjoy this book. It is scholarly, but written in a way that will engage readers of all types.

Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian and award-winning book reviewer who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.