Cultural awareness expert Rafiq Antar, from Morocco, was the guest speaker at the annual Brig. Gen. Charles B. Allen leadership luncheon at Cameron University on Friday.
Antar was born in Morocco and educated in France and the U.S. He was on the Morocco Basketball Olympic National team.
Antar has spent the last 15 years in cross cultural training of soldiers as a member of the Army Culture Center. His work focuses on pre-deployment training. He has trained over 100,000 soldiers. Antar is also the Director of Instructions for the Cadet Command Culture Understanding Leadership Program (CULP), having mentored over 1,000 cadets.
Morocco was the first nation to recognize America as an independent nation after the Revolutionary War, Antar noted. “Morocco has always been a part of the U.S.”
Antar said he first started to learn English when he heard the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles. Antar said it was amazing years later to see the Eagles live in concert in America.
When he was in Morocco, some American soldiers gave him a cup of peanut butter.
“That was my first time eating peanut butter,” Antar said. “It is still my favorite thing to put on bread today.”
Pre-deployment training in cultural awareness is important, Antar said. “The Army learned a long time ago that we need to be adaptable. You can read about it (cultural differences), but until you experience it firsthand, you might not understand.”
“When values you grew up with bump into values that aren’t good, you have to reconcile,” Antar said. “You have to learn to act to build rapport.”
In some cultures, a person may grab a piece of meat with his bare hands and put it in front of you, which is in direct contrast with American culture, where we don’t usually touch each other’s food, Antar said.
“I tell the solider: Eat it. You may get sick, but eat it.”
Roles are important in culture, according to Antar. “Where do the elderly fit? In some cultures, age is wisdom. Some cultures don’t have retirement homes,” Antar said, noting that a people’s family takes care of them when they become older.
Antar emphasized that the way people express emotions and communicate is different across cultures.
“In the West, we have direct communication, especially in the military,” Antar said. “In other cultures, we have to learn to read between the lines.”
“Most disputes are a misunderstanding of culture and religion. We’re dealing with people who have emotions and pride. We can build relationships regardless of religion. You can get people to support you and die for you. You have to build trust.”
Antar invited a cadet to the front to help illustrate the difference in the use of personal space between cultures.
“In America, personal space is at arm length, with a personal bubble.”
Antar and the cadet head nodded to each other, fist bumped, shook hands and then shook hands and hugged. “All of those are ways of saying hello without saying a word,” Antar said.
Some cultures even hold each other’s hands or even their pinkies as a way of saying, “We’re friends.”
Of the fist bump, Antar said, “I love this. Who came up with this?”
In many cultures, “age stands for honor,” Antar said. “The female family members also have the honor in many cultures.”
“The best thing about America: We make things better for generations to come,” Anatar said. “My heart is full just to be with all of you.”