Tuesday, October 31, 2006
So from the Australian front (bye Hilali, enjoy retirement), we move to the German front (Guten Tag Erkin). Erkin Deligoz, a Turkish-born member of the German Green party, issued a call to her German Muslim sisters to discard the veil because it's oppressive and patriarchal. She got the obligatory moronic death threats, politicians are mobilizing to defend free speech, and I feel compelled to blog another story that I already wrote about!
Muslim organizations in Germany are supporting Deligoz's right to free speech, even though they don't agree with her:
"The Central Council of Muslims strongly condemns the threats and we made it clear that we stand behind Ms. Deligoz," said Mounir Azzaoui, spokesman for the Central Council of Muslims. "We have a different position regarding the head scarf, but that's not critical in these days. The most important thing is that all of us stand up for the freedom of opinion."
They are still faulting Deligoz for contributing through her remarks to creating a hostile atmosphere towards Muslims in Germany. Unfortunately, that point bacame moot the moment death threats were issued against her. An explicit, immediate threat to one particular woman wins over an implicit, possible threat to Muslims.
Good job Jack! It seems your remarks had quite a bit to do with speeding up the separation you are complaining about.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Imam Hilali should note that velied women were also molested. Apparently, the crowd did not discriminate and went for any female, young and old, veiled and unveiled, who was walking in the street. This is taking sexual harassment, which I always heard was a fact in Egyptian public space, to new lows.
I'm sure there will be more calls now for women to "stay home" (just the way Hilali advised."
I strongly believe that all the talk about the veil as necessary to protect women in public is a load of crap and is actually responsible for creating and reinforcing the attitude that women in public space are making themselves "available" and are inviting sexual harassment.
I'm in such shock about the news that I think I will leave it at this for now. I'll say more later, when my fingers are steadier and I'm not making so many typos.
I was starting to feel sorry for Hilali. It's hard not to when it was turning into what a friend of mine would call a "filem Hindi," i.e. Indian film, with all the melodramatic talk of his failing health. But then he opened his mouth again. In the course of his apology for his previous statements, he said that comparing unveiled women to uncovered meat is "inappropriate and unacceptable for the Australian society and the western society in general".
I beg your pardon? You mean it's appropriate for non-western societies? So as an Arab woman I should not be offended by such an analogy?
Why do I feel offended then? And why were Muslim women in Australia among those who felt offended as well?
Tell you what. Go on leave. A long, long leave. And get a hobby while you're at it.
So next time, Mr. Wilson, watch your language. Unless, of course, you are writing from the point of view of the occupation. In that case, you are doing a great job.
It's been three years since Tunisian singer Thekra's voice was silenced by the bullets of her husband, who shot her then went on to kill himself and two other friends. She was one of the most respected and promising popular female singers in the Arab world. This song is called "Allah Ghalib" (God is mighty). No, it's not about jihad.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
In my neighborhood in the town of El Bireh, there was a man called Abduallah al Nouri (Abdullah the gypsy) living in this small one room house that he built himslef with unfinished stones. He was something like a squatter, because he built it on a piece of land that was owned by someone else. He had no family and lived alone. I remember a tall man with vague features in the traditional garb of Palestinan peasant men.
I have no idea how he made a living. He would come almost daily to our backyard to fill his jug with water from the well or pick some fruits from the trees. Around the Eid, he'd come for some money. As a kid, I don't remember him as a scary figure. He was just there. The one who talked to him most was my grandmother, and I remember them quarreling a few times. My gradmother quarreled with people only when they "trespassed" on her territory: meaning they stepped on one of her shrubs or picked up unripe fruit (I was always grateful that she was already dead when Israeli soldiers one day during the first intifada uprooted 15 of her olive trees because stone-throwing teenagers hid behind them).
As to what happened to Abdallah al Nouri, I'm not sure. Did he die in that stone house, or did he just disappear?
Of course, if the transgendered MP in question was not "out," nobody would have noticed him/her in the women's bathroom. Because, after all, we don't check under a person's clothing (which are a flimsy marker of gender identity to say the least) to see who is allowed to enter where.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
This is the title of the film I saw tonight as part of the Arabian Sights Film festival in DC. It's by Algerian director Mahmoud Zemmouri.
It's a comdey about young Algerians in France. The main character is handsome, unemployed Ibrahim. He is living in anticipation of the soccer match between Algeria and France. Of course, he's rooting for Algeria, but he's never been there and he doesn't speak Arabic. One of the funniest scenes is his insistence on singing the Algerian national anthem at the stands before the match even though he doesn't know all the words. But when Ibrahim is stopped by a policeman because he's flying three Algerian flags on his car, he shouts back that he's French. He also re-discovers his Frenchness when he attempts to enter Algeria with his French passport with no visa. The film deals with Ibrahim's dual identity lightly, as befits a comedy. Ibrahim is apolitical (he refuses to go the mosque where he could get free tickets to the soccer match and free jerseys donated by Zem Zem Cola), lost, and stuck without any prospects. To convince him to go to Algeria, his mother yells at him at some point: "your name is Ibrahim and you have this face and you think you will get anywhere in France?" The film almost ran out of steam by the end (after the match) but not quite. It was a pleasure for me to watch it in a theatre full of an appreciatvie audience who got the humor and laughed at all the right places. The supporting characters, especially Ibrahim's friends and family, were all funny. The music reflected the theme of hybrid identity well.
It seems that the kind of resistance that is taking place on weekly basis in the Palestinian village of Bi'lin is the only sign of hope left. This resistance is non-militaristic and grass roots. Note that they are still flying the Palestinian flag, not a factional flag.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
As usual when someone says something controversial about Islam, there are, at least, two issues:
What he said. The reaction to his words.
I'm not that shocked because I have heard both points made before. So we can't accuse the guy of originality. His"food" analogy is a stock one and it comes in different variations and not necessarily from "Muslims." I was once told in the course of a college debate that a woman who is "used" (meaning not a virgin) is like a dish that someone has eaten from. No one will want to consume such food. If I remember correctly the guy was (or had the illusion that he was) a Marxist. Also there is the saying "an old cow has tough flesh" delivered to me by a sweet uncle to instruct me in the importance of marrying young (he died disappointed).
Saying that wearing the Hijab "protects" women (and some would say men) is an old and entrenched argument. To me it's the most unacceptable one of all those offered to justify why a woman wears the hijab (of any variety).
As to calling Christians and Jews infidels or atheists and thus throwing away the major Muslim tradition of considering them "people of the book," it is definitely part of some Islamists discourse. So again, he wasn't improvising exactly.
Blaming women for their rape, something he seems to have implied, is also not his invention. In the debates in the US about date rape and the attempts to criminalize it in the courts, this argument was made by secular, Harvard-educated lawayers. Feminists faught it and still have to fight it everytime there is a "date rape" case.
Now to the reaction.
I was happy to read that some Muslim women in Australia were outraged by his comments and wanted him out. Let's not ignore this reaction and drown it out. But the media will certainly do that. It doesn't help that the old boys club decided to keep him in, with a little tap on the wrist (suspended from giving sermons for a few months). Old boys tend to band together in these cases (remember the Catholic Church and the coverups of sexual abuse not so long ago?).
The media and some politicians would like him tarred and feathered and run out of town. Iran comes up as a possible destination (I don't remember any politicians demanding the deportation of Jerry Falwell when he said AIDS was God's punishment to gays; Muslims, on the other hand, have to be constantly reminded that they belong elsewhere). They also want to use this case to "test" the Muslim community as a whole. And herein lies my problem with some of the reaction: why does the whole Muslim community of Australia have to "prove" that they are not him? In other words, they are guilty till proven innocent and the only way they can prove their innocence is to do what? Speak up against him? Some already did, but will their voices be heard in this den? And why should Muslims speak when they are pretty much ordered and threatened to speak to prove their innocence? I bet some will dig in their heels just because people don't like to be bullied and tarnished by association.
With this said, I think Australian Muslims who disagree with this ignoramous nincompoop turned Imam should do what is in their interest and the interest of their religion. In my opinion the priority is to yell at the top of your voice that sexist and bigotted remarks like these are not welcome. They need to find ways to hold "their leaders" (who were delivered to lead them through Wahhabi oil money) accountable. I'm not saying this because they need to "defend" themselves. I say it because I believe that one of the most dangerous effects Islamophobia can have is to stifle internal debates and self-criticism within a community that feels it's being constantly "tested" and challenged to prove itself to others.
update: according to al Sharq al Awsat, the Imam denies that he meant to justify rape. He said: "Islam forbids you to even look at a woman. How would it allow her rape?" He also claimed that an extremist Muslim group, al Ahbash, is allied with the Australian government and is leading the media campaign against him.
Nice try. Nice backtracking.
And to read some of the Arab readers' reactions to the story, click here. (in Arabic but can be summed up as a mixed bag with most against him).
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
"It is quite clear that the problems we have in Britain are not because Muslims wish to be separate ... I think the entire debate has been totally lopsided as though Muslims were somehow at fault for this."
He highlighted, instead, discrimination in employment against Muslims. He was responding to a report, the first of its kind, about Muslims in Britian. About time.
This is a lame argument. If you want to ban the Nikab, at least take the time to come up with a good reason.
Monday, October 23, 2006
I wish I were as optimistic as Soueif. All I can say is that I wish the Palestinians were as creative politically. But, unfortuantely, they weren't. I'm reading Rashid Kahlidi's book The Iron Cage, which raises the very serious and scary question: what would prevent the Palestinians from continuing to exist in a state of limbo in the future as they have been since Othoman times?
I share his pessimism.
Thus Yvonne Ridley opens her article in the The Washington Post, "defending" Islam against accusastions that it oppresses women. It's worth noting how The Washington Post frames the debate on Muslim women: either the Asra Nomani view that Muslim men are violent because of a Qur'anic verse, or the Yvonne Ridley view that Muslim women are the most liberated women on the face of the earth.
What about those of us who believe both views are nuts? Apparently, we do not exist.
Ridley is a convert to Islam. She is one of those Muslims Tareq Ramadan problematically celebrates as uncontaminated by "culture." Some Muslims love to celebrate such women, and show case them, as proof that Islam appeals to western women, if only they take a close look (or get kidnapped by the Taliban). And these women often oblige--they love to compare their "oppression" when they were western with their "liberation" as Muslims. It's a stock comparison.
Well, sister Yvonne, if you want to wear the veil as a personal statement, so be it. But please please please get off your high horse and stop the "I'm more feminist than thou" rhetoric because I wear the veil and you wear a mini skirt.
After reading her article, I'd say that a little culture wouldn't hurt, don't you think?
Spiegel ran another story about "Muslim sexuality." The fascination with this topic will never wear off. What do you learn from such stories? Well, in the dominant discourse about Muslim sexuality circulating in the West, the lesson is that those Muslims are repressed sexually and therefore ....(fill in the blank: terrorists, unhappy, hypocritical, latent homosexuals, whatever). They are just not like us.
It's no surprise that "Nedjma," the retarded author of The Almond, is quoted liberally as an authority on Muslim sexuality. For those who haven't heard of her, she wrote a pornographic anonymous novel that is so badly written and imagined that it boggles my mind somebody published it ( I mean how many porn novels can you buy at Borders? Well, if they are about Muslim women, then they are "knowledge"). Has this book been written about Latin American sexuality or French sexuality it would have been considered trash (even as porn it is trash).
But, hey, what do I know. I'm just another Muslim prude.
One thing the articel doesn't mention is how many people who were born and raised in the West Bank still became tourists in their own country often on technicalities such as travelling abroad to study or work then being late in renewing their travel documents. Quite a few of my relatives lost their residency papers that way. We are talking here about an intricate bureaucratic system that was invented in hell.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
"As long as the beating of women is acceptable in Islam, the problem of suicide bombers, jihadists and others who espouse violence will not go away; to me, they form part of a continuum."
I beg to differ. But before I expalin why, let me point out to one point of agreement I have with her:
she is absolutely right to blame the most literal and obscurantist interpretations of this verse and others on Saudi wahhabis and their oil money. The books she quotes and many of the Imams who bug her are trained in this benighted school of Islamic interpretation, whose aim is to come up with the most regressive interpretation of Islamic texts and tradition, print it in glossy pamphlets, then distribute it all over the world through a well-financed network of mosques and madrasas.
But I'm bothered by the timing of this essay and the audience she addresses. Who is she really writing for? Her fellow Muslims? I didn't get that impression from her tone. She sounds like another Muslim informer telling certain readership something they already know: Muslims beat up their wives and that has a sanction in the Qur'an. Not only that, the violence of the Ben Ladens of the world is to be understood as really integral to Islam. The impression her already terrified reader gets is that Ben Laden and Joe Muslim who (must) beat(s) his wife are really one and the same; it's a continum, you see. This is hardly original; we have been hearing this for years now, but it always sounds better when the brown woman herself is speaking. In sum, by presenting her essay as an attempt to shed light on "Muslim" violence, she undermines the credibility of any argument she's making.
I can end my post here. But I will go on just for the heck of it.
Afterall, if the key to understanding Muslim wife beating is this particular verse, how is one to understand the wife beating done by non-Muslims? Maybe those Christian, Jewish, atheist wife beaters have been secretly listening to some of these Muslim tapes? Maybe they are all secret converts to Islam? Or maybe there are a variety of reasons why these non-Muslim men beat up their wives. I'm sure there are studies about that. Only Muslim men beat up their wives because of one reason alone: a Qur'anic verse.
According to this article about the problem of wife beating among Jewish males in Israel, "'One out of six' or 'one out of seven' Israeli women is regularly beaten at home. The estimated minimum figure is 100,000 battered women in Israel (of whom 40,000 end up hospitalized)." The author goes on to blame certain patriarchal aspects of the Jewish tradition. What interests me about this article is how uninteresting it is to the readers of the Washington Post or to a large chunck of western feminists who are kept sleepless by their rescue fantasies of the "oppressed Muslim woman."
In two places in her essay Nomani explicitly contrasts "Muslim" women to "American" women. This is problematic first because the Muslim women she's speaking about ARE Americans. Second, because it implies that "American" women (who are these exactly: Texas women? African-American women, West Virginian women, upper east side women, women working at hooters? who exactly? Inquiring minds want to know) do not suffer from domestic abuse, which is false.
I also don't like how she belittles and dismisses the work other Muslims (groups and individuals) are doing to counter wife beating among their community. It's that "I'm a lone voice in the wilderness" syndrom. She calls them ineffective. Perhaps. But she does not offer a better alternative. Unless she's saying: Let's all be Texans!
And, yes, I am against wife beating!
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
A more strident tone is struck by Abdel Bari 'Atwan, the editor of the Arabic London daily Al Quds al Arabi (also Saudi supported, I believe). Here's the passage that interests me:
"It is allowed that young women walk half naked in the streets, and that they pull their pants to the lowest level so their skimpy underwear is exposed, but it's not allowed that a minority of a minority of Muslim women cover their faces. At the same time, they talk about respecting personal freedoms and interfer in the liberation of women in Arab and Muslim countries."
But what is his point? Should Muslim women in Britian be allowed to wear the niqab because it's a personal freedom? I doubt that's what he's arguing as much as it may sound like it.
مسموح للفتيات ان يسرن شبه عاريات في الشوارع، ويسحلن سراويلهن الي ادني مستوي بحيث تظهر ملابسهن الداخلية الفاضحة، ولكنه غير مسموح بأقلية الأقلية من المسلمات بتغطية وجوههن، ويتحدثون في
الوقت نفسه عن تقديس الحريات الشخصية، ويتدخلون لتحرير المرأة في البلدان العربية والاسلامي
Sunday, October 15, 2006
On a more responsible, yet purely descriptive note, Margot Badran delineates Muslim women's attempts to stake a space in the Mosque and the obstacles facing them.
"We don't care where you were born. We don't care which language you speak. We don't care what kind of clothes you wear. We care about you."
Albert Rivera, anti-nationalist Catalan candidate for president (in the photo holding his transperent campaign poster)
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Just recently I gave the example of a woman wearing the niqab and teaching my first grader as problematic. That hypothetical case is now a court case.
"An Arab Therapist Seeks to Lift the Veil on a Touchy Subject" is the kind of headline you expect on the cover of Cosmopolitan. But here it is on that financial oracle, The Wall Street Journal. And you wonder why I read it!
So let's "lift the veil" and take a peek at Muslim women's sexuality. This vouyerism seems never to lose its appeal.
The article is about Hiba Kotb, an Egyptian medical doctor turned sex therapist after taking correspondent courses at an unaccredited American university. She combines "science and religion" in advising her clients/audience. Yes, she is another Egyptian celebrity following on the footsteps of Amre Khalid. (an aside: why is it that Egypt in particular is producing these "Muslim" evangelical-style celebrities? a possible dissertation here) But she's more focused than Khalid. Her specialty is "sex education." And although she teaches that homosexuality is a disease, she is criticized by some people for talking too much sex. To paraphrase one of those objectors: "Sex education? Who needs sex education? Not my wife."
But neither this criticism nor the possibility that she's doing some good is good enough reason for me to let her off the hook. She encourages the idea that people need to follow a "script" even down to their most intimate actions. Why does a man need to know that Prophet Mohammad kissed 3a'esha before he can kiss his wife? What if he likes to kiss his wife on the nose? Does he need to find that such an act was practiced in early Islam or is mentioned in the Muslim tradition before he can do it? This interpretation of "Islam is a lifestyle" is petrifying, of both Islam and life.
On a related note, the only reason she can talk about sexuality is that she puts it in religious frame (with a smattering of science about "disease"). The only sex "education" available from a non-religious point of view is the Haifa Wahbi et al kind or the crap we used to read in Tabeebak. Seculars and leftists have not developed a secular sexual discourse (Nawal el Saadawi tried in the 1970s before, unfortunately, she turned novelist) and as a result Hiba Kotb is a celebrity.
Friday, October 13, 2006
This is a hard read for me. I vascillitate between agreeing and disagreeing, liking and disliking, sympathizing and rejecting. The writer of the article doesnt' help: his "rumbling" hyperbole is awful and almost drowns Rushdie's more measured words.
It's important to remember that Rushdie's reaction to the Islamists is not only intellectual; it's personal, informed by the Khomeini fatwa against his life. This is why he seems as angry with the "left" who, in his view, are not recognizing the danger of the Islamists to "western civilization." To not believe that is to betray him and western civilization. He collapses Al Qa'eda and the woman wearing the niqab: both pose the same kind of threat. You can sense the panic.
This doesn't mean he doesn't have a point. Not about the threat to western civilization. About other matters. Yet...
Imagine if the protestors carrying signs that say "AIDS is a message from God" and going around knocking people on the head to "save" them were Muslim. Just imagine.
It will be a different article from this.
Then imagine again.
Anyway, here's my favorite personification of the day:
"Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?' "
Now, what would a good answer be?
"That is a fanciful, very dangerous idea, and so many people have been killed" because of it.
Well, he desreves the Nobel Prize for saying that alone.
Nine Part of Desire is the title of Heather Raffo's one woman show, which I just saw at the Arena Theatre in DC. Raffo, whose father is Iraqi and mother American, wrote the script she performed.
The play portrays nine Iraqi women of different backgrounds, ages, locations, and political views. According to the program, " Raffo imagined these characters, crafting complex composites based on several women she met. Raffo portrays diverse women who reflect the humanity, courage, convictions and contradictions of the Iraqi soul. Raffo describes the play as "a celebration of the feminine and of women searching for what personal liberation means to them and what freedom is and can offer them in their lives no matter where they live."Of the enthusiastic reception to the play, Raffo says, 'Americans were hungry for the face of Iraq.'"
The title comes from the Muslim Shi'a traditon (part of an epigram by Ali ibn abi Talib): "God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one part to men." It is also the title of a book by Geraldine Brooks, Nine Part of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, a "peeky" travel narrative that "lifts the veil" from the "forbidden" world of Islamic women (to quote some of the words readers of the book posted on Amazon.com).
Back to the play.
I didn't like it.
I didn't like the fake Arabic accent. It wasn't necessary. The use of the call for prayer at the beginning of the play and the end as a framing device is also not necessary. It's orientalist and predictable. The music was so-so. The oud worked but not some of the transitional segments: I could swear I heard a bit of an Amr Dyab music there.
More importantly, the characters lacked depth. Many of them were cliches, one dimensional, and therefore boring. The worst was the Iraqi-American who "loves" her family in Iraq and feels guilty that she's here in the US getting a pedicure. One of the characters, the bedouin, was totally unconvincing: I know bedouins are supposed to be on the move, but this woman was something else: she has supposedly been to London with her first husband (a "Saudi bedouin" she calls him who cheated on her with her friend), then to Israel with her second husband (who had a first wife), then to Dubai to meet a third would-be-husband with whom she's been carrying on a long-distance relation via phone but he dumbs her after meeting with her in a hotel! So here you have it: Arab men as adulterous, polygamous cads. All in just one portrait.
But even more importantly, the connecting thread was not desire or the feminine or women's search for freedom. As my companion put it, "this was a cacophony of Iraqi women's victimization." Women are victims of Saddam. Women are victims of the war. End of thesis.
The play portrays the violence Iraqi women are subjected to, whether by Saddam's regime or by the sanctions and the war. Al Amereya shelter bombing is there, prominently. And Abu Ghraib is there too. But it was interesting to me that the audience gasped twice during the performance, and both times were in reaction to the graphic description of Saddam's violence. "They covered the woman's body in honey and let the dogs eat her." GASP. "They put the baby in a bag with hungry cats and recorded the sounds so they could play them for the father." GASP. No gasps when she talked about how the "shelter became an oven. A woman was vaporized."
Is it the choice of language, the kind of details used in each case? For one thing, Saddam's violence was presented as unambiguiously pre-meditated and intentional. The other violence is the violence of war: it's the difference between "they cut off the heads of prostitutes" and "the bomb hit the shelter and vaporized the woman." Saddam's violence was graphic; the war's violence was poetic. I'm not sure. I need to think about this more.
Ultimatley, the play doesn't challenge its audience in anyway. "Hungry" for the "face of Iraq," they consume it and leave.
But you may not want to take my word for it. I may have been a bit cranky. The restaurant I went to before the play for dinner had barricade-like dividers outside that reminded me of checkpoints elsewhere. Not only that, but we had to be thoroughly searched--our bodies and belongings (down to our wallets!). All this trying to get dinner in DC!!! Well, that's too much trauma for my taste. So here's a more favorable review from the Washington Post, just in case.
An afterthought: Heather Raffo's theatre is Diana Abu Jaber's fiction.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Predictably, the political controversy around his insulting of "Turkishness" helped. This is when he dared to mention Kurdish and Armenian victims of Turkey and was thrown into jail for it. But he's definitely deserving on literary grounds.
Now, on to the losers. Adonis has to wait (considering how close Turkey is to Syria, probably forever). Personally, I was rooting for the Algerian writer Assia Djebbar, though I knew that considering that last year's winner was a woman she too has to wait. Giving the prize to two women in a row would make the Swedish Academy downright feminazi.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
"Incredibly, few if any prominent voices in the broadcast or print media have called the incidents what they are: hate crimes perpetrated by angry white men against defenseless young girls, who -- whatever the twisted motives of the shooters -- were targeted for sexual assault and murder precisely because they are girls. What is it going to take for our society to deal honestly with the extent and depth of this problem? How many more young girls have to die before decision-makers in media and other influential institutions stop averting their eyes from the lethal mix of deep misogyny and violent masculinity."
Maybe someone should tell Nicolas Kristoff to indulge his rescue fantasies here at home. It seems he's needed. As we say, "Al akraboun awla bel ma'rouf" , which is Arabic for "butt out."
I know now what was missing from the British "debate" about veiling.
The veil sucks, he kindaofsaid.
Now, that's enlightening. I feel enlghtened, don't you? Now, those of you who were sitting on the fence about the veil/niqab can jump off.
Rushdie didn't leave things unexplained. He elaborated: his three sisters and many "females" in his large Muslim family will never wear the veil.
Nice move. Brandishing the women folk, the "females," to establish credibility.
But there's an argument here: "if my sisters won't wear the veil, it must suck."
Someone might say: "Mr. Rushdi, this non-sequitor sucks!"
Not me. I like Rushdie.
Has anyone talked to Catholics lately about gay rights? Maybe they should be made to watch videos of two men kissing, and if they blink their citizenship should be stripped away from them. Anyway, what's the Pope's take on this?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
If you are interested in this topic, or in a good read, I recommend the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It's one of my favorites.
"any media outlet in or about the Middle East today would find it virtually impossible to convey objectively the realities of the region and the feelings on the Arab street toward Western-related policies without transmitting views and opinions that are loaded with Islamist rhetoric and propaganda. Al-Jazeera has reflected Arab anger, not created it."
Al Jazeera does both: it reflects and constructs--just like all media. The writer makes it sound like an either/or proposition: either censor the Islamists or give them a platform. There is a thrid way: do not silence them but do not promote them either. Al Jazeera does quite a bit of the latter in different ways: their choice of guests, the soft questions they give them, the lack of any serious criticism of their views. Most importantly, the way Al Jazeera frames the debate is very limited: your choice is either Al Qardawi or Wafa Sultan. Hell, no.
A big omission in this article is any analysis of Al Jazeera's location and relation to the Qatari state. Yes, the channel is critical of "almost all" Arab regimes. The one regime it can't say anything about is the Qatari regime. Qatar hosts the largest US bases in the region; it's the center of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Does Al Jazeera say a word about that? Nope. Qatar also seems to have normalized relations with Israel. But you won't hear about that on Al Jazeera.
As I wrote before, I appreciate Al Jazeera's on the ground coverage. But that's about it. Their editoralization gets on my nerves. During the Lebanon war I had very low tolerance for their guests, particulary Abdel Bari Atwan and Azmi Beshara. The first seems to be their Islamists in residence and the latter their secular national leftist who is saying the exact same thing as the Islmaist in residence. As hard as I tried, I couldn't distinguish between their rhetorics.
These days I have a reprieve from Al Jazeera. I moved to a new house and I have some monster trees in the back blocking the satellite signal. So much for technology. Nature is still winning. But I have hope.
I like Disgrace but can't say it's my favorite novel. Come to think of it, I'm not sure what my favorite novel is.
So far so good. I'm with you.
But then this:
"The statement followed the airing on Danish state television of amateur video footage showing members of the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples' party (DPP) taking part in a contest to draw images ridiculing the prophet. "The running of the footage affected the sensibilities of civilised people and religious beliefs of one fifth of humanity," the OIC said."
You lost me.
The objection is to the "running" of the footage? The footage was taken by a group that believes in tolerance and coexistence to expose a racist, a right-wing anti Muslim group; it shows it in an unflattering light. Objecting to "showing" the footage on TV sounds like a knee-jerk reaction that misses the bigger point. But what's new. It seems everytime the words "Danish" and "cartoons" appear next to each other reason goes out of the window.
Monday, October 09, 2006
A similar film that uses montage to the same effect is T.V's Promised Land, which was made after September 11th.
While I appreciate what these films are attempting to do, i.e exposing the racist representations of Arabs and Muslim in Hollywood and the media generally, I do find that they have a limited appeal, especially if the audience is not the "converted." Some dismiss them by saying that Hollywood stereotypes everybody. Others resist the editorializing that is involved in putting the montage together (this is more applicable to Promised Land) and feel that the director is using the same reductionist and manipulative techniques he's criticizing. One can argue that the director is doing that on purpose to draw attention to the propagana the ordinary American is exposed to on daily basis and to give a "taste of your own medicine" kind of thing. But the audience I was watching the film with didn't buy it--at least not all of them.
In other words, aren't these films preaching to the converted?
You must admire the accuracy of his choice of words (apparently he consults a dictionary 20 times a day)! He's not condemning the "miserable" Muslims or the "bastards" among them. The first group needs our help and second is not suicidal. It's the "miserable bastards" who bug him. Now, that's a phrase I'd like to use more often.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
What good news! The Arabic Al Sharq al Awsat brings the good tidings that Saudi women have discovered the benefits of technology applied to certain parts of the body. No, we're not talking boob jobs (so passe) but rather "vaginal jobs." I posted about this before as it applied to American women (the article I linked to then is no longer available, but here's another that makes the point).
What's funny about this article (more of an advertisement really) in the Arabic daily is that it is a bit coy. It appears in the "health" section and seems to be talking about bladder control problems and medical procedures to alleviate them. But why do you need a plastic surgeon to do a bladder control job? Well, apparently while he's controlling the bladder he can do a bit of a nip and tuck to the vagina. This way, and only this way, the "smile retruns to many a Saudi woman." And many a man, I 'm sure.
BTW, are there no Arabic words to better describe sexual intercourse than "mumarasat al 7ayat al Zawjeyya?), which translates as "practicing married life." What a turn on! That alone is a cause not to smile.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
"[British] State schools in predominantly white areas are putting Arabic lessons on the curriculum for the first time as students show increasing interest in understanding the Middle East."
sounds good. But let's read more...
[According to some official] "...young people's choices have been affected by the news agenda. They know about the tensions in the Middle East and also the influence and strength of some Middle Eastern economies. Part of helping young people understand these tensions is understanding the culture and language of the region."
So taking a couple of compulsory courses in Arabic will help studens understand the "culture" and therefore the "tensions" between them and the Middle East?
Something is not right here. It's that word "culture" again that does't sit well with me.
You know why? Because I think Middle Eastern culture has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the "tensions" between us and them.
If white British students want to understand these tensions, they need to look elsewhere. I suggest a course on "Middle Eastern Oil" instead of a course of "Middle Eastern culture." Learning to say "Al Salamu 3alaykum" won't help ease tensions (actually if the accent is pretty bad it can exasperate them!)
Am I unfair? I love Arabic (what else is left?) and it makes me sad that people's motivation in learning it is the "know thy enemy" kind.
But think of it from the point of view of the British student: it's not enough that he is scared of the Arabs and their violence (isn't that what "tensions" really mean? It can't be referring to the killing of the Arabs by the British, can't it now?), but now he is forced to study this language of theirs.
Ya. That will ease tensions allright!
Listen, Lawrence of Arabia knew Arabic. At least he knew how to say "Aqaba, Aqaba." What good did that do?
"For 13 years, I’ve lived here by renewing my tourist visa every three months. Last month, an Israeli soldier stamped my American passport with a one-month visa and wrote “last permit” on it in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Now I am faced with a terrible choice. I can leave, uprooting my family and abandoning the businesses I’ve worked hard to build. I can leave alone and be separated from my wife and daughters. Or I can remain here “illegally,” risking deportation at any time, " writes Sam Bahour.
Friday, October 06, 2006
They signal no such thing.
The clashes signal a struggle between two bankrupt groups fighting over petty, pathetic, puny, besieged power. They signal the logical result of the militarization of the Intifada. They signal what testosteronical men with guns do to each other when their "manhood" is defined by the bit of steel in their hands.
There is no epic battle here, my friend. Just a puny power struggle over fiefdoms. Jonathan Cooke should go ask ordinary Palestinians how they feel about the clashes of "black Sunday." Had he talked to them, he would have brought his analysis a notch or two down from the clouds.
As to "Palestine's soul"-- let's leave it in peace since we can only kill each other over it.
Oh-uh. The niqab is in the news! It's the first story in the Guardian today. For this we have to thank Jack Straw who could not suppress the urge to say that he'd rather no one wore a face veil. I wasn't sure if he meant no one in Britian or no one in the world. I'm also not sure if he included the Touarq, the North African men who wear face veils, in his statement. But maybe he was talking about women in Britian only because the age of empire is over. Or so I heard. He has some theory about how it undermines social cohesion because it is a very "in your face" kind of statement of difference.
I wonder what he will say when some people object to low rise jeans as undermining social cohesion because the butt cleavage they promote can be seen as a very in your face kind of statement of difference. I can just hear him mumble something about "our freedoms and our values and our fish and chips."
The serious part is not that he thinks the niqab sucks but that he actually asked women who came to him for help to remove their face veils. He says they did and seemed relieved! It doesn't cross his mind that he's in a position of power over them and that could be the reason they obliged. It must be because they really hate that face veil and couldn't wait for the chance, now given to them by a powerful male, to shed off their oppressive trappings. His request, in other words, liberated them.
Those British! They never tire of the business of liberating others. I guess you can call it the "White Man's Burden."
But enough about Jack. He's too easy.
Those who defend the niqab are more challenging (at least for me) becaue many of them are using the argument that "it's freedom of choice" oppurtunistically. I mean they don't really believe in women's (or men's) freedom to choose but they will deploy that argument when it works for their interest.
Anyone who is going to use that argument has to also be willing to actively defend a woman's freedom to choose not to wear the niqab, or the veil, or anything she doesn't want to. Anything less is hypocricy. I'm afraid there isn't much active defending of this sort going on. And herein lies the difference!
As to those who are absolute in their belief that a woman should be free to wear what she wants, they forget that no society gives such an absolute freedom, including the most liberal. We accept restrictions on men's and women's dress all the time. If a woman wants to wear a 6 inch heal, it's her "freedom." But if she's going to wear it while carrying my child, it's my "freedom" to fire her. Similarly, if a woman wants to wear the niqab on her trip to the local mall, it's not my business. But if she's going to be my son's first grade teacher, I'll object.
In other words, when it comes to the niqab, I can only improvise.
I don't think so, buddy!
Unless he means that there is a culture of exploitation that treats people like animals and a culture of resistance to being treated like animals. In that case, I agree.
Funny how this word "culture" pops up everywhere these days. It's a chameleon word. Some people like to substitute it for many other words they'd rather suppress.
Israeli definition: "little trinkets, about one million of them to be exact, that our moral army left behind for the poor Lebanese kids to play with."
Defenders-of-Israel-at-any-cost defintion: "A bomblet rhymes with Omlette and therefore can't, absolutely can't, be harmful."
Thursday, October 05, 2006
"For although Hizb Allah, the Party of God, is undoubtedly of Shia origin, it is in fact a secular movement, addressing real temporal issues, its leaders speaking in a nationalist discourse, avoiding sectarianism and religious metaphors. They participate in politics, compromising and negotiating, and do not seek to impose Islamic law on others."
Ok, they call themselves "the party of GOD" and they call their "victory" a "Divine victory," but they really don't use religious metaphors at all! Nasrallah threatens in an earlier speech to cut off the heads and hands of those who try to disarm his party (who include a few of his fellow Lebanese), but he really is a loving and compromising kind of guy. Hizballah also participates in politics, while, as everybody knows, fundamentalists don't!!! But the best part is that they don't impose Islamic law on others. Could it be because they don't have enough power yet to do so? Nay. It's because they are secular!! Funny how "secularism" now means "not imposing Islamic law on others." You can have a whole ideology and political vision based on religion, but as long as you are not "imposing" it on others by force, you are "secular."
Tell you what? If Hizballah is secular, then my grandmother was Simone De Beauvoir!
As to the most hilarious sentence in the article, I give my vote to this one:
"Throughout the country, women in chadors walk beside scantily clad beauties."
Nice to see that Nir Rosen was paying attention...to what matters.
He even includes in his article a picture of two "beauties" wearing Nasrallah T shirts. See, if these women are not afraid of Hizballah, why should we? Thus the argument goes...
But how exactly does Hizballah get "credit" for this phenomenon of "women in chadors" next to "scantily clad beauties"? Rosen is too busy romanticizing Hizballah to bother think through some of what he wrote.
My worry, though, is that he is planning on writing a whole book on this subject. I bet you there will be more pictures in it!