Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Gathering"

From "The Gathering" by Anne Enright

“And what amazes me as I hit the motorway is not the fact that everyone loses someone, but that everyone loves someone. It seems like such a massive waste of energy – and we all do it, all the people beetling along between the white lines, merging, converging, overtaking. We each love someone, even though they will die. And we keep loving them, even when they are not there to love any more. And there is no logic or use to any of this, that I can see.”

“I look at the people queuing at the till [in Gatwick], and I wonder are they going home, or are they going far away from the people they love. There are no other journeys.”

Trofeo - Sevilla

The golden evening light spilling over the top of the ring and scattering across the golden dirt of the ring. The taunts, the crowd, the trumpets, the bells on the horses. Then it is all over, and the tightness pent up in the ring bursts slow motion out of the opened doors. The cars, life going on down the wide boulevard stir the air as you move out, drawn to gaze toward the river and down the tree-lined street. You drink in the open air, turn left, then are sucked back down the narrow streets, toward the heart of the city. You walk toward the promise of the night and the hope of the heartfelt flamenco of true gitans. At the end of the lane, before you disappear from the sight of the open boulevard and the river and the cleanness that comes with it, you stop. Cinco Jotas is in front of you, warm and inviting, but after seeing the manliness of the corrida, you turn to the right and enter the clean, spartan bar with the open doors and the zinc counter tops and order dos canas. You can taste a bit of the metal in the amber beer from the tap and the keg. The men in the bar smile and nod and do what has been done for years beyond memory. You look at the pictures covering the wall of the drama that has passed across the street. Maybe one more as the cloak of night begins to fall. You nod your goodnight to the bartender, step out, and stop on the busy corner. You look left once more, past the ring, across the open boulevard, and to the river. Then you swiftly pivot right, moving with purpose down the narrow alleys into the night.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thank You Suburban

I just checked Suburban's Other Oman blog for the first time in a while to find that she has moved from Oman. It has been quite some time since I've lived there, but I think of the place a lot, especially lately. It is a beautiful land, great for families, and quite an adventure. One night a few months ago, I got a glimpse of it from over 20,000 feet above gliding by in the night. Maybe some day I'll go back to live there. But, I have many other places I want to see too. Since leaving Oman, I've done a bit of traveling, but not as much as I would have liked. The highlight was probably getting to Sevilla, Spain in May of this year. It was wonderful to smell the sun-warmed scent of dried grass in Spain, then to walk that historic city on a hot Sunday afternoon. Maybe I will try to update this blog a bit more frequently.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oman-India Air Force Exercises at Thumrait

The Omani and Indian Air Forces are conducting a bilateral exercise out of the Omani base at Thumrait in the south of the country. The focus of the exercise is anti-piracy operations and will include Omani F-16s and Jaguars, Indian Jaguars and an Indian IL-78 tanker. An Indian officer stated that his pilots would be training in low flying. Having seen an Omani pilot do some of the lowest flying imaginable when he came in for the break maneuver at an airbase in the country at less than 5 feet, I'd say the Indians are in for some competition on the low flying bit. They should remember, though, that the record for lowest maneuver can only be tied, not exceeded.

Story here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Oman Links to Terrorism in India

A news report from Indian Express claims that a Keralan based in Muscat since 2001 was recently arrested and extradited to Bangalore for his involvement in financing the July 25 bomb attacks in Bangalore. The report states that the 25-year-old Sarfaraz Nawaz is a member of a Lashkar-e-Toiba cell. Furthermore:

Apart from financing the Bangalore blasts to the tune of Rs 3.25 lakh, Nawaz is a part of a LeT module that was plotting attacks on key scientists in India, Bangalore Police Commissioner Shankar Bidari said. “In December 2008, Nawaz along with Jasim and Ali (both members of LeT) discussed some plan to attack some prominent scientists of India and some other important personalities,” he said.
Sources said Jasim and Ali, an Omani national, were together responsible for funding the the journey of 26/11 Mumbai attack accused Fahim Ansari to Pakistan for Terror training.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Talking Back to the Prince

The fallout from Oman's win over Saudi is still being talked about.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Crowne Plaza in Sohar

A glistening new Crowne Plaza hotel was opened in Sohar. It looks quite inviting and Sohar's beaches are relatively attractive, but I wonder if there will be enough tourist traffic through the area, especially with the current downturn, to keep the place open. It really isn't ideally positioned as a base for exploring the interior and if you're just going for the beach, isn't Salalah a better bet? It is a good stop off between Dubai and Muscat for people wanting to get away from either city. But will that keep the place running? If anyone knows what else they're doing to attract people to Sohar, please comment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oldest Animal Life Found in Oman

The Guardian reports on an upcoming article in the journal Nature:

The oldest chemical traces of animal life on Earth have been discovered in ancient rock formations in Oman.
Scientists found evidence for primitive sponges dating back at least 635m years, long before the sudden diversification of multicellular life in the Cambrian explosion around 530m years ago – which paved the way for all the major groups of animals 100m years later.

These were found in the South Oman Salt Basin by a researcher from the University of California Riverside.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

American Consulate in Dubai Closed for Security Reasons

AFP reported that the American Consulate in Dubai was closed on 20 January due to security concerns based on information provided by the Dubai authorities.

This is certainly not good news for a city that is branding itself as a worldwide destination for tourism and business. They have built it, but if people get skittish about terrorism, they won't come. Add this bad news to the raft of other negative reporting about Dubai's general financial woes, and I think the brand may be in for some serious trouble.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another Stunning PR Move From Saudi

In another brilliant work of public relations magic, Saudi Arabia's top mufti made the following statement regarding child marriage:

It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
In December, Saudi judge Sheikh Habib Abdallah al-Habib refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The judge rejected a petition from the girl's mother, whose lawyer said the marriage was arranged by her father to settle a debt with "a close friend." The judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he would not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.

This isn't really about religion. It is about the pathetic men that say they speak for religion in Saudi Arabia. They are cavemen, stuck in the eighth century. More than that, I think that they are deliberately provocative in order to prove to themselves or whoever that "Islam" is independent from the pressures of the west and they basically can do whatever they want, damn the criticisms. This guy is a joke. He even looks like a joke right out of Tash ma Tash. The problem is that he and people like him are creating more jokes of men to take their place as the supposed voice of Islam in the Kingdom. Until their power can be broken, stupidity will continue to reign in Saudi.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Saudi Films

Washington Post reports today on Saudi filmmakers and their plight. The religious goons in the country have suceeded in having movies banned since the 1980s because they are "evil." I love the subject of the film that leads the story.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Aspiring Saudi filmmaker Mohammed al-Khalif is having a hard time finding a leading woman for his short film, "Garbage Bag." Partly, it is because Saudi Arabia does not allow unrelated men and women to mingle and has no movie theaters or film schools, and no culture of actors or acting.
And partly, it's the subject matter.
"Garbage Bag" is about a woman stuck in a public restroom because her abaya, the black cloak women in Saudi Arabia must wear in public, has been stolen. After an agonizing night in the restroom, she fashions an abaya out of a black garbage bag and walks out.

"It's almost impossible to find a woman to act in a movie and even harder to find someone willing to wear a garbage bag as an abaya," said Khalif, a 23-year-old graduate student who sports a goatee and white-rimmed glasses. "My intent is not to insult the abaya, but to use film to ask why it has become such a shackle for Saudi women."

Nakheel Tower in Dubai Put on Hold

Big news today that a planned skyscraper in Dubai to be built by Nakheel has been put on hold for 12 months. This tower, planned to be the world's tallest, is a new start. Emaar's Burj Dubai, which is currently the world's tallest building, is still under construction. Work there has not been halted. Financial woes and slipping credit ratings have been cited as the cause of the delay. Perhaps the economic crisis will make Dubai reconsider the serious overcapacity situation it is creating in its real estate sector.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Had to repost this from the Muscatis. Very interesting iconography.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oman's 2009 Budget

The Oman Daily Observer announced the specifics of Oman's 2009 budget. The country anticipates running a larger deficit this year due to an approximately 11% increase in expenditures on the previous year and anticipated lower oil revenues (planned at $45/barrel). Increases come in much needed areas, such as education, healthcare, and road infrastructure according to the Observer. Below are some details. RO x 2.6 = US dollars.

[T]he educational sector accounts for 36 per cent at RO 791 million, i.e. an increase of RO 81 million (or 11 per cent) over the approved budget for the year 2008. Similarly, the health sector accounts for 12 per cent or RO 271 million of the total civil ministries’ expenditure, showing an increase by RO 43 million (19 per cent) over the 2008 allocations. Allocations for the development budget stand at RO 800 million, showing an increase of 10 per cent over the 2008 budget. These allocations are set to cover the ongoing as well as new projects listed in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) under the different sectors. RO 18 million has been allocated to subsidise the interest on development and housing loans provided by the Development Bank, the commercial banks and Oman Housing Bank to the beneficiaries.

Where are My Mary Janes?

Para usted, mi amigo... No Zegna suit yet, but a pair of Canali trousers... and found a pair of Zegna trousers on sale a few days after Christmas. We're working our way there.

Jack glances at the Men’s Dept., sighs and gives Kate a nod. She takes off with the kids...and then he sees it...
...the Zegna section. He’s drawn to the neat rows of beautiful suits like a moth to the light... He approaches the rack, pulls out a dark green suit, gently touching the soft wool.
SALESMAN (O.S.) It’s perfect for your frame...
Jack turns and sees a SALESMAN standing behind him.
SALESMAN Would you like to try it on?

Jack, at a mirror wearing the Zegna suit. It is perfect for his frame. The color is spectacular, the line is dazzling. Jack looks in the mirror, shutting everything else out... it’s like he’s seeing his old self...
KATE (O.S.) You look amazing in that suit...
Jack snaps out of his trance. He sees Kate standing behind him, Annie and Josh happily playing a few feet away.
KATE I the charts great.
JACK It’s an unbelievable thing. Wearing this suit actually makes me feel like a better person. (taking one final look) I’m gonna buy it...
Kate raises an eyebrow, then looks at the price tag.
KATE $2,400?! Are you out of your mind?
JACK (pointing to Annie’s new Mary Janes) She got those shoes... KATE Those shoes were twenty-five dollars. C’mon, take it off. We’ll go to the food court and get one of those funnel cakes you like.
Jack looks at’s a moment of decision.
Kate looks at Jack, a little surprised.
JACK Do you have any idea what my life is like?
KATE Excuse me?
JACK I wake up in the morning covered in dog saliva...I drop the kids off, spend eight hours selling tires retail...retail, Kate.
Kate just stands here, aghast...
JACK (CONT’D) I pick up the kids, walk the dog, which by the way, carries the added bonus of carting away her monstrous crap...I play with the kids, take out the garbage, get six hours of sleep if I’m lucky, and then it starts all over again...and why is it that I always have to drive everyone everywhere? I spend practically my entire day in that slow as hell mini-van listening to Raffi tapes and trying to figure out how the cup holders work...I’m sick of it. KATE Really.
JACK What’s in it for me? Where are my Mary Janes?

Friday, January 2, 2009

I'm Glad They Picked This Family

I was saddened to hear that a Muslim family was taken off a flight from DC to Orlando for what sounds like some totally paranoid and overzealous complaints by passengers. I highly doubt that the family of a tax attorney, U.S. citizen, and his friend a Library of Congress attorney, who happen to be Muslim, were doing anything to warrant being pulled off the plane. The CNN account states that what freaked passengers out is that the family was discussing where the safest place is to sit on a plane. I've had this discussion myself with people before, on a U.S. carrier.

The reason why I say I'm glad they picked this family, though, is because instead of ranting and raving like lunatics about the issue, they spoke intelligently and reservedly. They should be an example, both for those who think all Muslims are psychos and for the Muslims who do their best to uphold the stereotype.

Irfan, a U.S. citizen and tax attorney, said he was "impressed with the professionalism" of the FBI agents who questioned him, but said he felt mistreated when the airline refused to book the family for a later flight.

"We are proud Americans," Sahin [his sister-in-law] said. "You know we decided to have our children and raise them here. We can very easily go anywhere we want in the world, but you know we love it here and we're not going to go away, no matter what."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

كل سنة وانتم بخير

Happy New Year to everyone. Arab political cartoons are always good for cheer when the new year rolls around, so I've included a few below.

From Asharq al-Awsat (The man's jacket says "Middle East")

From Annahar (Lebanon): "The year of national mending."

Another from Annahar: "The Newborn." The bubbles over the zeros say something to the literal effect of "By God, let them live." There's some grammatical complexity in the way the verb is written and it may be an idiomatic phrase that carries some other specific meaning. (Arabic readers please comment).

Al-Quds (Jerusalem): Both of the next two are from this paper.

Al-Watan: Muscat, Oman. The man's jacket says "Palestine"

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Random Christmas Scene

The clock reads, “11:17.” Kate is already in bed as Jack walks in.

KATE (looking up from her book) Hey...

Jack approaches her, sitting on the bed...

JACK These last weeks, Kate, I know that I’ve done some...some unusual things. Kate nods.

KATE It’s been interesting, that’s for sure.

JACK But I’ve done some good things too, haven’t I?

KATE You’ve been Jack Campbell. And that’s always a good thing... She kisses him on the cheek. He takes her arms in his hands and looks her in the eyes.

JACK I need you to remember me, Kate. How I am right now, right this very moment. I need you to put that image in your heart and keep it with you, no matter what happens.

KATE Are you okay, Jack?

JACK Please, just promise me you’ll do that. You have to promise, Kate. Because if you don’t, then it’s like it never happened and I don’t think I could live with that.

She’s a bit confused but she couldn’t be more in love with him.

KATE I promise, Jack...

JACK Promise me again...

KATE I promise. Come to bed, honey.

Jack stands up, heading toward the door.

JACK Soon...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arab Flight Attendants

Monday's New York Times ran an article about Etihad's trailblazing female Arab flight attendants.

The article gushes about how states like Abu Dhabi offering "freedoms and opportunities nearly unimaginable elsewhere in the Middle East," but the catch is that the Emirates are offering these opportunities for other Arabs' daughters, not their own. All of the flight attendants mentioned in the article are from other, poorer places like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. The Emirates are the cradle of sociological change for other Arab expats, but Emirati families remain staunchly conservative in most cases. They can be because they have the money to be. One wonders if the Emirates are fostering positive change that will eventually come around to their own country or simply causing problems for other societies.

Some highlights:

Flight attendants have become the public face of the new mobility for some young Arab women, just as they were the face of new freedoms for women in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the midst of an Islamic revival across the Arab world that is largely being led by young people, gulf states like Abu Dhabi — which offer freedoms and opportunities nearly unimaginable elsewhere in the Middle East — have become an unlikely place of refuge for some young Arab women. And many say that the experience of living independently and working hard for high salaries has forever changed their ambitions and their beliefs about themselves, though it can also lead to a painful sense of alienation from their home countries and their families.

Despite the increasing numbers of women moving to the gulf countries, the labor migration patterns of the last 20 years have left the Emirates with a male-female ratio that is more skewed than anywhere else in the world; in the 15-to-64 age group, there are more than 2.7 men for every woman.
For many families, allowing a daughter to work, much less to travel overseas unaccompanied, may call her virtue into question and threaten her marriage prospects. Yet this culture is changing, said Musa Shteiwi, a sociologist at Jordan University in Amman. “We’re noticing more and more single women going to the gulf these days,” he said. “It’s still not exactly common, but over the last four or five years it’s become quite an observable phenomenon.”
Young women whose work in the gulf supports an extended family often find, to their surprise and chagrin, that work has made them unsuitable for life within that family.
“A very good Syrian friend of mine decided to resign from the airline and go back home,” the Egyptian flight attendant said. “But she can’t tolerate living in a family house anymore. Her parents love her brother and put him first, and she’s never allowed out alone, even if it’s just to go and have a coffee.”
“It becomes very difficult to go home again
,” she said.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Censorship in Oman

An Omani blogger posted the below comments today. The original Arabic can be found here.

While I would agree with the blogger that personal freedoms in Oman are incredibly circumscribed, the situation is not as bleak as it would seem to some reading her comments. It seemed to me when I was in Oman that many Omanis were unconcerned about the lack of freedoms as long as development continued to progress, the Sultan continued to be an enlightened leader, and the country continued to hold onto its identity, pride, and peace. I know some Omanis find the restrictions stifling, but it is nothing like the situation in Saudi Arabia, for instance. That being said, Oman and the rest of the Gulf states are going to have to deal with increasing pushback against their draconian policies on personal liberties and public criticism in general. It will be interesting to see how it is done. The Sultanate cannot afford for it to be done wrong.

In Oman, forms of expression are subject to censorship and those who speak out face threats and abuse. There is no freedom of expression or of the press. There are no basic public rights. Demonstrations are prohibited. The establishment of newspapers requires a political decision from the Council of Ministers headed by Sultan Qaboos. These papers are subject to monitoring and censorship prior to their publication. The formation of civil society organizations is subject to a backward (not sure if this means backward as in archaic or retroactive) law and is only permitted with a security agreement that guarantees control over the organization.

In this year, 2008, the Omani blogging (tadween) movement was born on the internet. Despite its young age and the small number of bloggers, they have become wanted and hunted. The situation worsens when the identity of the blogger becomes known and he writes under his true name. This is what has afflicted the Omani blogger Hamad al-Gheithi who was forced by internal security to change some of the topics of his blog. Under this pressure, the blogging movement, which is still in its
infancy, may be aborted for good. This confirms the justice and validity of the option of anonymity for some Omani bloggers, and I am the first among them.

The security establishment, with its various but unified arms, has taken up following the writing on the internet in interactive forums and blogs. Participants in these outlets are constantly and systematically subjected to various forms of aggression against their personal and public freedoms, from fixed trials, to direct threats, to prohibition from writing, to damage to their interests and livelihoods. The Omani people are held hostage by the security establishment that rules the country and rides roughshod over the laws and institutions which are generally for show and ineffective in the truth of the matter, partly or fully.

Oh conscience, oh world: You have all of what the blogger, the artist Hamad al-Gheithi wrote and breathed in his blog until he became a target of police intimidation. So, world, bear witness.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Anyone know who or what agency put together the new website

It is a slick new homage to the Sultan. Tons of pictures, but not a whole lot of information.

The Video

The Sport of Shoe Throwing

President Bush made a surprise appearance in Baghdad today. At a news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an Iraqi in the audience threw both shoes at Bush. This is a favorite Iraqi insult that combines the shame of having things thrown at you with "unclean" aspect of the shoe and the sole of the foot.

I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by the Iraqi's impressive accuracy, Bush's quick duck, or the fact that Nouri al-Maliki was basically unsurprised by the whole affair and managed to nonchalantly block the second shoe-jectile with his hand.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Washington Post reports on "Iraqi Women, Fighting for a Voice."

Some excerpts below. The one that stands out most comes first:

Rashid has received numerous death threats. In an e-mail, someone threatened to rape her for being un-Islamic.

Hawjin Hama Rashid, a feisty journalist in bluejeans and a frilly blouse, had come to the morgue in this Kurdish city to research tribal killings of women. "A week doesn't pass without at least 10," the morgue director said, showing Rashid pictures of corpses on his computer screen.
First, a bloated, pummeled face.
Next, a red, shapeless, charred body. "Raped, then burned," the director said.
Then, another face, eyes half-closed, stab wounds below her neck.
From the southern port city of Basra to bustling Irbil in northern Iraq, Iraqi activists are trying to counter the rising influence of religious fundamentalists and tribal chieftains who have insisted that women wear the veil, prevented girls from receiving education and sanctioned killings of women accused of besmirching their family's honor.
"Without changing the way society thinks, changing laws on paper is useless," Rashid said.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, satellite television, cellphones and Internet access have deepened the West's imprint on the relatively stable Kurdish region of Iraq, known as Kurdistan. Today, many urban women wear Western clothes and eschew Islamic head scarves. Women make up more than a quarter of the regional parliament.
In the first six months of this year, 206 women were killed in Kurdistan, 150 of them burned to death. The killings were up 30 percent from the previous six months, according to the Kurdish regional government's Human Rights Ministry. Activists say many honor crimes go unreported or are portrayed as accidents. They also say that some women have immolated themselves out of despair.
"We're still suffering from the past," said Jinan Q. Ali, the minister of women's affairs in the Kurdish regional government. "You can't say the government and police are not doing their job. To transfer a society from a violent one to a peaceful one won't happen suddenly."
Last year, Saud also visited morgues to tabulate the number of women killed in Basra for a report to Iraq's parliament. She found 150 victims. She said she had known three of them: Maysoon was killed with her brother, both shot five times in the head for being Christians; gunmen killed Lubna for walking a little too close to her fiance; Sabah was murdered in a market for not wearing a head scarf.
Saud shakes hands with men in public. She refuses to wear a head scarf, which she views as a symbol of submission. She wears a shawl only because her family fears for her life. But she is careful not to anger the religious conservatives who rule Basra.
Anwar Indalel Shubbar, a local government official with the ultra-religious Fadhila Party said that women are entering "illegal relationships" if they have premarital sex and that honor killings are sanctioned by tribal laws.
"Our religion rejects the honor killings, but we can't stop the habits and traditions we have inherited,"
Shubbar said. She said she favors the imposition of Islamic law.
Even the biggest victory of Iraqi women is bittersweet: A quarter of all seats in Iraq's parliament are constitutionally required to be filled by women. But out of 25 committees, only two are led by women. And most female lawmakers belong to the ruling religious parties. "It's all abayas and female mullahs," Saud said.
A day after her visit to the morgue in Irbil, Rashid interviewed a pale 17-year-old inside a women's prison. Eyes clouding with tears, the teenager recounted her romance with a young man. Her relatives had accused her of dishonoring her family and tribe; her brother had tried to kill her to restore that honor. She had taken refuge here, behind walls topped with barbed wire.
A few days earlier, her father had offered to forgive her -- if she became the second wife of a relative old enough to be her grandfather. She refused.
"I know my family will kill me if I go back home," she told Rashid.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Port Sultan Qaboos on Local News

I was watching my local news this morning (in America), not really paying attention, then looked up to see a sign in Arabic and English. It was for Port Sultan Qaboos. The story was about the attempted hijacking of M/S Nautica, which is in port in Muttrah now. The story included some views of the port and the hills between Muttrah and Muscat. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the ignorants who might misidentify the country with the hijacking) Oman was not mentioned in the story or even in the text around the images.


In a perfect example of the sort of opprobrium I was calling for in my last post, Muslims in Mumbai have refused to allow the terrorists killed in the November attack to be buried in Muslim cemeteries on the grounds that they are not Muslims because they killed innocent civilians, according to the BBC. They have even threatened to come out in the streets to protest any move to force their burial in Muslim cemeteries. Perhaps if dead terrorists in other parts of the world received this sort of treatment rather than a welcome as martyrs, then fewer people would be aching to blow themselves up or set off bombs in crowded marketplaces full of innocent people. Some might argue that "your terrorist is my freedom fighter" and I agree that the line is blurred in some circumstances, but the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians can only be labeled as terror and murder. I applaud the Muslims of Mumbai for taking a stand against those who purport to be murdering in the name of their religion. People around the world could take a lesson from this that no one needs to be "fighting for God." In an aside, these "mujahideen" reportedly brought with them stocks of alcohol to steel themselves during the lengthy siege they anticipated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More on Acid Throwing

The New York Times posted this video the other day about acid throwing attacks in Pakistan. It's worth a look. Once again, where is the Islamic outrage at this barbarism amongst their own? The threat, the stereotype, the phobias, the fear, the hatred is all manufactured by such barbaric acts within the ummah.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Arabic with Latin/English Letters

I've noticed in a number of bi-lingual blogs that there's an increasingly popular method for writing Arabic with Latin/English letters. For example: "AsSlamu 3alaikum ." I can usually figure out the system, but I came across a post recently that was in heavy Egyptian dialect and was using "2" and I just couldn't put it together. Can anyone post a comment with a translation of the lettering system or a link to one? For example 3 = ع and 7 = خ ? Right?

And, secondly, why are so many people using this system? It would seem to me that if you are a native Arabic speaker, you would be more comfortable typing Arabic with Arabic letters. Is it that people are learning how to type English in schools, or does it have something to do with phones and texting and all? Please post a comment to enlighten me.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Eye for an Eye

An Islamic court in Iran has sentenced a man to be blinded by acid, according to a BBC headline. The sentence comes in retribution for the man's blinding by acid of a woman who refused his hand in marriage. Part of me feels that he is getting what he deserves for being such an impetuous psycho, but still... There seems to be something wrong about a state court using blinding by acid as a penalty for anything.

Blinding/disfiguring by acid seems to be relatively popular in the Arab and Islamic world. I've read of quite a few cases of it in various states in the region. I wonder what the psychology is behind that.

Friday, November 28, 2008


More from Elias Khouri's "Bab al-Shams."

"Gaza was struck by the great catastrophe (النكبة الكبرى) after the War of 1948 when it was transformed into a city of refugees. The city was filled by tens of thousands of the displaced who had been expelled from their regions by the Israeli Army. There were no Gazans left in Gaza. Gaza melted in a sea of refugees and became the first truly Palestinian place. There, the Palestinians realized that they weren't simply groups belonging to different regions and villages, but one people, born of tragedy. And, thus, Gaza became the most important font of politics in modern Palestinian history. The Communist movement was strong there. The Muslim Brotherhood grew there as well. From the camps and neighborhoods of Gaza sprung the first cells of the Fatah movement. And in the Seventies, the Popular Front, led by a legendary man called "Guevara of Gaza," ruled the city at night and beset the city with ambushes and fighters. And it was there that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were established. And so it goes..."

Name this Family

Who can name this family? Probaby won't fit with most common conceptions.

More on Rawan

Some details from the Arabic article linked below about the Saudi girl, Rawan, age 21. Evidently the story was originally reported by the Saudi paper, "al-Watan." I find it strange that Saudi actually sometimes has a much freer press than Oman or some of the other Gulf countries, despite its breathtaking backwardness in other ways.

She fell down the stairs in her home where she lives with her widowed mother and six younger sisters, suffering a double fracture to her pelvis, as well as breaking her leg and her ankle (? كعب قدم). This happened on the seventh day of Ramadhan.

She was taken by ambulance to the nearest emergency room (which, very unfortunately was a private hospital, Arfan Private Hospital in Jeddah), where the doctor demanded 4000 riyal before performing her examination. The family was able to gather the money, but several days later, a representative of the hospital's accounting department informed Rawan's mother that 10,000 riyals was needed to perform the operations required. The mother gathered 9000 riyal and rushed back to the hospital to pay so her daughter could get the operation, but hospital staff refused to perform it until the last 1000 riyal was paid. The mother said that the doctor's excuse was that the girl had her period, so the operation was halted. Sounds Saudi logical to me.

Ten days into the affair, a good Samaritan (well, not literally) paid the outstanding amount and Rawan finally got her surgery. Rawan told reporters that her mother and sisters have been afraid to visit her over the last three weeks because they might be arrested at the hospital due to the outstanding bills. Rawan also says that the hospital has threatened to release a medical report saying that the fall was actually a suicide attempt. The hospital in Jeddah has refused her food, clean clothes, and cut off phone calls for the past forty days, leaving her to feel like a prisoner. She was still being held in the hospital at the beginning of this week. I'll update if I find out any new information.

Private hospitals and their unscrupulous practices are a growing problem in Saudi. The influential comedy "Tash Ma Tash" did a hilarious and damning episode about them a few seasons ago. It looks like their portrait of greed and incompetence was true.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Another Heartwarming Story from Wonderful Saudi Arabia

From the country where people patrol the streets to protect Islamic virtue with clubs, a 21-year old woman is being held, essentially as a prisoner in a hospital in Jeddah because her widowed mother is incapable of paying the bill. You can find more details here in English and the original article in Arabic here at I haven't read the whole article in Arabic, as I've got some other stuff to do, but I've read enough to see that the English blog version seems to be accurate. Arabian Business is a professional news outlet and is trustworthy as far as I know, so this isn't just some blog-perpetuated rumor.

Of the details I read in the Arabic article, this whole story started in the holy month of Ramadhan, when Muslims are supposed to be at the height of their generosity. I guess someone forgot that. The girl slipped and fell in her home, requiring surgery, which the doctor refused to perform because (a) the family was 1000 riyals short on the payment or (b) she had her period, which was his stated excuse. Either way, he deserves to be thrown down a flight of stairs and left to bleed in pain himself. I'll try to post some more details later translated from the original story in Arabic. Suffice it to say that this is a symptom of a country where leaders focus the populace's attention on things like perceived slights to Islam and absurd concepts of Islamic virtue, while people in positions of power piss all over the true principles of the religion on a daily basis. When will the mobs in the streets start blaming themselves and their leaders for the state they're in instead of getting foamy-mouth mad about cartoons and teddy bears? Maybe when they realize that the people in power are deflecting the anger away from their own shortcomings and toward outsiders.

Thanks to Muscati for the point on his "Shared Items."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who Holds the Key?

This quote is from Elias Khouri's "Bab al-Shams."

"This is their problem and not ours," said Nahela, meaning that it was the Israelis' problem and not the Palestinians'. "They don't want us to forget our language and our religion because they don't want us to become like them."
Younis didn't understand what she meant and began talking about the need for children to be linked to their history and traditions and how this link could only be perpetuated through language. He spoke many words, mixing among them literature, religion, everything.

"Listen, man, and try to understand. You don't know anything. Try to listen to things as I say them, not as you imagine them in your head. I said to you that this is their problem… the Jews' problem. We can't abandon our language because they don't want that. They want us to stay Arab, not to assimilate. Don't fear. They are a closed sectarian society. Even if we wanted to assimilate, they would never allow it."

"When you told me of Nahela's theory about the language, my father, I thought of Issa who wanted to collect the keys of all the homes in Andalusia. I wanted to say then that we don't understad the fundamental difference between our situation and theirs. The Castillians did not persecute the Arab Muslims and the Jews simply by chasing them out of the land. For, although their campaign of expulsion was wide and effective, it is impossible to drive everyone out. The Castillians imposed their religion and their language on the Andalusians. Thus, their victory was final. Andalusia became a part of Spain and the matter was closed. As for us, our keys aren't the keys of the stolen homes. Our key is the Arabic language. Israel does not want us to assimilate and become Israelis. They don't want to impose their religion and their language upon us. The expulsion came in 1948, but it was not complete. They hold our keys. We do not."

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Sorry. Tons of stuff to blog about. Tons of other stuff I have to get done. I'm busy and the forecast is for increasingly busy for the near future. Anyway, I miss blogging, I miss having the time to blog, I miss traveling a ton, and I miss being in the Middle East in a love hate sort of way.

Anyway, my only contribution is this link to a BASE jump from the Burj Dubai.

I love the fact that these guys are speaking two different languages, but each understands teh other.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Now for Something Completely Different

I'll post this sentence in Arabic, copied directly from an Arabic website. I'd like to get some feedback from some Arabs (i.e. is this true/do you agree), then I'll open the subject to everyone...

حاتم الطائي وقصة فرسه يعلمها الكثير وربما ما قد لا يعلموه ان حاتم الطائي اشهر كرام العرب كان في عصر الجاهلية قبل الاسلام وكان مسيحيا .

Reply to OIUS's Comments on My Previous Post

OIUS-I appreciate your comments 99.9% of the time, but please don't be an unthinking populist. Your country has placed significant interests in tourism and you cannot ignore that. As I said, the GCC summit is very important, but so is the reputation of the country and its businesses. The read this gets in the West is "we can dishonor guarantees at the whim of the government." This is a serious impediment not only to tourism, but also to international investment. If your country is to benefit from foreign tourism and investment as it aims to, people's attitude cannot be "yeah, f- you guys." The attitude of "they'll keep coming" is what will lead to the downfall of the tourist and investment development model of the Gulf in general. They'll keep coming until they realize that guarantees are not guarantees. This is not the hospitality of Hatim al-Taiee. When did he say, yeah, f-u, I changed my mind? I understand that situations change, but this needs to be explained and sincere sympathy must be shown for PR's sake at least.

Sultan Billed as Grinch by Telegraph

The Telegraph ran the story "Sultan Ruins Christmas in Oman" today, regarding the slide of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit from late-November to the holiday timeframe. The Royal Diwan sent out notice to the leading hotels that Christmas bookings must be cleared out for the summit attendees, evidently leading to some disgruntled British holiday travelers. Unfortunately, the article was mute on why the summit was slid. While I can understand the traveler's anger, Oman's hosting of the GCC summit is no trivial matter. Oman needs to get the reasons for this change out into the presses in order to mitigate the bad PR and its effect on the tourism industry. I haven't had a chance to research the reason for the slide. Any insight?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on Arab Women

Octavia Nasr of CNN gave a report on women in the Arab media, arguing that the stereotypes of women seen in Arab soap operas do not square with their growing place in society.

Her report

A YouTube video posted by Jordan's Queen Rania on what Arab women are really up to.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Instead of Worrying About Girls in Bikinis

Perhaps "Ahmedino" from Oman Community Blog should worry about people like those below instead of girls in bikinis bringing "eib" upon not only Omanis, but Muslims everywhere. For the full background, read the story at CNN as hyperlinked in the previous sentence.

Besides the accusation that Kambakhsh disrupted class with his questions, prosecutors also said he illegally distributed an article he printed off the Internet that asks why Islam does not modernize to give women equal rights. He also allegedly wrote his own comments on the paper.
In January, a lower court sentenced him to death in a trial critics have called flawed in part because Kambakhsh had no lawyer representing him. Muslim clerics welcomed that court's decision and public demonstrations were held against the journalism student because of perceptions he had violated the tenets of Islam.

Now, of course, many will point out that these are excesses of the U.S. installed and backed regime. Yes, true. I will not defend the mess that America's foreign policies have caused. Yet, the bottom line is that mind-boggling levels of intolerance, ignorance, and acquiescence predated American intervention in the region. These things are in no way characteristic of the broad sweep of Islamic history. So why are they so prevalent today? Why are bikinis such an issue when journalists are being sentenced to death for suggesting women should have equal rights so nearby? Maybe because people have taken to insane levels of reactionary feeling and unthinking fundamentalism completely inconsistent with the original facts of the religion?

Check This Out

Facebooks of the mindbogglingly rich and famous.

Comments, Comments

It seems I've been busier making comments on other blogs as of late than I have been on posting here. For your reading enjoyment (See the comments):

And you must absolutely visit GoRemy. For the sensitive types, you may be offended, but this guy's got to be an Arab himself. In any case, he's hilarious if you have any humor. Humorless wonders, don't go:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I shall grant Undercover Dragon's request (vaguely) by saying that I have moved back to the U.S. for now. I am living on the West Coast, but have traveled across country a few times in the past months. I'll be working in the States for a while, but I'm already looking at potential plans to Oman, or at least the region in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, it looks like I may be taking a business trip to the other side of Asia before long, but unfortunately I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of the U.S. for an adventure around Christmas time as I'd hoped.

Of note, while running today, I was listening to an al-Jazeera podcast of the Itijah al-Muakas show from July 29th about the Gulf Arab identity. I'll try to get some notes blogged about it before long, but it was a very interesting back and forth between two Arab intellectuals about whether the Gulf Arab identity is dying, or whether it is simply progressing in a world of globalization. If you understand Arabic and are interested in the Gulf, I recommend you take a listen. Some of the commentary was very interesting and the one gentleman's counterpoint to the "Gulf identity is dying" argument was excellent. He pointed out that, if you go to almost any major city in the world today, people are wearing the same kind of clothes, eating at the same restaurants, ila akheerihi (etc.). It isn't that the Gulf identity is dying (well, I guess it is in a way, but in this it is no different than any other identity), but it is that the Gulf identity lives on, subsumed into a more globalized milieu. If you look at it this way, I guess you could say that, far from being a dying culture, the Gulf is holding on to core cultural markers more tightly than most. The problem is, people in other regions seem to be more comfortable with the direction their culture is taking. In the Gulf, identity and culture is a constant topic of acrimonious debate.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Les Fleurs

I just finished watching the excellent French film "Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran," for which Omar Sherif won the 2004 Cesar Award (the French Oscar) and the Venice Film Festival Award, both for Best Actor. Sherif plays an older Muslim Turk (Ibrahim) who owns a small grocery in Paris who befriends and eventually adopts a young Jewish boy. While this plot line will make a lot of people roll their eyes, there is something more to be enjoyed behind it.

Many Muslims would find Ibrahim to be a less-than-ideal Muslim. He is a Sufi who drinks on occasion and may dabble in other things some would find distasteful. Yet these subtle flaws round out a beautiful character who neither judges nor preaches, but teaches the young boy everything good he knows about life. He spreads all that is good about his faith without ever going farther into religion than saying, "I know what is in my Quran." He never scolds or condescends. He sets no unlivable rules, he never tries to cast shame. He teaches the boy, Moises (to Ibrahim, "Momo") to find what is beautiful in life, in giving, and in forgiving.

We see Moises enter a mosque with Ibrahim, but we never see him pray or convert. The "religion" does not gain another member who has gone from the wrong team to the right team. But Moises conversion is complete nonetheless. He does not become a Muslim, but he learns how to be a good person.

If only more people were like Ibrahim. And in this, I am not speaking solely about Muslims. I mean all the people who live their lives trying to feel like they have one up on everyone else through their religion, whether they have the "right" religion and others are wrong, or if they simply make themselves feel self-important among their co-religionists through false piety. If they focused less on rules, formulae, and words; focused on what is good in life and in people and what we should all universally strive for and less on who has the right Book and who has insulted whom and whose sites are holier and who is permitted in them and who is not, I think they would all be much closer to the God they pretend to serve.

As Ibrahim says, "All rivers flow into the same sea."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to Basics in Saudi for Ramadan

Fazia Saleh Ambah writes in today's Washington Post that many young Saudis are turning to self-sacrifice (in a good way) and charity works to get back to the real meaning of Ramadan. Some of this shift is attributed to a "cool" young preacher named Ahmed al-Shugairi. In my opinion, the best thing for places like Saudi are educated and modern young lay-preachers who encourage young people to practice their religion in an intelligent and involved way, rather than an unthinking and archaic way. By using Islam to stress civic and personal responsibility, such preachers can make far more change in a society like Saudi than any other means of public diplomacy or education.

Like many Saudis, Jiddawi used to mark the Muslim holy month by shopping, eating lavishly and watching television until the wee hours. Then she slept, sometimes all day until sunset prayers signaled the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast.
"That's what everyone did, but that's not really fasting," said Jiddawi, 28, a bank teller. "Fasting is about feeling your hunger, getting close to God and helping the poor."

In Saudi Arabia, one of the world's wealthiest Muslim countries, some people have started to criticize how many here observe Ramadan by essentially turning day into night to make fasting easier. Work and school hours have been shortened, shops stay open until right before dawn, and doctors and dentists offer appointments until 2 a.m.
But Jiddawi and many other young Saudis are trying to revive the holy month's original spirit of sacrifice and giving by volunteering during the day, attending religious lectures at night and spending more time reflecting on their faith. ...

The trend has partly been inspired by Ahmad al-Shugairi, a popular young preacher who for the past couple of years has been speaking out against the excesses of Ramadan. ...

Some young Saudis viewed a more puritanical interpretation of Islam as "cool," said Ali Ghazzawi, 22, a clinical pharmacology student. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, which were carried out mainly by Saudis, many gained a more moderate and spiritual understanding of the faith, and "now preachers in jeans, like Shugairi, are Muslim cool," Ghazzawi said.
"Spirituality is not about abstaining from food or performing physical prayers. It's about a closer connection to God. It's about intentions," he said.
"Are you doing this to perform a set of movements you are meant to do, or are
you doing it for God?" ...

For Jiddawi, the shift came after she became a fan of Shugairi. His nightly TV program, the most popular religious show among young people, encourages viewers to focus on their civic duties as part of their religion and to become more productive members of society. Several of his shows this year have stressed a need to watch less television, eat less, shop less.

Shugairi started a Ramadan campaign to get young Muslims to do 1 million good deeds this month, such as feeding a hungry family, donating clothes or buying medicine for someone in need.
"He's one of us. He speaks the language of my generation. He's not judgmental and he wasn't always as religious as he is now, so he understands," Jiddawi said.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Freedom and Responsibility

Michael Slackman published another article today in the New York Times on social issues in the Arab world. This one is about Dubai and the freedoms young Arabs have there. Some of the comments lead me to wonder about the effects of freedom or lack thereof on personal initiative.

In "freedom," I mean two things. There is the freedom from government restrictions or coercion, which in large part exists in Dubai on many, but not all, issues. But more importantly, the Arabs Slackman talks about are socially free. They are expats living outside of the social networks, norms, and pressures that guide them in their more conservative, often rural, or poor urban homes.

I wonder if there is any sociological research on the effect of restrictive and guiding societal pressures on personal initiative and responsibility? Just from the statements in the article, I would be interested to see if one could correlate higher levels of personal initiative and responsibility to a lower level of group determination of actions and decisions. That is, if your family decides everything for you, are you more likely to have little initiative to carry out those decisions and to feel less responsibility for your actions? If this correlation could be demonstrated, it might explain some behaviors in the Arab world, especially those attributed to the "inshallah" mentality.

From the article: (I've bolded key phrases)
In his old life in Cairo, Rami Galal knew his place and his fate: to become a maintenance man in a hotel, just like his father. But here, in glittering, manic Dubai, he is confronting the unsettling freedom to make his own choices.

Here Mr. Galal, 24, drinks beer almost every night and considers a young Russian prostitute his girlfriend. But he also makes it to work every morning, not something he could say when he lived back in Egypt. Everything is up to him, everything: what meals he eats, whether he goes to the mosque or a bar, who his friends are.
“I was more religious in Egypt,” Mr. Galal said, taking a drag from yet another of his ever-burning Marlboros. “It is moving too fast here. In Egypt there is more time, they have more control over you. It’s hard here. I hope to stop drinking beer; I know it’s wrong. In Egypt, people keep you in check. Here, no one keeps you in check.”

But I wonder, how long has Rami been in Dubai? Will he learn that he can keep himself in check and stop drinking beer? Is this a life lesson that will give him greater self-control and self-reliance in the future? He seems to blame his fault on the lack of societal pressure, absolving himself of some degree of responsibility. Can he step beyond that and take full self-responsibility given enough time away from his society?

According to Slackman, this freedom cuts both ways in Dubai. You're free to be less religious, but also free to be more religious. I'd caution his optimism in the first sentence. He notes elsewhere that Dubai is unique demographically, with a huge proportion of expats. I think that and the development model, more than the level of economic growth, have made Dubai somewhat unique. But it is true that other Arab countries could become more socially free in the future.

Dubai is, in some ways, a vision of what the rest of the Arab world could become — if it offered comparable economic opportunity, insistence on following the law and tolerance for cultural diversity. In this environment, religion is not something young men turn to because it fills a void or because they are bowing to a collective demand. That, in turn, creates an atmosphere that is open not only to those inclined to a less observant way of life, but also to those who are more religious. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Algeria, a man with a long beard is often treated as an Islamist — and sometimes denied work. Not here in Dubai.
Here, I can practice my religion in a natural and free way because it is a Muslim country and I can also achieve my ambition at work,” said Ahmed Kassab, 30, an electrical engineer from Zagazig Egypt, who wears a long dark beard and has a prayer mark on his forehead. “People here judge the person based
on productivity more than what he looks like. It’s different in Egypt, of

Perhaps the most important effect of economic prosperity in the Gulf in places like Dubai could be the diffusion of social freedoms through the cadre of Arab expats that come to work and will eventually return to their home countries, some as successful businessmen.

Dubai offers another prescription for promoting moderation. It offers a chance to lead a modern life in an Arab Islamic country. Mr. Abu Zanad raised his beer high, almost in a toast, and said he liked being able to walk through a mall and still hear the call to prayer.
We like that it’s free and it still has Arab heritage,” he said “It’s not
religion, it’s the culture, the Middle Eastern culture.”
The Arabs have a future here,” said his best friend, Bilal Hamdan. “Where are we going to go back to? Egypt? Jordan? This is the future.”

In Dubai, there is the prospect of improvement. Greater salaries, better jobs. This reduces the amount of frustration felt by the Arab expats.
“This is not for us, the sheiks live here,” Mr. Galal said as the car passed the Marina. But there was no anger or envy in his voice, as there would be if he were in Egypt, where when he sees wealth he knows that it is beyond his reach. When Mr. Galal came to Dubai his salary was 2,000 dirhams a month, or about $550.
“I wish I can make 40,000 a month,” he said with a dreamy smile. “When I first came here I was hoping for 5,000, now I make 5 and I want 10, and I will start making 10 in a month. Salaries here increase.”

Furthermore, the mixing pot of cultures in Dubai has an effect on Arab expats' view of their own identity.
In fact, the mix of nationalities has made Mr. Galal redefine himself — not predominantly as Muslim but as Egyptian. Asked if he feels more comfortable with
a Pakistani who is Muslim or an Egyptian who is Christian, he replied automatically: “The Egyptian.”

Yet, it seems that some of the Arab expats in Dubai are caught between two worlds. Rami felt as if he was "suffocating" in Dubai and went home for a month to spend Ramadan with family and friends. He no longer fit neatly in to his Egyptian world either.
“My friends are all stuck at a certain limit, that’s as far as they can go,” Mr. Galal said after three weeks at home. “Nothing is new here. Nothing is happening. My friends feel like I changed. They say money changed me.”

Rami, who had been engaged before he left for Dubai, broke off the engagement as well.
A year in Dubai changed his view of marriage. “You are looking for someone to spend your whole future with,” Mr. Galal said. “I want to go back and have fun. My future is there, in Dubai.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sopranos Anthropology

Meadow Soprano -
"You talk about these guys like it's an anthropology class. But the truth is, they bring certain modes of conflict resolution from all the way back in the old country, from the poverty of the Mezzogiorno, where all higher authority was corrupt." Season 5, episode 9

Tribes, gangs, mafia. It's all the same.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

If I'm Being Honest...

If I'm being honest, there's a whole lot of people in the world I cannot stand. You are likely to be offended by what I have to say below, but keep reading, because if you are offended, I also insult those who you hate. If I want to start with the offensive, I hold a great disdain for those in the Arab world who live their lives blaming all their woes on the West, coming up with a thousand and one excuses for their culture's short-comings, and pretending to be rabidly devout Muslims when they are offended, but living their life according to their whim when no one is looking. Honestly, I respect Islam, but I think that Islam is currently a fad for many people who wear it like pegged jeans in the 50s or 80s but could give a shit less in the grand scheme of things.

And that brings us to my opinion on the Western crusaders. There is a huge class of people who love to talk about God's mission in the West, but couldn't find Iraq on a map, much less Gilead or Galilee. To me, the people who believe their God is bigger than Allah are the exact same as the Takfiris who they hate so much. If only we could lock all these "mission from God" assholes up in a room somewhere and let them kill each other, we'd be in a much better place. The only "mission from God" in recent history that I can think of that I respect is the Blues Brothers' mission to get money to keep the convent open.

What brings out this rant? I was very saddened to hear about today's suicide bomb attack against the American Embassy in Yemen. I'd be saddened no matter who the victims were, but I think the results particularly highlight the stupidity of the whole "clash of cultures." The following quotes are from the Time account linked above.

If the attack had gone according to plan, it would have killed or wounded countless U.S. diplomats in the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, within a week of the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Yet it didn't. These savage animals who imagine that they speak for Islam succeeded only in killing their countrymen, or at least, their co-religionists. And for the hillbilly Americans and the pseudo-intellectual Americans who pretend they are better than everyone else, but are really the same as the hillbillies and the Takfiri scum that they hate so much, it is important to note that the heroes in this thing were not the brave American Marines that we so often think of guarding American Embassies (although brave Marines were there had the first line of defense failed). Please read the below quotes and realize that foreigners volunteer to guard American embassies all over the world. Imagine a non-American volunteering to be a guard outside the target that is the American Embassy in Yemen. Or any number of other countries. Americans should realize that the foreigners so many disdain may be the suicide bombers, but they are also the first line of defense against those same foreign attackers. Very few of the people who work inside the fortresses that are American Embassies have ever known the danger that their local guards face. Those that have realize that the real heroes at American Embassies abroad are the local guard forces.

The bravery and quick reaction of Yemeni security forces foiled what appeared to be a daring attempt to storm the embassy compound and kill everyone inside. No Americans were among the victims of the thwarted attack. ...

The second vehicle raced past the carnage toward the embassy's front gate. Firing grenades and automatic weapons, the militants engaged Yemeni guards in a
20-minute battle, but failed to penetrate the compound before all were killed. Yemeni officials said the casualties included six guards, six militants and four
civilian bystanders.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oman's Research Council Calls for PhD Programs

Khaleej Times reports that Oman's Research Council has called for Oman to quickly implement PhD programs in order to improve the country's research capabilities. It seems that the major impetus behind this is to better link academic capabilities to Petroleum Development Oman's needs.

It is critical that a country's educational institutions and its educational infrastructure are linked so that the educational pipeline is creating a product that is employable and offers needed capabilities to industry. The linkage of PhD programs in Oman to PDO's needs is therefore beneficial. However, I do not know that the rest of Oman's higher education system is in good enough shape to really make the leap to this level. Are Oman's baccalaureate and masters degree programs well-developed, linked to the economy's needs, and producing capable graduates? If so, then the logical next step is to the PhD level. However, if these levels are not in order, I fear that a leap to the PhD level will not meet industry's needs and will end up as an irrelevant diploma mill. I think that the institutions have to be in pretty good order to attract the expertise needed for a faculty capable of producing meaningful PhD diplomas, and the associated research. Can anyone comment on this?

More Saudi Savagery

Another gem from Saudi's religious authorities:

Speaking about the debauchery shown on satellite TV channels, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan offered the following measured response based on an obviously peaceful interpretation of Islam.

"There is no doubt that these programmes are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them," said the sheikh.
"It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties."

I know that this man is not the voice of Islam and does not represent all Muslims, but those in the Muslim world who are offended by Western assertions that Islam is a religion of hate and violence must take issue with authorities like "Sheikh" Luhaydan, before spitting back at Western critics. The man is a savage. He and those like him are the ones who are a threat to Islam, not the Western commentators whose critiques are fueled by statements like the one above.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saudi Fashion Police

An article in today's Washington Post tells the story of Saudi fashion designer Yahya al-Bishri. Bishri studied fashion abroad, for which he was cut off by his father. He then tried to spruce up Saudi fashion by creating decorated robes and cloaks. This was met with a storm of criticism and frequent raids by the former criminals and thugs that call themselves the Religious Police or Mutawaeen in Saudi.

"Many people were shocked that I was developing the thobe, which is considered the national costume. I was accused of trying to destroy our culture, of promoting homosexuality and of trying to make men resemble women," he said.

He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1990 and opened a small boutique on a quiet side street in Jiddah. The religious police, or mutawa, raided his shop half a dozen times, accusing him of violating a ban on the mingling of unrelated men and women. His fashion design magazines were confiscated or torn up in airport customs, and the mannequins he tried to import were destroyed or thrown out because of a religious ban on statues.

Bishri's break came when then Crown Prince Abdullah called him in 1997 to ask about his designs. Bishri explained that he was not tampering with a white robe that had been worn with Saudis since time immemorial. Like many other things in the Middle East, a relatively new phenomenon, the white thobe, had become in the period of a few decades something that people jealously guarded as established and timeless tradition. Bishri educated Abdullah, who became one of his customers, creating a breakthrough for Bishri.

Bishri said Abdullah asked him why there was a storm of criticism about his work. "I showed him the book and the coats worn by his father. I explained that the forbidding white we wear now was not part of our tradition but something new to society, something that dated back only three or four decades."
In the 1960s, he said, the kingdom's new oil wealth resulted in a more modern country and a less harsh lifestyle. White robes, which reflect heat, became more practical and easier to keep clean, he said.

"When people started wearing the thobe, everybody was convinced it was part of our culture. But our fathers did not always dress like that," Bishri said. "I was looking for how we dressed in the past because I knew we had no material and no clothes industry here, only what we imported."

I think this story, like others, shows that much of the unthinking conservatism in the region is not created by some innate and long-standing ascetic tradition, but comes more from a modern phenomenon of jealousy, bigotry, and cultural siege that is often driven by an ignorance of one's own history and traditions. A great deal of the "tradition," "custom," and "religious practice" pushed by the radicals are actually new inventions or bid'a, which in itself is considered haram by them. But they operate by one set of rules and expect everyone else to operate by another. To me, people like Bishri and other peaceful mavericks are the true heroes of the region, whose story needs to be spread

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paranoid Conspiracy Theories

More from NYT's Michael Slackman in Cairo today, this time about 9/11 conspiracy theories and general mistrust of the U.S. government in the Arab world. I've personally heard many of the arguments he refers to. I think my favorite is that no Jews died in the 9/11 attacks so it must have been a Mossad operation. A representative proportion of the victims of the 9/11 attack were Jewish. What is more, Osama Bin Laden openly took credit for the attack. Yet, many in the Arab world still insist that this was the work of the U.S. or Israel, not an Arab.

"Look, I don’t believe what your governments and press say. It just can’t be true,” said Ahmed Issab, 26, a Syrian engineer who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. “Why would they tell the truth? I think the U.S. organized this so that they had an excuse to invade Iraq for the oil.”

One of the things that strikes me about Arab conspiracy theories is that the Arabs expounding these theories often demean Arabs in their argumentation. I've heard a number that say something to the effect that al-Qaeda, or Iraqi insurgents, or Arabs in general aren't sophisticated enough to pull off what they are accused of pulling off. So it must be Mossad or the U.S. I just don't know how to view this "aw shucks, we're just simple peace-loving people who could never do something like that" line.

Again and again, people said they simply did not believe that a group of Arabs — like themselves — could possibly have waged such a successful operation against a superpower like the United States.

The problem with these theories comes when one is trying to find some middle ground to begin a dialogue. "Look, I know that the U.S. has done a lot of things that were wrong, but you have to admit that people have wronged America too. Let's try to each admit that there is culpability on both sides and then talk about how to fix it." "No, you don't understand, America made all of this up so that it can ______ (destroy Islam, take Iraq's oil, humiliate us, control the world, kill Arabs, take Morocco's resources ??!??, what?)." Part of the reason why spitting mad psychos go out and protest about teddy bears named Mohammed, looking to tear someone limb from limb is because they believe they and theirs have never done any wrong and everyone is out to get them.

Why? Why the conspiracies and paranoia? The sense of siege? A bit reason behind it is that Arab governments have used this ploy since right around 1948 to explain away all of their shortcomings. Conspiracy theories are the perfect explanation for almost any woe, neatly shifting the blame to outside forces and their shadowy conspirators inside the country with virtually no burden of proof. Internal unrest? Corruption? Government ineptitude? Military defeats? It can all be explained by conspiracies and blamed on the Zionists or imperialists. Think that you have information that disproves said conspiracy? "That's what they want you to believe." Year after year, Arab governments and their media mouthpieces have pushed such ideas and they have stuck.

So when faced with this wall of disbelief, how can U.S. public diplomacy ever succeed in winning hearts and minds? I don't think that it can, because those who will believe our public diplomacy are already convinced. Those that aren't convinced will never believe a word out of our mouths. The only way we can change perceptions is through a long term demonstration of results, not words, and, more importantly, the spread of more moderate perceptions from those in the region who can see both sides to those who cannot. Really, the hearts and minds can only be won from within the region, not through U.S. public diplomacy. Another major element of this is the state of the media in the Arab world. The level of self-censorship and paranoia is still high in many Arabic news sources. The growth of alternate media sources through satellite and the internet is helping to provide different perspectives, but it will take years to bring some out of their comfortable world of victimization and conspiracy and into a broader, more balanced worldview that can see culpability on more than one side of any argument.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wishful Thinking

Sunday's New York Times ran a piece by Michael Kimmelman entitled "Watching 'Friends' in Gaza: Culture as a Moderating Force." While the online version was more appropriately subtitled "A Culture Clash," I found the article's vague suggestion that the popularity of Western culture was somehow a moderating force to be naive and misleading.

First, if one looks at the pictures that accompany the article (look at how the people at Roots are dressed, the table settings, and the landscaping) and some of the descriptions of where he is talking to people ("The club, a private retreat amid garbage and ruins was a whitewashed of bougainvillea..."), you can see that he's not hanging around the average, ordinary Gazan. He's hanging around with relatively wealth Gazans who choose to go to private clubs and trendy cafes like Roots. This is a skewed sample.

Second, just because people like to escape in Western culture, doesn't mean they become any more endeared to Western policies. The problem that the West and especially the U.S. has in the Middle East is not that Arabs hate Americans or American culture. They (mostly) don't. They hate U.S. policy. With a passion. American culture won't moderate that.

And in a third point, related to the second, people get what they want out of cultural products. For those that love the U.S. or the West, they may already be fairly moderate toward even Western policy and find more to love and long for in Western cultural products. For others, they still might like the Western cultural products, but they can still pick out supporting evidence for their worldview. I met a teen selling pirated American DVDs in Casablanca. After about two hours of him telling me how bad the U.S. was, how it was controlled by Jews, no Jews died in 9/11, everything is a conspiracy and everyone is out to destroy Islam, etc., I told him that not everything is a conspiracy. Not everyone is out to get them. Many people in America want to do good. He said, I know, but even you Americans do not trust your own government, so why should we? I watch your movies, I know your culture and all your movies prove that you believe the government is controlled by a small group of men who are conspiring to control the world. He started pointing out movies that had this sort of plot line on the table next to us and there, of course, were quite a few. So, don't think that our culture will inevitably break down walls. People take what they want and their worldview is often unchanged.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Arab Pop Music Underworld

A major scandal is making headlines in the Arabic press and even making its way into the U.S. media. Lebanese pop diva Suzanne Tamim was murdered in July in a Dubai hotel. Yesterday, a prominent Egyptian businessman and member of parliament under the ruling National "Democratic" Party was arrested for contracting her murder. Hisham Talaat Mustafa reportedly paid $2 million for the murder of the star, with whom Hisham was romantically involved. He faces potential death by hanging or a life sentence if convicted under Egyptian law. You can read the details of the case here and here and in Arabic here, here, and here.
While female singers have been taken advantage of by rich men the world 'round, I cannot help but feel that there is a special misogyny that surrounds men of power in the Middle East. Alaa al-Aswani's novel "The Yacoubian Building" paints a pretty damning picture of this kind of man in Egypt. The sad thing is that there is a line of thinking that perpetuates such acts. Men cannot be expected to control themselves, so it is up to women to cover themselves and it is up to their families to protect them. If something happens to the woman, it is her fault and her family's fault for not keeping her from such a compromising situation. This is nonsense. Once men are held to greater account, much of the paranoid "protection" of women can be dispensed with because society will have generalized the norms that keep most men around the world from acting like animals. There will always be some exceptions, but the culture cannot go on allowing men to act like total savages while forcing the burden of civility upon the women. The problems of the current situation in some areas are made evident by the prosecution of rape victims in Saudi for being with a non-related male and such. The mindset even creeps into the thoughts of an Arab journalist, quoted in the LA Times article. Look at the words/phrases I've bolded and see the underlying thought process. While this man is not justifying the killing or anything of the sort, his words seem to shift a good deal of the moral burden into Suzanne's court.

Suzanne's whole life was a tragedy. She comes from a conservative Beiruti family which was totally against her singing in public. But she had a great voice and she was obsessed about singing. So she defied her society and decided to enter the world of music. . . . She was a beautiful woman. Her beauty maybe was a curse because she would turn men totally obsessed about her.
See in this last sentence how she is the actor (in a grammatical sense) "turning" men obsessed, rather than irresponsible, power-drunk, rich, greedy slobs making themselves obsessed over another plaything they could get their greasy, filthy hands on.