Archive for the 'Middle East' Category

Everyone Wants a ‘Canal’

I GUESS IT’S NO surprise that in Dubai, a land of overflowing wealth and man-made islands, that local developers are looking to create a 75 km canal in the middle of the desert. While that not might sound as ludicrous as, say, trying to build a canal that stretches the length of a nation – it still sounds pretty crazy to me.

The above picture is taken from the blog of Kang Hun Sang, a Yonhap foreign correspondent in Dubai, and shows an artist’s fanciful rendering of what the waterway – creatively named “The Arabian Canal” – could look like.

To those who might see it as providing a viable alternative for transportation of goods into the city, Kang points out a major caveat: the “canal” is only going to be six meters deep. That means despite all the hype about this being the next Suez Canal, it’s really just another playground.


Professors Find Friendship Amid War

BY Ben Hancock (aka thedailytransit)

Published by The Capital Times on August 13.

For the past two years, Susan Friedman has opened up her e-mail box every morning hoping for a sign that her friend is still alive.

Usually, to her relief, there has been an e-mail from her colleague burning to be read. Since she first started receiving them, the contents of those messages have ranged from harrowing – tales of bombings, assassination attempts and murdered neighbors – to utterly inspiring.

For Friedman, a professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was sometimes hard to go back to daily life after reading those e-mails, and even harder to know how to respond. But, she said, what was perhaps most difficult was dealing with her racing mind when no e-mail came.

But last weekend the anxiety lifted when Friedman met for the first time the Iraqi professor with whom she has been corresponding, closing a chapter in their emotional saga and beginning another.

The professor, an Iraqi woman who specializes in American and Arabic feminist literature, arrived in the U.S. on August 1 after receiving a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute, a Harvard school which supports scholarship on women. Out of safety concerns, Friedman has chosen not to disclose the Iraqi professor’s identity.

A Letter from Iraq: In June of 2005, Friedman received from out of the blue a letter written by an Iraqi post-graduate student looking for help – the student wanted to write about three prominent American women writers, but didn’t have any of their books. Friedman responded with some academic advice and promised to send the materials.

But shipping books proved to be a more difficult task than she imagined. Unaware of an embargo on packages to Iraqi citizens (which does not apply to U.S. soldiers in Iraq) mandating that all parcels not exceed 12 ounces, Friedman was turned away from the post office and had to buy a scale so she could repackage everything. “And if I wanted to send a book, I ripped it in half,” she said, “typically because many books are just too heavy.”

The dialogue between Friedman and the Iraqi woman moved beyond academics and became more personal. The woman expressed heartbreak at having to leave her youngest child with her mother while she pursued a Ph.D., and vented to Friedman about dealing with her husband ‘s disapproval.

“Since she had exposed so much personal stuff I wrote back telling her some things about my life, too,” Friedman said, “And I think that broke the ice, I think I discovered something from that.”

[Read Full]

August 5: Iranian Bloggers Speak Out

Bloggers the world over are protesting the recent imprisonment of several Iranian students who were charged with “defaming Islam” by temporarily renaming their blogs “August 5th,” in honor of the 101st anniversary of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, reports Global Voices Online.

According to a Radio Free Europe story (reprinted with permission here), eight students from Tehran Polytechnic University were imprisoned because of their writings in student publications and were charged with “inciting public opinion” and insulting Iran’s leaders. Three of the students are still in jail and, according to their families, have been deprived of sleep and food and been beaten until losing consciousness.

It’s great to see so many bloggers – GVO counts 397 from Iran and elsewhere – taking a stand. Whether Ahmadinejad listens or not (and it is likely that he won’t), it should be recognized that bloggers who are inside Iran are significantly sticking their neck out for this; Iran has jailed bloggers before, and there is nothing to keep them from doing so again.

In that vein, GVO has a link to the Reporters Without Borders’ Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents, which gives tips ranging from how to create a blog to how to get around digital censorship. If you’re in a country where free speech is an issue (or in a country where the NSA could be watching your every move) it’s a handy resource.

Iran may need an entire system overhaul, but for now let’s hope for the hasty release of those students.

Iraq: Reasons to Celebrate, Mourn

The Iraqi national soccer team won a victory over South Korea in yesterday’s Asia Cup match, via the NYTimes:

As the Iraqi national soccer team eked out a 4-3 shootout victory over South Korea on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis poured into the streets in a paroxysm of good feeling and unity not seen in years.

It was more rapture than celebration, a singular release of the sort of emotion that has fueled so much rage and fear and paranoia. But this evening, at least at first, it seemed diverted into nonstop car-horn bliss; spontaneous parades clogged streets from Erbil to Karbala, from Basra to Mosul, from Ramadi to Baghdad. [Full]

While I’d normally be bummed to see a loss for South Korea, given the current situation in Iraq it’s clear which nation needed this more.

Tragically, the halcyon moment of revelry was fleeting for Iraqis, as two suicide bombings tore through Baghdad killing at least 50 people and several men used the cover of the crowd to violently end their personal vendettas.

Will the nation of Iraq ever know unity again?

Fixing History

Israel’s Education Ministry announced yesterday that it will release a third-grade textbook that acknowledges the suffering Palestinians endured with the formation of the Jewish state – via the SF Chronicle:

Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews’ connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. That version focused on heroism of the Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as a voluntary escape.

The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return. [Full]

The catch? The new text will only be taught to Arab children, not Jewish students.

I can’t pretend to be informed enough on the Palestine/Israel issue to pass judgment, but the fact that the Education Ministry is even willing to concede the Palestinian viewpoint is evidence enough that it is legitimate on some level. If that’s the case, then why shelter Jewish students from having an open dialogue? Why try to cook the history books in a time when we need desperately to understand each other?

In a related event, Taipei announced plans to “drop references that describe mainland Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as ‘national,'” the Education Ministry has announced.” (International Herald Tribune)

While I can understand Taiwan’s hesitancy to declare full-out independence (China has threatened military retaliation if it does so), this seems passive-aggressive. If you’re gonna say it, President Chen, then say it.

Meanwhile, Japan still won’t cave on its hardline of ignoring the realities of the past, despite the outrage it has caused. High-schoolers there continue to glaze over the Rape of Nanking (reduced to a footnote) and the oppressive occupation of Korea.

Amid all of this, we must question whether children around the globe are being educated about the social realities of our world. If regimes continue to sacrifice legitimate dialogue for the sake of legitimizing their politicized view, the rifts between us will only continue to fester – we must look back on our pasts honestly, or we will never move forward.

(Revised 07/24/2007)

Modernity Worldwide

hejaab. photo by Please! Don’t Smile.

Many Westerners commonly, if unconsciously, believe that the paradigms enveloped by the term modernity – progressivism, universal suffrage, feminism, etc. – were essentially birthed in the West, only to leak out and infiltrate other societies in recent eras.

While my education and experiences abroad have certainly taught me better, I could have at least in part counted myself among the masses who subconsciously subscribe to that belief – until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with a professor of feminist literature who lives here in Madison, and by chance dove into a brief discussion about feminist thought in the Middle East. As we talked, she drew upon personal experiences with Middle Eastern women and on books from Middle Eastern authors to make a point about how the West never held the market on progressivism.

One of the authors she mentioned that intrigued me most is Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who wrote and illustrated a graphic memoir titled Persepolis. Satrapi was raised in a progressive household in Tehran, but was sent by her parents to Vienna at age 14 to escape an oppressive regime – she lived a migratory life, hopping between Iran and Europe a couple times before settling in Paris.

Though I’ve yet to read the books, what I gather from this professor’s commentary on them is that despite Satrapi’s exposure to the West, the roots of her progressivism stemmed from her homeland. I could perhaps relate this to a feminist novel I have read written by Egyptian author Nadal al Saadawi, who’s disdain for patriarchal society was homegrown.

My interaction with this professor encouraged me to think a bit more deeply about the dangers of viewing the world as split geographically into backwards and forwards. In this time of fear and war, the images most Americans see of Middle Eastern society are those representing backwards tradition – radical Islamic clerics, women wearing face veils, and bombed-out dust bowl cities. If we are ever confronted with opposing representations, perhaps of Middle Eastern academics or educated people fighting for equality, media often frame them as being “Westernized.”

And there is another danger in this view – making similar assumptions, many fundamentalists in the East have written off and dismissed progressive ideologies as simply being an invasion of Western thought, rather than being homegrown movements. The truth is that Eastern societies have a rich cultural history of academic thought, and wherever there is a pursuit for knowledge, dissidence for the status quo will surely sprout.

The fight for equality and wisdom is first and foremost a human endeavor, and no one region or society holds the keys. Movements for freedom often take on different features and cultural traits, as evident in Turkey’s current struggle for balance between secularism and Islamic faith, but the heart is essentially the same.

When Westerners view other nations or societies as typically backwards, needing to be fixed by¬†Western value systems, we are unwittingly reverting to the archaic perspective of “the white man’s burden.” This is an odious reality we need desperately to face, because in truth, we do not have the corner on modernity – everyone has legs to stand.

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